I realized looking over this blog that it looks like all I do is walk around and take pictures, and this is not actually true, so I decided to devote a blog entry to my job. I do nanny part time, but my actual reason for coming to France was to teach English. (Between teaching and nannying I work 27 hours a week, which is practically full time for the French!) I teach English in a suburb north west of the city called Aulnay-Sous-Bois. My students are approximately 2nd-5th grade, so some of them are just starting English. I teach in several different schools, trekking around Aulnay four days a week (no primary school is in session on Wednesdays).
Teaching in France is an interesting experience, challenging, but very rewarding (most days). My kids come from a very diverse ethnic background, as Aulnay is known for being a rather difficult immigrant melting pot. Most of them have unpronounceable North African names, with a couple Romanian and Polish names thrown into the mix. This diversity inevitably leads to interesting questions, like “Miss Hannah (prounounced Mees Annah, question asked in French of course as their vocabulary thus far is colors, school supplies and numbers), were you sad on 9/11 and why did Osama hate America?” This is very complex to explain to an eight year old, without offending half of the room. French kids are strong in different areas than American children. American children learn in a liberal arts manner. We do units, where you integrate all different subjects under the banner of “The American Revolution” or “The Rainforest” or something. The unit concept does not exist in French schools as far as I can tell and they favor rote memorization. American children are lucky to have legible handwriting when they leave elementary school, while French kids all exhibit exactly the same perfect handwriting. I spent almost a third of every class answering questions like “Do we underline this in red?” or “Should we skip 4 squares over for the date?” until I finally stopped and said that in the US, you sometimes don’t underline, or you may even do a squiggle line. Anarchy broke loose and they realized at that moment that the United States is indeed the land of freedom. History is not as valued in the French Elementary system from what I can tell, but current events, even on the international scale, are common topics of conversation for even a young child. Today one of my 4th graders asked me totally unprompted “Did you hear that that bill (healthcare) only passed 220 to 215?”
The teacher’s lounge is life to a scholastic culture that gets Wednesdays off and a paid two week vacation every 7 weeks. I spend some quality time each day in the teachers lounge, sometimes for my lunch break, in between classes, or often because someone forgot to tell me a class was cancelled. People think of wine as the French drink of choice, but after being here a while, I firmly believe it is coffee. When you eat out and you tell the waiter you don’t want coffee after dinner, he stands there dumbly looking confused, and when someone asks if you want coffee, it is often not a question. I have even choked down a couple cups since arriving. French generosity is at its finest in the teachers lounge where everyone contributes to makes sure coffee, tea, and little cookies are never lacking. Kids routinely come in with coffee orders for those unlucky teachers who have to monitor the playground. Today the director felt really bad that she hadn’t called me to tell me my class was canceled (meaning I got up way early for nothing) but then she suddenly beamed and said “ But oh! You can have a coffee!”