Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What I Learned

I came to Paris to teach French kids English. Remember when I went to journalism school? Heh. I had no idea what I was doing. But throughout these nine months, I definitely learned a thing or two:

Don't overprepare. Kids are weird. They can be really smart one day and really stupid the next. They can concentrate magnificently today and be spilling their pencil cases everywhere, climbing under their desks, trying to jump out the windows tomorrow. There's no way to tell what kind of day it was going to be. If I put too much time into planing a lesson, there was a 50%-100% chance it would be wasted work. So I put a limit on prep time.

But be prepared. A classroom of 30 nine year olds with no lesson plan? I don't even want to think about it.

Get over it. Sometimes I would have the crappiest classes. Seriously some of those kids effing sucked. I would leave so frustrated and angry that they were such little punks. But I would really have something to be depressed about if I let some 10 year olds get the best of me. I learned to get over those horrible classes within 30 seconds of the bell.

Don't take it personally. If I had a quarter for every time a kid was impolite to me in class? Well then I'd certainly not be working this low-paying job. And if I got upset every time a kid mocked my French or my accent? Well I'd be pissed off until next October.

Interwebs. I can't draw stuff. I can't even write in a straight line. Even knowing this, for some reason at the beginnning, I actually tried to make my own worksheets. Terrible idea. Google images does it so much better.

One idealistic American can't fight the system.
I find the French school system much too academic for these poor little kids. And I wanted so badly to show them that learning could be fun. That we could play games and learn via interactive activities, and hell, even color with markers!!!!! But when it comes down to it, even the youngest kids have adapted to this dry, creativity-stiffling method of learning: every school day spent copying off the chalkboard, not questioning the answer given to you, and always underlining the date, in red ink, using your ruler. So I had to toss my off-the-wall fun learning games out the window quite often. The kids just didn't know how to deal. If I had more energy, I would have pushed more upbeat, move-around-the-classroom lessons. But I was tired of trying. The system doesn't work like that. And I learned that I couldn't change the system in a 45-minute lesson period.

Friday, June 26, 2009

People in Paris I Like

I haven't been fair. Lately I've been griping about things and people I find annoying. But the fact of the matter is, I wouldn't still be here if there weren't good things and people here, too.

I've been tutoring two little girls all year, and this past Wednesday was our last session. The moms threw a going-away dinner party, complete with some other English speaking friends and another family I babysit for. The girls and I surprised everyone with our production of "Three Billy Goats Gruff" (there was a bit of trouble with my flimpsy cardboard-and-tape bridge. It kind of fell down several times). And then all the moms surprised me with a gift of their own.

They gave me three lithographs of Paris monuments, sketched by an artist named Bernard Buffet. Here's the one of Sacre Coeur:

I wish I could find a better way to describe the sketches other than that they are absolutely perfect. But that is all I can think to say. They are a perfect combination of contemporary art and ancient Paris architecture. And they are perfect because they are gifts from people who I care about, and people who care about me.

These aren't the only families who kept their eyes on me these past several months to make sure I was getting along okay. I still stay in touch with the family I lived with when I first arrived, and occasionally stop over for lunch or dinner. Another family I used to babysit for also showered me with gifts when I "retired," one which was a cookbook of traditional French dishes.

So yeah, I don't have too much to complain about. When I leave Paris, I will definitely thave some great souvenirs to remember these people by.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fleeting Moment of Anger

Today, I bumped into this woman who works at the administration office for my schools. Back in the day, she was to be my go-to person. The one who was supposed to put me in touch with my schools and see that everything went smoothly.

She never really helped me much. In fact, I think she lost an important letter I needed months back for my residency card. Early on, I realized she wasn't too concerned with any problems I might have, so I never bothered her with them.

So today I saw her for the first time in months, and she asked how the school year was going. Thanks for asking. It's three days from being over. And then she mentioned that of the three of girls who came to this town to teach for the year, I'm the only one who is still here.

I know why one girl went home, and I can assume about the other. It has a lot to do with how poorly organized this program is. When you arrive to a foreign country and have nowhere to live, thus no way to open a bank account, thus no way to get paid, meanwhile you don't know where or when you work or even how to do your job... this all really sucks. And when the person designated to help you with this stuff simply doesn't? That kinda sucks, too.

So I'm one of three who stuck out the year, and she seemed entertained. Nonchalant. Not even wondering what might have happened or why they found it so unbearable that they went back to America. Her lack of caring made me so angry.

But what was I going to say? I don't have the power to change the program's faults. I don't have power to make this woman do her job better. So I cut the conversation short, went to school, and concerned myself with more important matters. We are singing Old McDonald today. Does anyone know what sound a rabbit makes?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

These Things Peeve Me

Generally, I think I've adapted pretty well to life here. I even ate a restaurant cheeseburger with a knife and fork once, because I guess that's how they do it here. But here are some things that I absoutely cannot get used to.

- Garbage bags. In my country, garbage bags have built-in handles. When it comes time to prepare the bag for its journey to the dumpster, you simply tie the handles together. Here, each bag comes equipped with a flimsy little red tie thingy. Sometimes the flimsy little red tie thingy mysteriously disappears. Or it will break in two. Even if neither of those things happen, it's just awkward to have to deal with a little red tie thingy when you are trying to quickly close a smelly bag of garbage.

- Square pillows. These are for hiding stains on/decorating your couch. Square pillows also make nice seat cushions for your lawn furniture. But square pillows are not for your bed. I can't explain why, that's just how it works. I slept horribly for months until I bought some rectangular pillows off Craigslist.

- Street cleaners wasting water. There are these fire hydrants type devices that exist for the sole purpose of dumping gallons and gallons of water onto the streets, supposedly to clean them. At the same time, the streets are eternally filthy. Cuz Paris is a filthy city. No one respects the cleanliness. So what is the street cleaner people's logic? Why waste all this water for no reason?

- Shower heads not being attached to the wall. It makes showers so much easier. I don't understand why this concept never caught on over here.

- PDA. Why do I have to trip over people making out everywhere I go? Those metro poles are for maintaining your balance, not for making out against. Park benches are for sitting on, not for making out on. Sidewalks are for walking on, not for making out. Crosswalks are for crossing the street, not for making out.

- Poorly designed ads. It would be better if I had some pictures to show you. But I'd say 75% of the metro ads look really, really bad. Design isn't my speciality. Yet I do know one ad should not randomly switch between italic and bolded type, nor should it contain three different fonts. It's also a good idea to choose an image that makes sense. Additionally, ads should not be an opportunity to smush as much type and as many pictures as can possibly fit in the space. Newsflash: all that stuff confuses people. I learned these basics in my design for dummies class in college. I wonder where the people that design these ads went to school.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Almost The End

Anyone who follows my Twitter account might be familar with my sometimes negative attitude towards my job. Some past tweets:

- Children's joyful voices wafting up from recess are giving me a headache. Weekend vaca can't come soon enough.
- If another child asks Miss Betsy yet another repetitive question, Miss Betsy will punch that child in the face.
- I think I wake up every Monday and think "I don't want to go to school today."

Yup, I am mentally ticking off the remaining days (there are eight). Some reasons: Half of the teachers don't take me seriously, and that attitude trickles down to their students. I despise planning lessons, making worksheets, and dealing with the finicky school printer and/or photocopier. I never studied or learned how to be a teacher. That lack of experience continues to be a challenge. Oh yeah. And one of my students is a thief.

Based on the evidence above, it would make sense to assume that I am so ready to be done and done. I am. But… Okay… I can't actually believe I am saying this. I might miss it just a little bit.

For every little brat who still can't write the date correctly in English, there are three kids who rock. There are kids who are excited to learn and kids who ask me intelligent questions. There are kids who kiss me on the cheek to say hello and kids who write me little notes to tell me they missed me over vaction.

When it comes down to it, I like kids. They have funny kid personalities and say funny kid things. Like the one who asked me if I flew home to Chicago every night after school. Or another who asked me if I could be the new substitute teacher, because he thought the current sub was mean and lame. When I arrive in the morning, I can't deny that 50 kids screaming 'ELLO!!! with their little French accents always, without fail, makes me smile.

Yeah, this year hasn't been half bad. It's been challenging, but no day has ever been the same. Sorry I frequently complained about you, kids. But seriously. You can be such evil fiends sometimes.

Monday, June 08, 2009

One Week and One Day In

Kelly and I have survived the first week of marathon training. Go us. Making it through one week doesn't really mean anything though. There are four long months ahead. The mileage will slowly increase and soon enough, we'll find ourselves doing those lonely Sunday 20 milers.

I always feel weird talking about this running stuff to people who aren't runners or have no interest in ever running a marathon. How much do people want to know?

Things I would like to talk about: How pretty it was to watch the sunset behind Notre Dame the other night as I was running towards it. That I didn't mind the constant rain on Saturday's 8-mile run, because I had the trail almost to myself, something that never happens in Paris. Also I would like to mention how tired I always am. I fell asleep again on the train today, and someone had to wake me up to tell me we had arrived at the station. And Saturday I decided to shop all day after that long run, and a few hours in, I realized I was kind of limping because my legs were angry at me. That was not fun.

What else? There's lots I could talk about. When you run almost every day and dedicate four months of your life to this one silly really really long race (26.2 miles, in case you didn't know. Or 42 kilometers for you weird European people that don't think in miles), you think about it a lot. You pay more attention to what you eat, and think everyday about whether you are going to squeeze in a few miles before or after work, and you wish you didn't live on the 6th floor, because all those stairs hurt after you are already tired from all those miles.

But you also think about how you're really glad you're doing this. Working towards this goal gives you some sort of purpose in life or something. It feels good to whip your body into this kind of shape. You can eat whatever you want and never gain weight.

Well, I've already said too much. If you want to know about marathons and things, ask me. But that's all for now.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Apologize To Me Child

Last week a couple of kids were annoying me. They were battling each other Star Wars style with their pens. No matter how many times I told them to stop, they wouldn't. Finally I just took the pens away.

This is nothing new. I confiscate kids' stuff all the time when it's distracting me. Mostly it's rulers, pens (they're supposed to write in pencil) and those little finger skateboards. I usually give the kids their junk back at the end of class. But these two were particularly getting on my nerves.

I just didn't want to give them the satisfaction of getting their pens back, so I made up a dumb reason to keep them. So I told them I was keeping the pens until they wrote me apologies. I didn't expect them to do it. If I were the kid, I would just get a new pen.

Well today I got this on a scrap of paper: "Je m'excuse pour mon comportement d'éleve mal élevé du Mardi 28/05/09. Miss Betsy, et je promis de ne plus recommencé." Basically it says sorry for having bad manners and I won't do it again. It probably took him eight seconds to write. In French, the note kind of doesn't even make any sense. But I kept my part of the deal and gave him his pen.

The whole thing reminded me of a This American Life episode, "How to Talk to Kids." In the very last act, Dan Savage makes a point as to why sometimes it's okay to show kids that no matter how bad they can be, adults can be badder. My story isn't as dramatic as his was, but I did convince a kid to submit to a dumb punishment for misbehaving in class. I definitely got a little authority kick out of that. I owned you kid. Okay it was over a 4-color BIC, but I still owned you. Kid 0, (Miss) Betsy 1.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Day 1

Today is the first day of marathon training! Hurrah! I'm excited to get my new shoes dirty.

I didn't get the opportunity today, as Mondays are cross training days. In marathon speak, that means doing any sort of exercise that is not running. So I took advantage of the blue sky and the fact that today is yet another random French holiday and biked to the Bois de Vincennes. It's a huge park/forest just outside Paris. It's about a 20-minute bike ride.

This place is a sporty person's heaven. There are a million trails everywhere with tons of shade. I'm going to do all my long runs there, though I'll have to carry a map. I can already see myself getting lost and having to run an extra 5 miles.

I found a nice place to eat the little picnic I had prepared. I listened to a This American Life podcast and thought deep thoughts. I planned to read or write things too, but I had already gotten quite a bit of sun and was feeling tired. So I biked home. It was a great little excursion. I am ending this post now, because I am boring myself.