Friday, December 18, 2009

'Zat You Santa Claus?

Today was the last day of school before the breaks, and it seemed like a lot of strange things happened. Or not strange, but funny. Funny tiny happenings.

Anyway, one kid gave me a drawing, which I think he was instructing me to pass on to the American Indians. It's a kind of, well... it's a drawing of a circular shape with a kind of patchwork design inside of it. No idea what it's supposed to be and at the top it says, "C'est un bouguiser." It might be bouquiser, but neither of these are words. I googled them. I'm very curious what it is, and why he wanted me to give it to the Indians. Too bad he got in trouble and didn't get to finish explaining.

It snowed yesterday and last night. It stuck, and school was not cancelled. I'm so used to people being like "AHHHH SNOW, I'm going to stock up apocalypse-style at Wal-mart" and everything being closed. I still had to go to school. There was no pomp; there was no circumstance. It made me miss home a little.
The cool thing about it was... Actually this requires a small preface: I have been keeping cheese and juice on my window sill outside, which reading it now sounds a little like something out of a David Sedaris book. (If you haven't read Me Talk Pretty One Day, I highly recommend it.) Anywho, I've been keeping it there because it's freaking cold outside, and the window sill is more convenient than going down the hallway and three flights of stairs to the kitchen.
The cool thing was there was snow on my cheese this morning. Actually, that's not cool it all. But it is kind of funny. I hope you've enjoyed this pointless story.

(does this look familiar?)

In my morning classes, I reflected on the fact that my French is still very limited. For example, we were cutting out shapes: triangles, squares, circles that became a Christmas Tree. By the way, the kids loved this. There were seemingly random shapes on the page, and I told them what colors to color them, in English of course. When they cut them out, they were more enthusiastic than I could have possibly imagined. Anywho, they also made a complete mess cutting up the paper, so I tried to get one kid to walk around with the recycling bin. I tried. That's the limiting part. I wanted to say, "Hey, kid whose name I can't remember, walk around with that recycling bin because your classmates are making a complete mess with the paper they've cut up." But many of those words do not come to me immediately, and I'm not entirely sure what the word for recycling bin is. So, I have to get by by pointing at the bin, calling it a trashcan, and pointing around the class. Luckily, kids think on this level, so he understood and obliged.

I went to my afternoon classes (I think I am the ONLY assistant who didn't have a SINGLE class cancelled this week.) In the first one I received the Indian drawing. There were also two little girls bleeding. One had a very painful looking something on her arm; it didn't look like a cut, more like a sore, but she was dabbing it with a tissue, and the tissue had blood on it. Another little girl had blood that was, in my opinion, gushing from her finger. The teacher just said, go rinse it off and wrap a tissue around it. Bleeding is one reason I could never teach elementary school.

My first afternoon class ended early due to some kind of program the school was going to have later, so I went to the teacher for my second class and asked if we would still have English. He said a lot of things I didn't understand. Finally, after a second and third interrogation, he said something like, "We haven't done a thing except for a little math this morning. The teachers had a holiday lunch with a lot of rosé. We drank a lot of rosé, so we haven't really done anything. I guess you don't do that in the U.S. In France, we drink a lot of wine..." and so on. This is when I realized he was still tipsy/drunk from lunch.
I said, "So, I can go?"
"If you want... something something something, hit by a car, ok?" he said. What?? Why was he telling me about getting hit by a car? I finally got him to explain slowly, "It's fine if you go, but don't get in an accident or anything because you're supposed to be in my class. If something does happen, they'll be like 'she was supposed to be in your class!!' You're my responsability." HA, that pretty much cracked me up.
"I won't die," I said. "Merry Christmas!" And away I was like the down on a thistle.

Also, I have recently discovered that many tired-out over-used adages are actually necessary, important, even. For example, "never run with scissors." In my CP class (kindergarten), we were doing the same Christmas Trees from random shapes project. The CPs do not have their own scissors, so I had to pass them out. Now, to adults, "do not run with scissors" is logical. It seems overcautious in its warning. But, do not be fooled. Six-year-olds will run with scissors in their hands, probably nine times out of ten. I'm not kidding. One kid came running toward me, scissors flailing, while I was leaning over to help another kid. As the scissors almost grazed my eyeball, I yelled "Attention, attention!" and grabbed his scissors. Attention means watch out in French. It was quite the revelatory experience.

In other news, I received a box of Christmas Cheer from ma mère. It's all I can do to keep from opening it all right now. Her suggestion was to put on Christmas music, drink some cocoa and open them... This Christmas will be my first without my family. It's kind of strange to think about. So, any family out there, I will miss you mucho during Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A food fight in the streets of Nântes

The cold has set in. It's the cold that makes me come for lunch time, grab something edible off my shelf in my room, crawl in bed, and lay quiescent (yes! who'da thunk i could work that word into my blog!) until I have to re-apply the layers of clothing necessary to brave the 3 minute walk to the bus stop. Lucky for me, my parents send me peanut butter and easy mac with my birthday presents. As a general rule, I do not consume easy mac, and I prefer macaroni and cheese the homemade way, but with my fabulous electric tea kettle I can have a semi-edible meal in minutes without having to go to the kitchen and socialize.
I do not like cold. At all.

In other news, I procured a bike a couple weeks ago. The city of Angers loans them out for free. You just have to provide a million documents and a bicycle has to be available. My friend Katie happened to be there when two were returned, and in her infinite awesomeness she reserved me one as well. It's amazing how much quicker it is to bike than to take the bus. But the last couple days of freezing temperatures have forced me to choose the less-green way to work. I love you, earth. Just not enough to arrive at school with a frozen face.

This past weekend, I visited Nântes, the nearest large city. It is the 6th largest city in France. Nântes is on the Loire river, and it is 30 miles from the Atlantic coast. In 2004, Time magazine named it "the most livable city in all of Europe."
Last week, I was really regretting my agreement to go, but I had told my friend Sam that I would. Her friend, Rachel who lives in Nântes was having a party Saturday, and I did want to see the city.
So we went. The thing is, Sam lost her phone about a month ago, so she sent Rachel a facebook message before we left with our arrival time and my phone number. Unfortunately, Rachel's internet had stopped working. We arrived, unaware of the adventure that was in store for us. We waited at the station for about 45 minutes, then Sam decided she could probably remember the way. We walked. And we walked. And we walked. We circled what later turned out to be Rachel's street for about an hour. Then we walked to a different part of town, uphill. A drunk started to follow us, asking us to come out with him. We ignored him, but he then started talking in "english." This was the most persistent cat-calling drunk I have ever encountered in my entire life.
"You do not, uh, lika mee because aye, uh, 'ave zis bier in my handz?" he said, as we kicked into high-speed, power walk mode. (Later we joked, "yes, that is one of the many many reasons we do not, uh, lika you.") In one last, desperate attempt to win us over he gestured toward his chest, "Aye, uh, 'ave veree nice, uh, . . . pectorals." ("Oh, ok," I wanted to say, "none of that other stuff was working for you, but now that I know about your PECTORALS...") After about 10 minutes, he finally got tired of high speed-power walk-stalking, and he dropped off by a tram stop. We got the next tram back to the center of town and made our way to a pub that was probably near Rachel's apartment. As soon as we got drinks, she finally called and met us at the pub. She had had her own adventures trying to find my phone number. I did get a good look at part of Nântes, though. It was really pretty with its Christmas lights, and there were lots of people out and about.
We went back to her apartment where her friend, boy Sam, and his friend, Adria, were waiting to eat. And we ate some delicious potatoes au gratin. We went dancing somewhere called the banana hanger. There was much confusion as to what the banana hanger actually referred to, but dance we did. Then we crashed and slept-in mightily.
Around 1:00 pm on Saturday, Rachel shooed us out, so she could get ready for her party. We wandered through Nântes' Christmas markets and made our way to what I believe to be the most bizarre and appealing tourist attraction in Nântes: Les Machines d l'Ile de Nântes. <--Check out the website. It will explain better than I can.
In particular we went to see The Great Elephant. I'll have to go back to Nântes in the spring to really check out the other machines, but the elephant was cool. People can ride on it, but in the interest of saving money, we just watched it. The whole thing is in a former shipbuilding warehouse, which was pretty neat. We kind of hung around for a while and took pictures and danced and did yoga and climbed. My camera needs new batteries, so I'm going to have to search for the pictures that Adria took.
After the Island of Machines, we headed toward another interesting location in Nântes. In fact it's called Le Lieu Unique, The Unique Place. It's a gallery/bar/café/restaurant/bookstore/boutique, but it's also really cool. Another semi-industrial building, it has a nice ambience. We sat in the café for a while and just talked about important things like which we would rather have, if we had to decide: a beak or an elephant trunk. I missed Drew and his equally probing What-if questions.
The current exhibit at Le Lieu Unique is a bunch of small rooms with movies playing inside of them. They were, I will admit, artsy and weird, but it wouldn't have been fun if they weren't. We settled on a musical that covered the lives of a couple people in the porn industry. It was ridiculous; I'll tell you more if you ask.
We ended the day with the absolutely best restaurant experience I have ever had in France. It was a seafood restaurant, which specialized in mussels (do you say specialized about a restaurant menu?). I was starving. We ordered wine, then all of us ordered Moules Frites (mussels and fries, a very popular meal in coastal areas of France). Literally minutes after we ordered, the waitress brought our wine. Then another 30 seconds and our huge plate of shared fries arrived; they were definitely handmade in the restaurant. Then, I'm not kidding, another minute or two later, and each of us had a huge plate of mussels (mine with sauce Roquefort, a bleu cheese). I cannot remember a time I have been so hungry and had that hunger so instantly gratified. It was delicious.

By the time we got back to Rachel's, around 8:30, her party had already started and we had to get ourselves cleaned up and presentable. The party was fun, and there were French people with whom I could speak French. I know I've made progress when I can carry on a thirty minute to hour long conversation. I may sound like an idiot, but I am heard.
The night progressed; people wanted to go out, but because it was a large group it took too long. And bars and clubs in France usually close around 3am. We didn't go in anywhere, but we heard music coming from a second-story apartment and began an impromptu dance party in the street. The French people in the party liked this and offered to through beer to anyone who danced on this ledge-thing. Some people did. They obliged with the beer.
Then, I saw something green fly through the air. Then another. The French people were throwing brussels sprouts at us! And carrots! And leeks! I picked some up and threw them back. The food fight carried on for a while until a beer bottle was broken and one of our party was hit with an egg. It was time to go back to the apartment. Unfortunately for me, having vegetables thrown at them did not quell many of the invitees party-spirits. I crashed, crampedly, with some others in the back room until the over-enthusiastic party-goers left...
Around 6 am.
I'm not sure about Nântes being the most livable city in all of Europe, but it is certainly fun. It is somewhere I will most definitely visit again.

Back in Angers, it is the week before Christmas vacation, and the kids are making sure that I, and every other teacher, is aware. They are restless. This week we are making Christmas trees out of shapes. I dictated the colors in English, and they cut them out and glue them together as a Christmas tree. Fabiola found the worksheet, and it is really quite ingenious. It takes them a good 30-40 minutes to complete, and it involves markers, scissors, and glue, which keeps them properly occupied.
My patience has been wearing thin. I've run out of steam to come up with new activities and lesson plans, and I'm worried that we've spent too long on colors and numbers. I have managed to incorporate a number of other things: some animals, age, names, some simple questions and answers... I don't know, most of my kids are 7 and 8. I am just supposed to be introducing them to the language, right?

One more thing, I am on a reading frenzy. If anyone would like to suggest one of their favorite books, I am open to any and all suggestions. Angers has a fabulous English Language library with an impressive collection. Sooo, comment! I like books.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Some other things

(drawings from some of my kids)
Today, I went to the train station, only I no longer call train stations train stations. I call them gares. Gare is the French word. I am not trying to be pretentious, it's seriously the first word that comes to my head. There are words that are slowly becoming "french only." Words like maybe and sometimes, pop into my head as peut-être and quelquefois.

Anyway, today at the train station, I walked up to the lady and said, "I would like a ticket for Paris." And she said, "Very good. You speak very good French, but it would be better to say 'I would like a ticket to go to Paris.'" Actually, it boosted my confidence, we finished the transaction in French, and because there was no one else in line, she told me about her daughter who is 17 and want to go to Los Angeles. I told her I was born in San Francisco, and she was surprised I was American. I'm not sure why.

Apparently, French people LOVE Los Angeles, I swear every person I talk to wants to go to LA. I don't have any theories on this, it's just an observation.

Today, we started to learn "Jingle Bells." As I've said, most of my classes are CE1, 7 and 8 year olds. On Friday afternoons at Marcel Pagnol, I have my one class of CE2s.
I like them better.
Lucky for me, they are not my children, so I do not have to love them all equally. The CE2s pick up on things faster, so we have more fun. The teacher is youngish, younger than the other ones I work with, so I don't feel like he's constantly judging my (lack of) teaching skills. He also jokes with me, rather than ignores my existence, as some teachers do.
Today, for instance, as we were "singing" (yelling) "jingle bells" (jingr boells), he and I laughed at their pronunciation. I made them listen to the song, then I would say a line and make them repeat it. Then, I would say a line word by word, with them repeating. However, no matter what I did, it sounded something like "Jingr Boells, Jingr Boells, Jinghh aww d'NOEL."
I figured they were saying Noel because the French lyrics to the same tune are completely different. BUT, I just looked it up, and there's nothing about Noel in the song. At all. HAHAHA
Because the song is, for them, only a series of songs, they kind of assert any thing they feel like fits.
And I digress.
What I was going to say about the CE2s: The class consists of the more-advanced 8 year olds, and 9 year olds, and I guess that is when children start becoming people. I probably sound like a horrible person, and it might have a lot to do with the fact that the smaller children don't deal as well with my accent. But, the CE2s pick up things quickly. So when we play a game, I don't spend 10 minutes explaining and re-explaining and making other children explain. They get it.
They still think fart jokes are funny, however.
Speaking of fart jokes, I was at Jules Verne this morning, and it was picture day. I ended up being in the picture with M. Lecompte's class. My second class is Mlle. Rondeau (Marie). She teaches two different classes, so she asked if I would mind if she left for a few minutes to be in the photo with the other class. I figured I could handle them for a few minutes.
As soon as she left the class, there was more shouting, making fun of, and armpit farting than I have heard since I started. Kids kept knocking over chairs, so I said that the next kid who did would leave the classroom -- a common punishment for kids who are being really bad. Another kid did. He left. Then, a girl said another kid was calling her a pig, so I told him to stop. He made a VERY rude gesture involving a pelvic thrust at the little girl. He was told to leave as well. A third kid was making farting noises with his hand in his armpit, while another one told on him, repeatedly, while yelling. The fart-noise kid also had taken his shirt halfway off.
When Marie returned, she was none pleased to find two students in the hall. After a couple of words from her, the kids snapped into shape, immediately.

I meant to mention, in my last post, the title, "... a Tired Teachair," is what one of my other kids calls me. He is from Senegal and picks up English very quickly. When they learned the word teacher, he decided that was what he would call me. It is rather endearing.