Real Work at Claudel

Like Méchain, I also spend six hours working with various teachers and their classes of secondes.

  • F and S asked me to work on reality TV. My knowledge of reality TV rivals my knowledge of math, AKA nothing.
  • I’m not sure whether it’s more awkward for me or for the teacher when the kids won’t shut up and she spends more than half the class yelling at them, calling them insupportable while I start desperately checking my watch halfway through the hour and wondering whether I can climb out of a third-story window. I finally see what two of my friends said before diversity graduation, when they said that French kids can be terrible. (The attitude of some of these kids. They’d laugh at the teacher when she got mad.)
  • I volunteered half an hour to sit down and listen to terminales convince me whether Lord of the Rings, Matilda, Alice and Wonderland, Narnia, and Harry Potter were good children’s books. Hello, I’m always here for books.
  • ­Ib asked me to help her grade BTS kids, and it was pretty awkward when they didn’t know how to answer the question, “Can you spell your first name?” so I cheated and said épeler. Afterwards, the students apparently complained, “Madame, she had an accent!” (Every teacher here has a British accent.)

Unlike Méchain, I don’t grade terminales. Instead, I have six hours with 6-10 voluntary students in each class—R-MC-sized classes, really. Anyways, I will protect these kids who want to improve their English and learn about the US. They will not be harmed.

  • The teachers and administration gave me total leeway re lesson plans, so I decided to start with Two Truths and a Lie, and then move on to a general quiz about the US. Originally, I was going to focus on Thanksgiving, but after attending the protest, I scrapped that, talked about the elections, and used Thanksgiving and Scattergories/Le petit bac to fill in the remaining time.
  • There’s nothing more beautiful than the sound of your students reading aloud lines from the Paris Against Trump protest. (Their favorite, by far, was “Hands too small, can’t build a wall.”) Also, bless the kid who muttered, “FDT” when he saw my PowerPoint slide labeled, “US Election.”
  • I don’t know whether this is frowned upon in the teaching world, but I already have a favorite class. When I showed them pictures of what the electoral college map would’ve looked like if only certain demographics had voted, these kids raised their hands and said, “Women vote better” and “White people shouldn’t vote,” and I just about died of laughter (especially because the class is mostly white). They also adored the Obama-Biden memes, and I really wish I saw them more often than once every two weeks.
  • My biggest problem is that these are supposed to be “conversation classes,” but I can tell that some of the kids are shy, something I completely emphasize with… So yeah, they picked the wrong person to try to make students talk. (I kid you not, I still have grudges against the teachers who tried forcing me to speak up.) I guess I’ll try to make them feel more comfortable with group-work games?
  • My goal is to slowly but surely turn the more advanced students into social justice babies by the end of the year. They’ll be able to define feminism, heteronormativity, and intersectionality in their sleep. Look, if the school’s letting me do whatever I want, they can’t stop me—now more than ever, this world needs people who are compassionate, who will understand and fight for equitability.
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What Happens in Class, Doesn’t Stay in Class III

  • Some kid shouted, “Wait me!” after his friends, which made me smile, like when someone tried to say “eggs” but pronounced it as “oggs.”
  • One boy said, “What does ‘historic’ mean?” and then answered his own question by going, “Ah, historique!”
  • A girl walked up to me and said, “Excuse me, my friend wants to know if your scarf is Ravenclaw?” After I said “Yes, it is,” she and her friend giggled delightedly and walked away.
  • One of Al’s classes basically started crying when I left. I’m sorry, children. If only all the students were as excited about having me in the class as you all.
    • Al and I scarred another of her classes for life when we Googled a picture of spray can cheese. (She also showed me a teaching site that she uses, bless her heart.)
  • When a boy asked K in French whether he was allowed to ask for my phone number, she looked at me with pure pain in her eyes and whispered, “I’m sorry, this isn’t my fault.”
    • A girl asked, “Where do you want to live in the future?” and I replied, “In an apartment with my friends”—and then I almost died with laughter when an utterly shocked K said, “The normal response would be, ‘With a husband and children.’” Pfft, I don’t have time for heteronormativity.
  • After a boy asked if I watched basketball and I replied “No,” he sat back in his chair and muttered, “How do you live in the United States?”
  • I told a class that I’m from Richmond, Virginia, and re Virginie, someone said, “C’est une très belle prénom!” (That’s a pretty first name!”)
  • “You’ve wasted your life,” declared a boy after I told him that I’ve only played the Wii because I don’t own a PlayStation or Xbox.
  • A couple of kids whispered, “She can understand what we’re saying?” after I confirmed that I speak French. Yes, children, I can understand all your whispered conversations.
  • One class was supposed to present themselves to me, and one kid ended with, “I am hungry.”
  • Ml said, “Look what happened to America, the greatest democracy in the world!” when talking about the bigoted Cheeto, and I all but snorted with laughter, causing a few girls sitting in front of me to start giggling.
  • During Two Truths and a Lie, one of a student’s truths was, “I am very shy.” I immediately wanted to walk over there and give her a hug, but that probably doesn’t fit teaching assistant protocol.
  • While taking attendance, I called out, “Anaïs,” and apparently pronounced the name so correctly that one of her friends muttered, “She speaks French?”
  • F told me that a kid raised their hand and said in French, “I want to talk about Harry Potter, but I don’t know how to say Harry Potter in English.” You dear, sweet children.
  • A girl told me, “It is very hahaha” because she didn’t know how to say “funny.”

Protesting in Paris

With several lessons to plan for next week, naturally, I decided to procrastinate by going to Paris for the third time. But this time, it was for a far worthier cause: protesting against the tiny-handed, bigoted Cheeto and his lieutenant chauvinist.

After a Friday night of sushi and Eagle Eye in Amiens, S, A, and I—a trio of Nice alumni—took a Saturday morning BlaBlaCar to Paris. We lucked out with the driver and his friend, young cinema students who showed us their comedic web series Shlags and participated in a cultural music exchange with us.

On to the protest: we marched in the streets for two hours, from Place Joffre to Trocadéro, where we were accompanied by armored, armed gendarmerie (I’m serious, they were flat-out carrying guns and riot shields). According to the news sites, there were about 500 of us, mostly Americans, though there were all sorts of other people protesting as well. The diversity was incredible: white people, people of color, the LGBTQ community, children on shoulders, students, assistants, parents, old people with canes, and even dogs.

The catchiest chant, by far, was, “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” (It’s actually still stuck in my head as I write this.)

Some other protest lines:

“Black Lives Matter”

“We reject the President-elect”

“Trump and Pence makes no sense”

“Love, not hate, makes America great”

“Say it loud say it clear, refugees are welcome here”

“This is what democracy looks like”

My personal favorites:

“Women’s rights are human rights”

“Feminist as fuck”

“Hands too small, can’t build a wall”

“Make America gay again”

I’m so glad that S, A, and I made the last-minute decision to participate in the protest—I don’t have the words to describe how life-changing it was to be immersed in solidarity, activism, and hope. For example, when women started shouting, “My body, my choice!” and men chimed in with, “Their body, their choice!” / “Her body, her choice!” I was so overwhelmed that I started to tear up; my little feminist heart was just so full of gratitude and pride. Also, shout-out to the white people who were holding signs like, “White people did this” and “White silence is white violence.” Fittingly, after S, A, and I left and hunted down a café to defrost in, we passed speakers blaring the lyrics to “We Are Family.”

I don’t know who made this sign, but it was so on point and she saw me laughing at it:

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This girl was having the time of her life,  blessing people with her tiny hand sign:

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By the way, S, A, and I actually got caught on video: around 0:16, you can see the three of us busily documenting our first-ever protest and supporting social justice!

https://www.facebook.com/RevolutionPermanente.fr/videos/1190632281018558/?__mref=message_bubble

Méchain Adventures

  • I’ve started grading the terminales on their mock oral presentations for the bac, and I’m not sure if any other moment in my life will ever top the sheer confusion of sitting in an empty classroom, wondering if a 12.5/20 is a good average grade—because in the typical French fashion, no one has explained the French grading or expectations to me.
  • For some reason, I’m stuck helping an English-taught math class once a month. (In case you didn’t know, I can’t do math to save my life—I’ve actually caused friends physical pain by attempting to do simple addition in front of them.) The moment I heard words like “integer,” “polyhedron,” and “vertices,” I started getting high school flashbacks and was sorely tempted to nope my way out of the room.
  • I led half a class of secondes to my little library room and felt like a mother goose checking to make sure that they were all still walking behind me. They were all well-behaved, even if they didn’t want to talk—something I completely empathize with, so although Ml told me that they should speak, not listen, I ended up talking more than they did. Oops…?
  • Honestly, I don’t think it’s fair for the terminales to be chucked into a room with a native speaker and present in a foreign language while the rest of their peers listen. It’s got to be beyond intimidating, and I feel so awful calling on students when no one volunteers.
    • (I will never understand the French grading system, so the teachers can’t blame me if the worst grade I gave out was an 8/20—to me, that’s already an awful grade, not an average one.)
  • In a depressing and awkward turn of events, J’s husband passed away earlier this week, and nobody told me before I printed out a stack of handouts for her class and wondered why she wasn’t in her room.
  • For J’s next class, the substitute teacher didn’t show up, and her kids and I were still standing in the hallway because I didn’t have a key to the classroom. They were getting pretty rowdy because they were hoping that they wouldn’t have class, so I knocked on N’s door and awkwardly stuck my head in. He asked if I’d be okay with taking the entire class—something that’s normally against assistant protocol—but I agreed anyways. Luckily, they behaved themselves and demonstrated genuine interest in my Thanksgiving lesson. (It could’ve been because N terrified them with threats of punishment and two hours of detention.) Some kid actually came up to me at the end and said, “Thank you, it was a really good lesson.”
    • I don’t know if words can explain how surreal it is to be the sole adult authority in the room.
  • I was supposed to take half of Ml’s class to the library, but we had a terrorist attack drill—it consisted of us sitting on the floor in the dark for 30 minutes, and then standing in the hallway and evacuating outside for the other 30 minutes, where I froze because I didn’t bring my jacket.
    • Ml told me, “If I were a terrorist, I’d pull the fire alarm then shoot everyone as they left the building.” I don’t know whether I should be impressed or terrified by her diabolical genius. Probably terrified, especially because she told me, “I wouldn’t have voted for Hillary.”
  • I casually came out to her class because one of them asked how I reacted to the bigoted Cheeto’s “win.” Since these kids are the ones who’re up to date on Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and gun control, I felt perfectly comfortable explaining that I cried because I have immigrant parents; because I’m a person of color; because I’m a woman; and because I’m gay. It felt oddly…freeing?
    • Ml then asked me to talk about racism in the US, and they look horrified when I said people have told me, “Your English is so good!” I’m definitely going to try to turn this class into little social justice babies.

Paris, Take Two

Weekend escape to take our minds off of the mess of this past week? Bien sûr. If you were wondering whether there are still good people in the world, the answer is yes: a Spanish teacher I’ve never spoken to before recognized me in the train station and asked if I was okay. After I confessed to her that I’d cried, we had a sober conversation about Brexit, you-know-who, and Marine Le Pen. She kindly kept me company on the train to Paris, where I met up with C, who then got to witness me struggle to speak Mandarin to a restaurant owner because my brain kept trying to fill the gaps of my vocabulary with French. At the hostel, we had the pleasant surprise of rooming with two poor American souls from Indiana who’re studying in England.

Day 1:

I stuffed a fresh-out-of-the-oven pain au chocolat into my mouth before we hiked up to Sacré-Cœur, where I had a moment over the incredible view of Paris. On the way down, hawkers (all men, of course—do you see why I don’t trust men and can count on one hand the number of men I trust in my life?) started calling C and me nice/beautiful girls and then Lady Gaga, which made us burst into laughter. That’s a new one.

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Next stop: Versailles, where my French major heart got super emotional over finally getting to see the palace for the first time. (Did I shed a few tears? Um, no, definitely not.) Thanks to our long stay visas, C and I got in for free, and I basically spent two and a half hours fangirling over the ornate castle and expansive gardens.

We finally left because, despite the sunlight, we were trying not to turn into human Popsicles, and then we witnessed an unwelcome anti-immigrant gathering that actually appeared on HuffPost: http://m.huffingtonpost.fr/2016/11/11/les-conseils-des-anti-migrants-a-ceux-qui-veulent-fuir-la-dictat/?ncid=fcbklnkfrhpmg00000001

Moving on to happier things: we lost ourselves in Shakespeare and Company for nearly an hour, perfectly content to be surrounded by books and peaceful piano music.

We wandered Paris at night and dined on freshly-cooked crêpes that were so delicious, I already want another one. The day ended with me jabbing a man with my elbow and uncharacteristically loudly saying, “NO” because he’d grabbed my waist while trying to sell me cigarettes. (I am not an object and especially after Tuesday, I am tired of being expected to be silent. I will unleash my anger.) I regret nothing except for the fact that I didn’t stomp on his foot—I may not weigh 100 pounds, but my heeled boot still would have inflicted a good amount of pain.

Day 2:

I found my way to a Leader Price because I was craving an apple, and had intense Nice flashbacks because 99% of my grocery shopping happened in Leader Price. Next, I did some thrift store shopping for warmer clothes at Guerrisol—or at least, I tried to, AKA everything was too big because apparently I’m too smol for this world.

Because I don’t trust myself with the Metro, I decided to walk to the Musée d’Orsay, and then predictably got lost (thanks, Google Maps.) But I happened to stumble across the Marché de Noël, where the air was infused with the scent of warm spiced wine, so I’m not complaining.

After that distraction, and a very long wait for Musée d’Orsay, C casually skipped the entire line to where I was standing, and we went inside to the Impressionist section of the museum so that I could fangirl over the Monet art for Madeline.

Because it was so cold, we huddled inside the Shakespeare and Co café, where I had the most incredible chai latté of my life.

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Now, our final night in Paris is coming to a draw with me Skyping my two wives Iszi and Madeline.

Work at Claudel

I’m trying something different this time, with more pictures and fewer words because, uh, this was an emotional roller coaster of a week. (I’ve been avoiding the English teachers because I don’t think I’d be able to handle their sympathy and concern.)

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  • Je asked me to prepare a lesson on African Americans for Tuesday, so I seized the chance to talk about #BlackLivesMatter, intersectionality, and #AllLivesMatter, and the entire class nodded when I said #AllLivesMatter is stupid and redundant. I’m so proud of my blooming social justice babies. (I actually went back to my room and cried; it was something I’d really needed after a racist incident in the morning with random white boys in the hallway saying “ching chong.”)

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  • Ak expected me to act like everything was normal and carry on with introductions. When a girl asked what my origins were, I decided I was done with that question. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “American.” Ak then had me help out with a worksheet, and I found myself fighting back tears; I didn’t give a crap about English idioms. I wanted to be angry and talk about social justice, because as a queer WOC, I don’t have the luxury of pretending that nothing has changed.
  • Ak told her second class, “We’re not talking about the elections” when they tried to ask me about it, and I nearly screamed in frustration and walked out the door. Screw your worksheets on idioms and American schools. People’s lives are at stake.

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  • K let her students ask me about the election, thank god. Nothing has ever felt as satisfying as finally getting to explain that white people screwed over all us minorities. (She tried to interject, “But I saw some black people voting for Trump on the TV,” and I basically went HELL NO DON’T YOU START.) When she and the class asked what I feared the most, I told them that my friends and I cried because most of us are gay and/or transgender, and they looked so crushed that I gave up trying to keep a fake smile plastered on my face. Finally, maybe I’m a terrible person, but I burst out laughing with the rest of the class when a girl raised her hand and blurted out, “I think Trump’s going to be killed.”

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Well, at least I’m done working for the week. I’m off to finish packing for a trip to Paris with C because I absolutely have not been procrastinating.

 

It’s Not Over

As a queer, first-generation Chinese-American woman who embodies nearly everything Trump stands against, I’m going to do anything I can to make my voice heard.

But this isn’t just my fight. It’s a fight for Muslims, for Mexicans, for African Americans, for LGBTQA people, for disabled people, for immigrants, and for girls and women–for all racial, sexual, and religious minorities. And for the white cishet people, too, especially those who voted for Trump—it’s a fight for redemption, for social justice and equitability.

This is my fight, America’s fight, the world’s fight.

And I won’t back down.

Thoughts

I woke up at 6am to check the news, went back to sleep clinging to the last shreds of hope, and then woke up after a nightmare of him winning. And now I’m sobbing for real, out of hopelessness for a country that’s so far gone it voted a bigoted Cheeto into power, out of terror as a queer woman of color with friends who are also racial or sexual minorities, and out of grief for all the girls who should have gotten to see a woman become president. I’m lucky enough to be across the ocean for the moment, but my heart aches for all of my friends who didn’t ask for this, who fought for the hope of a better future, who are currently stuck living in the aftermath of cishet white privilege. If any of you need to talk, please know that I’m here for you, and I can only hope that, despite the nightmarish results of this election, people will keep fighting for social justice and equitability.

Miscellaneous Moments, Part VI

  • Okay, I won’t lie, it’s kind of cute when students excitedly say, “Hello!” to me when they see me outside of class. Even if I have absolutely no idea who they are because I’ve probably seen over 200 kids at Méchain and Claudel. (I remember a single student’s name, Clément, because he kept asking me questions and his name card was easy to see in my glasses-less state.)
  • Me, playing a word game on my phone: “What do you mean, that’s not a word? Wait…it was French and this is English.”
  • I asked a cashier at a Carrefour in Lille if I could pay with my bank card, and he nodded and said, “Très beau français.” I still haven’t decided whether I should be honored or insulted.
  • Our first day in Brussels, C and I witnessed an old lady get her leg stuck between the metro car doors, and she barely got free before the car started moving—a near heart-attack was a fantastic way to begin our time there. At least our time there ended on a more positive note, with free drinks from Starbucks.
  • One of my most memorable quotidian moments was spending an hour chatting entirely and effortlessly in French with our Airbnb host’s elderly husband in Belgium. We hit it off by agreeing that Trump is completely crazy and that if Clinton wins, it would do wonders for societal progress, like how Obama has opened so many doors by becoming the first black president. He was also so beautifully aware of masculine and feminine spheres that I felt completely comfortable telling this old white man that I barely knew that I’m a feminist. Plus, he kindly gave me tricks for pronouncing French letters that are notoriously difficult for Anglophones who also speak an Asian language: r and u, or Rolls Royce and Uruguay.
  • You know you’re officially bread-spoiled when you snack on the remnants of a day-old Belgian baguette and mutter in disgust, “God, this tastes like American bread.”
  • On the ride back from Amiens to Laon, I forgot to composter my ticket. Again. At least the contrôleur didn’t fine me this time, either.
  • If one more man asks how old I am and then goes, “You can never tell how old Asian women are!” I hope they step in a pit of fire. Age is arbitrary. A human construct. No one looks their age.
  • During vacation, some employee asked me what I was doing at Claudel from his 4th floor balcony. Look, why would I spend the time and effort breaking into a gated high school campus? You don’t even have Wi-Fi.
  • Me, curling into a progressively smaller ball beneath my blanket: “Why is it so cold? Oh. I forgot to turn the heater on.”
  • Je remarked that, since I’m the guinea pig English assistant being shared between two schools, teachers might start a bloodbath over me. Please, no. I hate conflict. (In AP Gov, classmates started fighting over whose review game team I’d be on, and I tried to melt into my desk before the teacher calmly assigned me to a side.)
  • While doing some rushed grocery shopping at Carrefour, I grabbed a bag of pains au lait for breakfast and didn’t notice that the expiration date is January 4, 2017. I don’t know whether I should be impressed or terrified.
  • In case you weren’t aware of how small my feet are, I wear a European 36 and Tess, N’s five-year-old daughter, wears a 31.

(FYI: I’m no longer living the sad, nearly Internet-less 8G life, because I now have 50G thanks to my new SIM card, so that’s why I’ve been posting so frequently. If I’ve met you in person, and you feel like Skyping/FaceTiming/video chatting, feel free to hit me up!)

Ice Skating, Lunch, and Sheer Adorableness

N generously invited L, S, and me to go ice skating with his daughters Tess (5) and Lily (4), so he picked up us three English assistants and brought us to Le Dôme de Laon, which houses the pool and ice skating rink. Before today, I’ve only ice skated twice—which ended up in me accumulating a colorful array of bruises—so I was slightly worried about the experience ending in another painful tragedy.

I’ve never seen them before, but I used some ice skating crutch meant for the kids before abandoning it and venturing out into the rink sans aide. And I can happily report that I managed to successfully ice skate for the first time, without falling once! (Unless you count the time I overbalanced and had to put my gloved hands against the ice to keep from falling.) The only injury I accumulated was from the too-big-in-the-calves skate rubbing my skin raw above my right ankle, but I guess the pain was worth it.

Meanwhile, N was zipping along the ice, pulling Tess and Lily along behind him on these little plastic sleds. The girls also got to paint on the ice, and their artwork was absolutely adorable. Also, this is an actual question that left N’s mouth: “Is it okay if we take a selfie?”

We spent about an hour and 15 minutes ice skating before N brought us all to his house, and during the car ride there, I’ve never felt so smothered with love than when I had Lily on my lap and Tess next to me, playing contentedly with the spinning stimming ring on my finger. Chez eux, N and M fed us gratin, filet mignon, salad, baguette, cheese, coffee/tea, and tarte aux citrons avec le coulis framboise.

Afterwards, we watched Martin (1 ½) toddle adorably around and repeatedly knock over a paper block tower before M could finish building it, and then he wanted me to follow him into the pantry. I explained to N what was happening as I followed Martin into the kitchen, and N laughed and said that Martin probably wanted to show me the washing machine. He even apologized for Martin’s antics, and I very nearly told him, “Your son is so cute, if I understood his baby-talk, he could tell me to do anything and I’d do it without question.”

L, S, and I stayed there until 2:30 playing card/board games with the family, Dobble (a visual speed game), Loto (picture Bingo), and Verger (a memorization game). I’ll just say that the struggle was too real when L, S, and I didn’t know the French for words like chimney sweeper (ramoneur), octopus (pieuvre), and bat (chauve-souris). Long story short, N and M’s family is so disgustingly cute, it’s utterly revolting. I wonder if they’ll adopt me, if necessary, after Tuesday night?