Sunday, October 22, 2006

Looking over my past posts, I notice that there is a glaring omission. Mainly, what about the classes I am supposed to be teaching? It is, after all, the reason I am here (and getting paid). Actually, this is something that is going to a bit difficult... I teach at two Coll├Ęges which house students who are 11-15 years old and are roughly equivalent to junior high/middle school in the States. Both are so disparate in student makeup, economic condition, and faculty that I will address each independently:

Ernest Renan
I will always remember walking up to this school my second full day in France. Wandering lost through the forest of high-rise apartment buildings thrown together in the mid-eighties and having 14 year-old kids asking me for a cigarette until I found a large gate in the stone wall. Renan is a large school, but, as the vice principle told me at our first meeting, one that can be very trying. The children who go here are not violent or scary, they are not very interested in learning and enjoy getting expelled from class. You see, Renan is located in the immigrant quarter of the region (in this case mostly of an Islamic background). For the most part their parents are either unemployed or barely able to make ends meet, they are socially marginalized, and often distrusted by the general population (which, I'm sad to report, sometimes infects their teachers too). As a result, Renan is under financed and is making do with staffing problems and out-dated technology. The teachers are very dedicated, but also very young. I have to admit that I am closest to the staff here because they are younger and more interested in talking and hanging-out. Here I teach six (boring) hours a week where I sit in the back or front of the class reading aloud occasionally but mostly sitting. Not that I would agree to teach more than four or five of the students by myself; however, it would be nice to be of more use to the children. They are good kids, but they are just very... loud.

L'Herault
Everything I said about Renan take and flip it on its head. This school, though located in the same suburb, is economically well-off, the students are attentive, and the staff are very experienced. The "ideal" school. Here I teach five hours a week - one first year class and two advanced classes. The first years are so cute! I am amazed how much growing (physically and mentally) children do in these three years. Anyway, their teacher takes about eight of them each week to review what they learned and I am left to play whatever games or sing whatever songs I think reinforce what they were learning. The other two classes are two hours long - I take half the class for half the time and then we switch. With the fourth year students I just try to get them to speak as much as possible, and with the fifth year students I correlate with their lessons with what they are studying at the time (they are better served by hearing me speak in a normal fashion, whereas the others need to speak themselves). Everything here is easy and straight foreword, except, being a first time teacher it is overwhelming to be told to teach whatever you want for an hour.

Albert Einstein said something like - It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the curiosity of inquiry. I can be a bit of an idealist; however after three weeks I think that I have abandoned this guiding sentiment for one that will get me through the next hour. I hated junior high school, as every sensible person does, and now I am back teaching students who really don't want to learn. Don't get me wrong, I can't see myself doing anything else right now. I am a good teacher and entertain the students well. Also, it does have its benefits : I am getting rather good at British English. "I went to university, etc. And I have learned that in the UK you ask "Have you got a pencil;" whereas to American ears this sounds a bit awkward. Who knew?

Overall, I have had my frustrations and miss-communications with both schools. Yet I am glad I can help (how much my help is worth we will have to wait and see).

Yours,
Heather

1 comment:

reachums said...

My Friend Christy used to Teach English as a second language to Spanish speaking students, She loved and hated it at the same time. A lot of the kids were from lower income families and areas and she always wanted to make them feel that at lease SHE trusted and liked them. Sadly the ESL program was cut and now she teaches Spanish to middle schoolers, one of her old students claimed she stopped teaching them because she hates Mexican kids. Which is utterly absurd.

-emily