Tag Archives: teaching

My last day of teaching — psych!

Tuesday was my last day of teaching [as far as I knew (foreshadowing)]. Ever the sentimental, I prepared about 100 PB&J’s and a speech about how my students would be missing to me.

When I arrived at school, I was treated to a cute overload. It was even better than a birthday, because it was completely unexpected. I received a stack of adorable homemade cards, a sack of Easter chocolates, and a French bistro cookbook.

These are the adorable cards I received.

Lisa wins the prize for cutest card, because she used the English I've taught her. (I should note that most of my students spelled my name in the French fashion.)

With just a few notable exceptions, such as the one I posted a few days ago, my students liked their PB&J’s. Weird experience: a classroom quiet but for the sound of French kids licking peanut butter off the roof of their mouths. I should have recorded a video, but at least I have pictures of their cuteness.

Fourth graders. Note the boy on the left. I wonder if he thought PB&J's were a licking sort of food?

More fourth graders, and another funny expression at center left.

My students wrote down my e-mail address and promised to write, and said lots of cute things like, “C’est nulle que tu partes!”

Oh but wait! I’m not parting after all! Not yet, at least. I got an e-mail yesterday with the news that a contract extension has magically opened up, so they’ll pay me to work for one more month. (Way to be on top of things, Académie de Nantes.)

Even better than another month of pay, this means that I’ll get two rounds of cute goodbyes!

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A picture worth more than 1000 words

This is the face one of my students made upon trying a PB&J for the first time.

True Frenchman that he is, he carefully picked at the bread, pecking at the bits that weren’t poisoned with peanut butter.

A not-so felix Félix.

Why people teach

When I got to school this morning, two of my cutest students ran up to me with a box in hand. They gave me a good bye present!

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How cute is that?
It got even cuter when I realized we were all wearing the same shoes.

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And then the chocolate broke my front tooth.

L’école vs. school

For class today, I gave this presentation on a few obvious differences between American and French schools. Click the link if you’d like to follow the slides as I tell you the story of how it went.

Slide 1:
Me: This is the school I attended when I was your age.
Students: It’s so big!

Slide 2:
Me: Most American children can’t walk to school, so we ride special school buses that look like this. [Expects another “It’s so big” reaction.]
Student, accustomed to public buses: Do you need a bus pass to get on?

Slide 3:
As I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for my students, it occurred to me how utterly creepy it is. In high school, I got all up in arms about the unnecessary Red Scare era addition of the words “under God.” Yesterday was the first time I realized the sheer futile irony of adding the words “under God,” because really, the whole ritual demands the blind obedience of every Communist regime.

In France, there is an ongoing debate over whether their national anthem is too violent to teach to children. No joke: I had to learn it for French II, but I’ve met young adults in France who don’t know it, which I find strange for a nation so obsessed with its patrimony.

I challenge you to find a single American who can’t recite “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”—in their sleep, even! It’s terrifyingly nationalist!

Slide 4:
Unfortunate discussion of why Americans don’t start school at age 3, as French kids do. The French have us beat, hands down, where preschool is concerned.

Slide 5:
Me: In the U.S., you would have to go to school on Wednesdays!
Class: QUOI? NON! QUEL HORREUR!
To which I think: Wow, these kids are exactly their parents, making a huge stink over working extra hours. How very French they already are!

Slide 6:
Me: In the U.S., you only get a 30-minute break for lunch.
Class: QUOI?!
Me: 30 minutes.
Class: QUOI?!
Official teacher: Yes, class. You have the morning part of the day. Then you have 30 minutes to eat lunch. Then you have the afternoon part of the day.
Class: Ce n’est pas possible! Il faut plus de 30 minutes pour manger!
Me: No, you really don’t need an hour and 45 minutes to eat like you have here. And the cool part is, if you only take 30 minutes, you get to leave school at 3:30 in the afternoon!
Class: Ohhh! More TV time!

I’m not kidding about this. My students could not comprehend the concept of a short lunch break.

Slide 7:
My students think American kids are soooo lucky because they “get” to eat pizza and burgers almost every day. Kids will be kids.

Slide 8:
Class: Why do you study English? Don’t you already speak it?
Me: Why do you study French?

Slide 10:
My students were blown away by the idea that grades could be a percentage instead of an arbitrary 1-20.

And then I tried to teach them a rap from Sesame Street. They don’t have Sesame Street, so they don’t know that it would be super un-cool of them to like it if there were in America.

I’m off my next adventure tomorrow. Stay tuned for updates from Vienna!

Poisson d’avril!

In France, April 1st is “April Fish Day.” It consists of children drawing fish and spending the day chasing you around, trying to stick them on your back.

Personally, I think it lacks the clever salt-in-the-sugar-shakers,* fake ultrasound photos, fake plaster casts element of the concurrent anglophone holiday. Nonetheless, it was pretty adorable when all of my students chased each other around with cute little hand-drawn fish this morning.

To give the tradition a new twist, I drew an open-jawed Great White Shark and stuck it to my back before my second class today.

Clearly, it didn't stop them from April Fishing me.

The joke backfired. They thought someone had tricked me with the giant shark. A little deductive reasoning would have been useful—there was far too much tape for it to have been stuck there sneakily—but my students lack that skill, I’m afraid.

I thought this fish was adorably Seussical. I was surprised becuase the girl who made it is the type to ask, "Is this shade of pink allowed on the Valentine I was instructed to be creative upon?"

*I’m sure I will live to regret explaining this trick to some 4th and 5th graders. I apologize in advance to their parents.

Adorable things my students have said to me

I have yet to say anything here about the job that occupies me a whopping 10 hours per week,  so today I thought I’d start with some of the adorable things my students have said to me. As we all know, kids say the darndest things. This is especially true when they’re trying to learn a second language.

Italics indicate that something was said in French.

Girl (too little to be one of my students, and therefore especially curious about who I was): Do you speak English?
Me: Yes, I speak English. That’s why I’m here. I’m the English teacher.
Little girl: Oh. Can you talk normally, too?

Me, beginning class as I always do: How are you today?
Girl 1: How do you say you’re thirsty?
Me: I’m thirsty.
Girl 1: I’m thirsty and so-so.
Girl 2: How do you say you’re hungry?
Me: I’m hungry.
Girl 2: I’m hungry and happy.

One of my favorite moments doesn’t quite translate. Several of my girls like to chat with me during recess. I thought that one of them, Yasmin, spoke Arabic at home (a handful of my students come from Arab immigrant families), but I wasn’t sure until she mentioned something about it to her friend. I said, in Arabic, “Oh, you speak Arabic?” She was mystified. I don’t think it had ever occurred to her that a white woman from Amreeka could possibly speak Arabic, too. I told her that it was just one of several magical powers that I possess.

I also find it amusing that my students have asked repeatedly where I live. I found it a bit odd at first. Children are naturally curious, of course, but considering they don’t know street names or neighborhoods, why do they care? Oh right! They don’t understand that I live in France. This begs the question: did they think I teleport here just in time for class or something?

Saving the best for last, however:
5th grade boy, upon learning that my last name was Smith: ARE YOU THE DAUGHTER OF WILL SMITH?!

‘appy Sanksgeeving!

Those of you who have been following me on here lately would be completely justified in having the impression that all I think about is food. And yeah, that’s pretty much the case.  Buying groceries gets pretty exciting when it’s the only purchase you can possibly justify. It’s not just that I suffer from an unfortunate combination of poverty and gluttony, though. Considering I’ve spent the past two weeks explaining Thanksgiving to French children, I couldn’t help but get a little obsessed with it.

My lessons went really well. I was pleasantly surprised at how interested the students were, listening more attentively than usual (I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I was just explaining it in French…) and asking lots of questions. They were particularly curious about Indians/Native Americans (I taught them both terms, but “Indian” was easier for them), which was great. I had ethical objections to feeding them the b.s. “The Pilgrims and Indians became good friends” story—they saw right through it, anyway—and their questions gave me a chance to expand upon it. Condensing the first of American history’s many shameful chapters into a 45-minute lesson for 9-year-olds is no easy feat, but I think I managed to strike a compromise between yadda yadda-ing out the Indians and completely traumatizing my students. Consequently, today I am thankful that I won’t have to cover slavery, atom bombs, Iraq…sadly, I could go on…

Best question we received, upon showing them photos of a Plymouth village reconstruction: “Do Americans still dress like the Pilgrims?” (Of course I said yes.)

For my more advanced students, I made a fill-in-the-blank worksheet. I read the sentences aloud, including the answer; all they had to do was write the missing word as they heard me say it. As I got started, I worried it would bore them to tears—it was definitely challenging for them to follow that much English—but they responded really well. I’ve noticed that, unlike Americans, my students want rules to follow. They’re accustomed to a regimented system, and I think it freaks them out to let loose. (I’ll tell you more about French schools soon, I promise.)

I spent hours on the handout...

My younger students got a worksheet, too, but all they had to do was label the Thanksgiving foods that we went over.

Critical vocabulary.

The idea of cranberry sauce was repulsive to them. Cranberry sauce happens to be my favorite part of the Thanksgiving dinner, so I felt kind of defensive about it. I was tempted to say, “Anyone who eats foie gras relinquishes the right to call anything I eat disgusting,” but I suppose it’s not their fault that they’re French…

So with all that turkey talk on my mind, I had to do some cookin’.

As the recent post in which I gushed about the delight of simple meals would attest, my “cooking” usually just involves a few ingredients that have to be steamed or sautéed. From time to time, though, I enjoy taking on a big, labor intensive challenge in the kitchen. Last Thanksgiving, for instance, never having roasted so much as a bell pepper, I roasted the turkey. I had certainly never dealt with the carcass before, but that didn’t stop me from boiling it down for turkey noodle soup. Since then, I’ve also made tiramisu—which is a freakin’ lot of work!—as well as ketchup, which is just something you don’t even realize that anyone other than Heinz can make.

Like ketchup, it only recently occurred to me that pumpkin pie is something a person can make. I had always kind of wondered how pumpkins could possibly be turned into the stuff in the pie. I imagined that it demanded machinery too big for a single home’s kitchen, which is why Americans just buy their pumpkin pies—and also why 90% of the pumpkin pie I’ve consumed in my lifetime has been mediocre.

So now that I live in France, where I have a tiny kitchen that lacks an oven and where pumpkin purée is nowhere to be found, what better time than the present to make my first pumpkin pie?

It was quite labor-intensive—it took me nearly four hours from beginning to end. (It probably didn’t help that I kept having to climb up to my internet shelf to glance at the directions that I wasn’t actually following.)

I started out with two big hunks of some variety of pumpkin that, if whole, would resemble the one that took Cinderella to the ball.

In lieu of an oven, it was really handy that my roommate has a device called a “Pie Success.” We don’t, however, have the manual for it. Lest the Pie Success ruin something, I figured it should be something with cheap ingredients that didn’t take me hours and hours to prepare…

So as a test run, I made cornbread, which was indeed a success.

While that was baking, I made the pumpkin purée. As it turns out, it’s no big deal. If I’d had any microwave-safe dishes big enough to contain 2.5 kilos of pumpkin, it wouldn’t even have taken very long.

Boil ’em, skin ’em, mash ’em, drain ’em. (…Why does that sound so much like the mantra of a serial killer?)

And about an hour in the Pie Success later, ta-da! A pumpkin pie made from actual pumpkins in a completely inappropriate kitchen.

Note the mise-en-scène, which was arranged specifically to reflect my feeling of accomplishment.

Riding on last evening’s creative vibe, I spent this morning playing with markers.

'happy Sanksgeeving, mes chèrs!

And this evening, I’m headed to a Franksgiving feast that will be the first for most of the invitees, so here’s hoping that the pie tastes as good as it smells…