Sunday, October 26, 2008

Election wrap up

For the most part my elections lessons were a total success. I had two lessons, because I'm lazy: one for the older kids (CM) and one for the younger guys (CE1). For the little guys we did what I had always been planning on. We talked about the very, very basics of the election (like just the fact that there is an election taking place and who is running), and then I taught them about some American symbols (Statue of Liberty, Liberty Bell, the flag, the bald eagle, and Uncle Sam) and then we did a coloriage magique (since we've learned colors and numbers through 12 so far this year).

In the older classes I ended up talking about who was running, the Republican and Democratic parties and what their beliefs are, and then I quickly explained the electoral college and we colored in the map and counted votes. Surprise surprise, the monster class of CM1/CM2 was enthralled! They actually seemed interested and shut their mouths for a few minutes. It was our best class so far this year (probably because there was very little English involved). I mean really, this was probably the most boring class ever because I just stood up there and talked at them for most of it, and yet somehow it worked. The most interesting part was when I asked them why someone wouldn't want to vote Democratic and a little girl said "because Obama is black and so they might think he isn't an American." This girl is of Moroccan descent, and non-whites have a hard time integrating into French culture, regardless of if they were born in France or not, so I wonder if she feels that way about herself or if she heard it from her parents. I briefly addressed the issue, but I think we'll save the long discussion on mulitculturalism for Martin Luther King Day.

I also did this lesson with my CE2/CM1 class but that wasn't a good idea, it was too much for them. Should have created a third lesson.

I did this with my superstar class of always interested and curious CM2 at V School and it was really good, the kids had lots of background knowledge on the issues at stake so we had a good discussion. With them the interesting/disturbing part was about World War II, actually. Talking about the economic crisis had brought up the Great Depression, and a boy asked why WWII had been fought against the Germans. I asked the class if anyone knew, and another kid said because the Germans wanted to retake land (I assume she meant Alsace-Lorraine). So I told them that it was actually a lot more than that, that Hitler wanted to be the leader of the whole world, and of course there were the internment camps as well. Blank looks. Haven't you kids heard of the death camps that he set up? No, more blank looks. These kids had never heard of the Holocaust. I was stunned and actually quite upset, and I ended up giving them a very, very short (and probably traumatizing) lesson on the Holocaust. I'm still really upset that they didn't know about it. I know that a good portion of that comes from the fact that I'm Jewish, but really, by CM2 (fifth grade in the States), shouldn't these kids have been taught something about the Holocaust? I can only hope that it's coming this year. I asked D and a teacher at another school what the CM2 should know about the Holocause. D said that kids today are horrible (I hear that from a lot of French, btw) and that they either learned and didn't retain it or they just haven't been taught yet. The other teacher faulted the education system, that there is so much to learn and not enough time. Either way, it's shameful. They don't have to know the details about zyklon b but they should at least know that this horrible mass killing, this genocide of 12 million people in an extremely organized, systematic manner took place at one point in history and that we must always be vigilant that it never happens again. I think I'm going to hunt down The Diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars or maybe The Devil's Arithmetic in French and make these kids read them.

Am I overreacting? I just feel like in this region, which is chock-full of francais de souche who have little contact with anyone different (V School is all white, except for maybe one kid, and in a pretty wealthy village that contains six chateaux) the teachers should be especially vigilant about teaching tolerance and awareness of how wrong prejudice is. I feel another MLK Day lesson idea coming....

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Vide means empty in French. One thing in my life that is vide right now is my French bank account. I have about €6.30 in there right now. I thought I had left about €500 in there when I left for the summer, and came back to the unpleasant news that it was actually under €200. Good thing the exchange rate from the dollar to the euro is the best it's been in over a year or else I would really be suffering. I'm sure my bank is giving me a really crappy exchange rate anyways. That paycheck can't come soon enough! Luckily I haven't been spending my few euro cents on expensive things like clothes, just on pastries. I think 85 centimes for the little piece of heaven known as a croissant au beurre is a pretty good deal.

Other things vide include my head, which is out of interesting ideas for teaching my kids about the election. I had this really cool idea for my older kids that I would assign them each a state and then they'd have to say if they would vote for Obama or McCain based on a fact sheet with things like number of gun owners, unemployment data, etc, but I feel like they just won't get it. Since the average French adult can't understand why Americans continue to vote Republican (and I have to admit to being sort of clueless myself), I really don't think the kids are going to understand the excersize and will end up bored and unhappy. The ideas and values associated with Republicanism are so far removed from their lives that they won't be able to make sense of it. My four classes of CE1 are easy enough: I'll tell them that there's an election, give them some very very basic details about the candidates and political parties, and then we'll color and count with famous US monuments. I love CE1s. With the older guys I'd like to talk about the electoral college and color the map red and blue and all that, but I'm worried it will be way over their heads (and I know that the monster class won't shut up long enough to hear the explanation). Maybe just show them a colored in map rather than have them figure out what color each state will be, and tell them why? Or just have a simple mock election? Or just do the same thing I'm doing with the CE1 but in more detail?

I feel like my creativity dial is on a big fat 0.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

To get to V School I can't just take the normal bus, I have to take this weird transport on demand line that the city bus runs. They have lines out to smaller or further outlying towns that run at specific times but you have to call at least an hour in advance (or the night before for morning) to reserve a spot and a pick up point. Not so bad, except for remembering to call. Well, this week I had to change my reservations, that I had made on Monday to be all on top of things, two times. Apparently this was way to ridiculous for the lady who takes the reservations. I got yelled at that this is not how the service works, that if I'm not sure of my schedule I should just wait until the day of to make a reservation, and then she threatened to not change my reservation and essentially kick me off of the bus line! WTF! She is there to help me, not the other way around! Whatever. I just played the dumb foreigner card and she decided to let me keep using the stupid bus line. Luckily it looks like three out of my four trips to and from V School coincide with the really nice tech lady who had already offered to give me rides, and now it looks like that's going to work out, so now I only have to deal with the psychotic reservations lady for one ride a week. But really, how French is that? I couldn't follow simple rules and therefore I get yelled at and threatened. And of course it never occured to her that helping the people who need rides is her job. Nope, she just gets bothered all the time by lousy foreigners who don't own cars when she should be shooting the breeze with the other lady in the office. Clearly I should just find another way to get there and stop bothering her during working hours. Sheesh.

Other news... monster class will be getting homework and a quiz every day until they can start behaving like normal children. Monday was Day One of the new policy and we'll see how it goes. I hate doing it, but I cannot spend every class coming up with new strategies to make them shut their traps and listen. Hopefully this will work....

I voted! One more vote in the bucket for Obama! It's starting to look pretty good for us, but I know I'll still be holding my breath on election night. Anyone else thinking about going the the Democrats Abroad election night party?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The time I went to Paris three times in the space of one week and then got some free food

One of the benefits of living in one of the worst départements in France is that I'm only an hour away from Paris by train (unless you get on the ridiculous train that stops at a million tiny towns, then it takes an hour and a half. Normally I try to avoid those). I took advantage of that this week by going to Paris on Thursday, for the weekend, and will be heading back tomorrow on a field trip with V School (my new school) to the Musée d'Orsay. I like that it will be a free trip, because after this weekend my wallet is vide.

I had my first visitor from the US this weekend! My freshman year roommate scheduled a two day layover in Paris to visit with me, and we had a fabulous time. We stayed in Paris for the weekend and did absolutely nothing except eat and drink wine, but it was great. Saturday we walked up and down the Champs Elysees, and Sunday we really meant to get to the Louvre but somehow getting up at noon turned into getting to the museum at 5:30 when they were no longer letting people in. Oooops.

It was really funny watching my friend deal with facts of life in France. She couldn't get over how rude people in Paris were. I tried to explain to her that they are like New Yorkers and really sick of tourists, but since she's a New Yorker she didn't really agree with that analogy. She also couldn't get over their use of space, how they don't get out of your way but then walk right through you to get where ever they are going. Of course she also couldn't believe how small the hotel room was (and rooms in general), how everything has lardons or jambon in it, their weirdness about proper eating times, how they kept speaking French all the time (guess that can be pretty shocking for a non-francophone). It was funny to see all of it through the eyes of someone who's never dealt with it before.

My boulangère (baker) and I are best friends. She gave me a free little bread bun thing today. The reason I go to this particular boulangerie is because it's the best one in town, so now I'm dreaming of all the amazing free butter croissants and tartes framboises in my future. That actually won't happen, and I'll probably never get anything free again, but at least I can pretend that if I keep telling her every detail of my life she'll keep giving me free food. Fair trade off don't you think? She gets all the gossip about the weird American who lives in Picardie, and I get a little free food. I make so little as an assistant anyway that it's kind of like charity. She should write me off on her taxes next year.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Second time around

Moving to France for the second time is so much better than the first time, mostly because my French is SO MUCH better than it was last time and I'm so much more confident speaking. I'm sure all the ladies at the circonscription offices comment often amongst themselves about the fact that this year I can actually communicate! And wow, once you get her going, she really talks! I love talking French these days so much that once I get going I keep going.

I also like coming back and knowing the people at the circonscription office, at the schools, at the bakery, etc. I feel very comfortable here. I just saw my lovely baker for the first time since I've gotten back (not sure where she was for the past two weeks) and so we got to catch up (in front of half the town of course). I got my first croissant since coming back and it was maybe the most delicious thing I've ever put in my mouth. Especially when compared to all of the awful ones I tried in the US this summer. My new addiction is the cappuccino from the coffee machine in the teacher's lounge at the lycee. For 40 centimes I get the same amount of coffee I would at a café for about 4€, and it tastes pretty good too.

I also feel so much more confident teaching. I actually have an idea of what I'm doing (versus being totally clueless and freaked out at this time last year) and I have a ton of materials and games I used last year to draw upon. Mostly I'm just so happy to finally have something to do during the day! I was really, really bored the past two weeks.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

French Guys Are Weird

So Thursday night Ben came over and we had a little discussion. He says "I really want us to take our time and get to know each other, so I'm not going to ask you to move in with me yet."

Ummm.... what?

The context of this conversation was that his ex-girlfriend moved in immediately after they became a couple and he thinks the fact that they rushed into their relationship is a big part of why things ended so badly between them.

So I pose a question to the blogging world: is it normal in France to start living together immediately? Or was he just trying to explain why he's doing things differently this time around? I know that French guys get serious very quickly, but moving in together? That's a huge step. I feel like that's a lot of stress to put on a new relationship when you're still trying to get to know each other, and then add to that dealing with all of the stresses of living with another person and it seems like a recipe for disaster. It seems more acceptable to live together in France than it is in the US, so maybe they don't view living together as such a big step, maybe to them it's more normal? I'm really interested to hear what people think about this.

In other Ben news, he volunteered to have another automatic driving lesson! I guess he was inpressed that I eventually got the car moving. I really doubt that I will ever enjoy driving manual, or be very good at it, but at least I'll know what to do. If you find yourself in Aisne, stay off the roads!