- My lesson on new technologies involved a video of a dog with deformed front legs getting 3D-printed prosthetics, and the happy ending made some of Al’s students cry. Do I regret anything? Nope.
- I got to teach not one, but two massive classes that consisted of a single student. Props to the first one for having watched Dead Poets Society and the second one for being twice as interested because he wants to live in America and never come back to France. (Even if I question his judgment because of, you know, the watery tasteless orange who’s somehow in charge of the US.)
- I played “Guess Who?” fairy tale-style with Jt’s students, and none of them knew Rumpelstiltskin, even when I gave them the French title. Am I too old, or are they too young?
- One day, I called on the first student on the list of terminales, and he asked, “What am I supposed to do?” We maintained direct eye contact for about a second before we burst into laughter because I have no idea what I’m doing, either.
- At showed her class a video on why the US doesn’t use the metric system, and I had to try desperately not to laugh when the video said Americans saw the system as a “foreign Francophone invasion.” I hate to break it to you, but the very language you speak is a Francophone invasion.
- While grading terminales, I was deeply concerned when a student said, “tried to eat a policeman” until I realized I’d misunderstood his accent—he’d said, “tried to hit a policeman.”
- I was going through various TV shows with one of my fluent classes, and when I stopped on Pushing Daisies and asked if they’d heard of Hannibal, they shook their heads. So I said the show’s about a guy who eats people, and one girl looked so horrified that I felt awful and hastily said, “They’re produced by the same person, but they’re two completely different shows; I promise Pushing Daisies is cutesy.”
- Similarly, I terrified a seconde when I started playing the trailer for Stranger Things. She pulled her scarf over her eyes, and I hurriedly reassured her, “There’s nothing in the trailer.” Sorry, kid.
- Another seconde read the description for Avatar, said aloud, “A young boy,” and guessed, “Mickey Mouse?”
- There’s nothing like having a class of students stare at you and F, utterly mesmerized, when she asks, “Did you understand?” until one kid pipes up, “Yes!”
- We did a travel agent/traveler role play, and one pair of students told me that they wanted to sleep for free in a teepee.
- During my lesson on flatsharing in the US, a kid in S’s class said “chicken” instead of “kitchen,” promptly confusing everyone.
- S asked them what a single person was, and she got responses like “not popular” and “singer.”
- When I showed them a picture of Iszi and me at graduation, they thought it was a marriage photo. (I mean, they’re not wrong; she is my wife. Well…one of them.)
I’m halfway through my contract, and I will never understand why Méchain has me grading terminales. I have zero training (as a teacher and as a judge of oral presentations); I still don’t understand the French grading system; and I have absolutely no idea as to what oral presentations for le bac should actually resemble. Also, I didn’t sign up to force students to talk. I’m not about that life, especially when I spent most of my school career being that soft-spoken, shy kid who never talked.
I know exactly how it feels to be forced to speak up, which is why I don’t think it’s fair to thrust a bunch of students into a room with a native speaker. It’s illogical. Native speakers won’t be grading them on le bac, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to be listening for. Plus, these students are way out of their comfort zone, either because they’re self-conscious about their accents, or they don’t like public speaking. So what’s the point of sticking them all in a room with me and forcing them to all 1) speak and 2) be graded in front of all their classmates? Students shouldn’t be learning a foreign language like this—speaking English shouldn’t be some anxiety-imbued trial.
Case in point: one student started crying today because he was so stressed and nervous, so I told him that he could stop if he wanted to; I wasn’t going to force him to finish. I mean, these students don’t gain even anything from seeing me three times a year—I scribble a note or two on their grading rubric, and that’s it. I don’t have the time or the experience to give them more detailed feedback.
Since I understood exactly how the student felt, I wanted to give him a hug, but I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about that. I considered pulling him aside after class and giving him positive encouragement, but I didn’t want him to feel like he was being singled out, so I decided to write him a note. (Believe me, as a student, I hated talking in front of people. In 6th grade, I cried my way out of an extemporaneous speech that was supposed to be an IB assessment. And considering that the teacher told me I needed speech therapy because “painfully shy [was] going to hurt me later on in life,” I don’t regret anything. Joke’s on her, I graduated summa cum laude and currently work a job with 8 weeks of paid vacation. All without needing speech therapy.)
But I digress. I may or may not have gone overboard with my note; what was supposed originally a short message in English morphed into a paragraph-long note in probably error-riddled French.
If you don’t read French, or if you do but don’t want to read the whole thing, it basically says, “You had a good presentation and speak good English, btw I was incredibly shy in high school so I understand your struggle, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help the next time I see you.”
Okay, that’s it. Rant from a former shy student over.
I woke up before sunrise to hop onto the train and meet a friend in the Gare du Nord for one of the most important events during my time in TAPIF: the Women’s March on Paris.
Ag brought me to her friends’ studio, and that angry feminist bonding time was exactly what I needed from life. (Let’s be honest, when am I not down to be in a room full of angry feminists?) We had a poster-making session, though I didn’t participate because I’d already cut up a box of rice to make a pocket-sized protest sign, contrary to Madeline’s hilarious albeit slightly illegal suggestion of, “Just take a man’s cut-off head.”
A lot more people showed up for this protest than the Paris Against Trump one; Huffington Post said there were over 7,000 of us—dogs, babies in strollers, kids, teens, and adults. The march featured chants such as: “Tell me what democracy looks like! / This is what democracy looks like!”
“My body! / My choice!”
“They go low! / We go high!”
“Sol, sol, solidarité! Avec les femmes! Du monde entier!”
There were also some great signs, and some highlights included “A woman is somebody, not some body,” “No! I will not shut up!” a hat sporting a wig, and some incredibly detailed uteri.
The widespread feeling of solidarity and hope helped a lot, too, because after what happened in December, I’ve never felt more lost. Although, I will confess that I nearly started crying at one point, because the sight of three boys who couldn’t have been older than 10 enthusiastically starting the chant “Solidarité avec les femmes du monde entier” broke my heart–people so young shouldn’t have to be protesting, in Adrian’s words, this “watery, tasteless orange juice” of a man at all.
Anyways, to end on a more positive note, shouting “Hey hey, ho ho, the patriarchy has got to go” in front of the Eiffel Tower is basically all my French nerd and salty feminist self ever needed from life.
- Me: “They look confused.”
- F: “Oh, don’t worry, they always look like that.”
- I told a class of secondes to write New Year’s resolutions, and I got responses like, “I wouldn’t don’t eat candy,” “I would (que) my bedroom is clean,” “Reading very much,” “Help peoples,” and “Hit Clément. Ha Ha Ha!”
- Some students didn’t understand my answer to a question, so I reformulated, and one kid gave voice to an enlightened “Ah!” three times in a row.
- I never thought “oui” could sound so delighted until S asked a student if she wanted to draw my mystery story on the board for the rest of the class.
- I’m beyond disappointed that I didn’t get to witness this, but F told me that she asked a class for a synonym of “good” and one kid replied, “f****** good.” (The asterisks are a direct quote from her email.)
- Ak left me in the corner like a statue while she went over a worksheet with her unruly students, which dissolved into me turning all the Calvin and Hobbes frames on the worksheet into a thirty-minute shading exercise. Honestly, I should’ve just played the grief card and skipped her class to work on my feminism presentation. Priorities.
- Jt’s class stared at me in confusion when I explained that the debate around illegal immigration is ironic and senseless, so I had to draw out the European-Native American genocide by drawing massive Xs over Native American stick figures.
- They played “Guess the country” with me, and I disappointed them when I didn’t know France won the FIFA World Cup in 1998.
- F said that her most fluent students really enjoy using French words in English, and one kid piped up, “Yes, it’s a cliché.” I gave my “History of Feminism in the US” presentation to them, and several students knew the term “glass ceiling.” These kids are more woke that I was at their age. They’re the generation that will save us all. (They’re also studying Shakespeare. Hell, English is my native language and I could barely understand Hamlet in AP Lit.)
- There’s nothing like pretending that I don’t understand French when kids start whispering, “Tell her she’s pretty” or “Why does she have an accent?” (Practically all the teachers here have British accents.)
- An entire group of terminales told me that I should never come back to Laon. It’s kind of sad how much the lycéens hate it here.
- A student raised his hand and asked, “Miss, were you in Dijon a few weeks ago?” Turns out he saw me on the street, but wasn’t sure it was me, so he didn’t say hi. It’s a good thing he didn’t, because considering I last saw him in November, I wouldn’t have recognized him.
- Someone asked me what horseback riding was, so Jh asked the class what you do with horses, and one kid said, “Canoeing?”
- Madeline made the most accurate observation when it comes to me teaching topics that aren’t related to social justice: “LMAO either way WHO CARES SARENA SURE AS HELL DOESN’T.”
Since today is J’s birthday, she, Ml, N, and I celebrated by eating out during the lunch break. (Only in France do teachers have enough time to ditch the campus for a restaurant lunch.) N drove us to La Rose des Sables, or “The Rose of the Sands,” which provided absolutely no hint as to what we’d be eating.
Luckily, N explained to a bewildered me that, due to the influx of immigrants after the Algerian war, North African food is the most popular ethnic cuisine in France. I got to have real couscous for the first time, and it was delicious and absolutely nothing like the fake Estes dish. N also suggested I try merguez, a spicy sausage…which wasn’t spicy at all. (This is coming from someone who feels betrayed when she asks her family, “Is that spicy?” and they reply no, and then I eat the food in question and have to shovel something else into my mouth.) The French may have incredible bread and cheese, but they have absolutely no idea how to handle spices.
Ml paid for everything (except dessert, which was on the house), because as she claimed, “It’s not a lot.” I don’t know how she thinks 12 euros per person isn’t expensive, but I’m not about to complain. Not when I could write an article titled, “What Not to Say to a Grieving Person,” and every single quote would be something that’s left her mouth.
After work, R drove me home, and when I remarked her son’s the same age as me, she said, “He’s not as mature as you,” prompting me to go, “I have to get out of this car right now immediately” because you shouldn’t ever compliment me. And then when I did, the wind promptly turned my umbrella inside out. Thanks, wind. At least you played a part in cancelling school tomorrow because we’re supposed to get copious amounts of snow?
And…as I’m typing this, there are 35mph winds terrifying me through my earphones. If I never update this blog again, it’s because I accidentally walked outside and got blown away. Or because the electricity went out, taking down my heater and leaving me to freeze in a room with a radiator that hasn’t worked all year. Or because I can’t use my hot plates and microwave to cook, and all the food in the fridge spoiled. Whichever one gets me first. This is fine.
- I had a trilingualist nightmare where I didn’t know enough Chinese, so I started speaking in English and then woke up thinking in French. Send help.
- It’s kind of weird knowing that I’ve seen some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets of my life from a high school atop a hill.
- Guess who got onto the wrong bus? And then had to stay on it for half an hour, all the way to the train station, where I could take the correct bus? At least I got a good look at the Christmas lights in Laon. (This experience was nowhere near as scarring as the time I got so lost in Nice, I showed up two hours late to the OFII office. No, I’m not still bitter about the fact that they put two completely different addresses on the envelope.)
- Besides bananas, eggplants, meat, and cheesecake, I don’t consider myself a picky eater. (Yes, I’ve already been told I’m a sinner for hating cheesecake. Several times.) But Méchain’s cafeteria was serving kangaroo, so I grabbed a piece of still-red beef—I don’t even like beef—and noped my way out of there. At least I got smoked salmon, shiitake mushrooms, a little bag of chocolate, and a mysterious melt-in-your-mouth dessert so delicious that I basically cried over the first bite.
- My BlaBlaCar from Dijon to Laon had the best riding companion: a dog who left her fur all over my jacket even though she only touched my hand.
- N texted to check in on me, and my immediate thought was, “Why is this human being so nice how is he real?”
- N told me that Méchain was holding a teacher gathering for a French tradition that consists of eating a galette des rois, or slices of cake to see who ends up with a little plastic fève. Some important adult gave a speech beforehand, but I was far more interested in the mini-dance Martin was doing behind the podium. (In my defense, a column was blocking my view of the speaker.) Meanwhile, Lily, not knowing that I also work at Méchain, asked her mom in bewilderment, “So she only came to eat cake?”
- F told asked if I’d do a presentation on the history of women’s rights in America, and I may or may not have gotten a little carried away… I had to cut out so much information, but at least I got to keep Beyoncé in it.
- It’s not awkward at all when you start crying because La hugged you after you told her the winter break news, and then the headmaster walks up to the two of you and hands you a glass of cider.
- I was going to grab a take-out pizza for La, but the restaurant was closed (at 9pm on a Friday night, welcome to Laon), so I popped into a kebab place instead. I accidentally said, “and also” instead of “et aussi,” so the owner paused and said, “Do you speak English?” Turns out that he’s from Canada and ended up in Nowheresville, France because he “chased a girl and married her.” His French son gave me the food and told me in English, “You are beautiful,” but he said it so genuinely that it was the first time I wasn’t creeped out by a man. They also undercharged me 50 cents, and I appreciate the fact that I now have extra coins for the bus fare.
I don’t think any of us actually expected for me to spend the night there, but due to the aforementioned unforeseen circumstances that happened while I was in Strasbourg, N called me to make sure that everything was okay. The moment he said, “We all love you very much,” my end of the call disintegrated into me sobbing, unable to say anything other than “Okay” and “Thank you.”
He let me text him with the decision of whether or not I wanted to stay over, and M picked me up in the evening, took me to a flower shop, and then to their house. They weren’t doing anything particularly special other than eating dinner on the couch instead of around the table, but Tess and Lily were nonetheless beyond excited because they got to eat everything without utensils—it was all finger foods, like carrots, radishes, pastry-wrapped meats, pretzels, grapes, shrimp, and cauliflower.
Tess and Lily got to stay up late, aka 9:50, but N, M, and I didn’t even make it to midnight—N’s reasoning was, “We’re old, crippled people,” while M’s was “No, we’re parents,” and mine was…well, I’m an old lady who constantly gets mistaken for a high-schooler. I ended up stealing Lily’s bedroom for the night (sorry, Lily), and while there was no monster in the room like she claimed, the various dolls stashed in the corners were terrifying enough.
Breakfast consisted of what was probably one of the most endearing, stereotypically French things I’ve seen: baguettes. (Not that I’m complaining, especially when they were fresh from the boulangerie and accompanied by Nutella, honey, and jam.) I was probably more baffled by the fact that they gave me a huge bowl for my tea.
The girls insisted on repeatedly playing Old Maid with me, giving me the opportunity to acquire random card game vocabulary, and N drove me back to Claudel after lunch. I forgot to take the white roses that I bought yesterday, but I turned down M’s offer to bring them to me: I think they’re better off in a warm home with a welcoming family than in the wintry frost outside.
Highlights of my time chez eux: Tess dramatically dancing to Christmas music after dinner; Lily asking if she could sit on my knees and wear my boots (she and Tess, for whatever reason, love wearing M’s and my shoes because they have heels and clack across the floor); Martin trying to give me chips from his mouth because he doesn’t quite understand bites yet and shoves way too much food into his mouth; and Lily and Martin gifting me with bisous. He also gave me the oh-so-thoughtful gifts of a chocolate chip and a strand of hair he picked off the floor. Still, look at how adorable this child is—his smile and his cheeks are baby magazine cover material. (That is, if you ignore the terrifying doll that’s bigger than Martin himself.)
Anyways, this post is really just a shout-out to N and M for being two of the nicest people I’ve ever met and taking me in during a time when I really needed the company…and me gushing over how adorably precious their children are.