Friday, October 24, 2008
I also said something in my French literature class today, which is only a big deal for me because the class is obviously conducted in French. They had been discussing the identities of African immigrants, and Sophie asked me to speak to the class a little bit about African-American identity in the northeastern US. I managed to express my thoughts on the matter relatively clearly. Sophie actually commented afterwards that my French has improved markedly since I’ve been here, which surprised me, because I find myself increasingly aware of my linguistic deficits. Ah, well. I’m proud that I contributed a little something to class today.
Another interesting experience from this week was a class I had at the IUFM with a bunch of teachers from Algeria. It was incredibly interesting. The main topic of the day was the difference between FLE (France as a foreign language) and FLS (France as a second language)—because both terms are used here. In the US, when English is taught, it is taught as ESL (English as a second language) or something similar; there isn't a suggestion of "foreignness", there is rather a certainty that one will adopt the language and become integrated in the culture. The terminology leads to some complicated cultural tensions here—tensions which show themselves even more in Algeria than they do here in France. Funny language terminology detail here in Europe—when people talk about the “first language” they learned, they don’t mean their native language—they mean their first foreign language. That’s because everyone learns at least two. They are always puzzled when I say that most people in the US are barely proficient in one language besides English.
We had lunch with the Algerian teachers, which was cool because we just got to talk outside of the intense classroom discussion. We somehow ended up discussing holidays, and someone brought up Santa Claus, so everyone at the table looked at me, because the American image of Santa Claus is the most extreme and the most dominant. They said that kids often see Santa Claus on TV in Algeria, and asked why he never comes to bring them gifts. It really struck me when they said that, because I am aware of how widespread American culture is, but I don’t always think about the effects it has in very different countries. We had really great conversation all afternoon. When we returned to class, I was telling one of the teachers that I think Arabic writing is beautiful, so he wrote my name in Arabic! I didn’t realize that they apparently have an alphabet that’s almost equivalent to ours. The characters are obviously written extremely differently…and backwards.
Last night I went to the movies with the German teachers to see Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which was about two Americans going to Spain. Europeans are obsessed with Woody Allen, so it’s one of the few conversation points on which the American viewpoint is not challenged. We went out afterwards and had some great conversation about traveling, about the differences between France, Germany, and the US, and about what really constitutes “culture”—i.e. the division between sports, academics, and the arts. I really love talking with them. And the conversation always challenges my French vocabulary.
The movie’s Spanish setting got me psyched for the pilgrimage! Vanessa and I are leaving on a night train this evening. We have a basic layout for the trip at this point, though it’s not set in stone. The only things that are absolutely definite are our arrival and departure. Here’s the general plan:
Friday, October 24: night train to St. Jean Pied de Port (the starting point in the South of France)
Saturday, October 25: spend the day in St. Jean
Sunday, October 26: train to Pamplona
Monday, October 27: train from Pamplona to Leon
Tuesday, October 28: train from Leon to Lugo, bus to Sarria
Wednesday, October 29: we start walking! Sarria to Portomarin
Thursday, October 30: walk from Portomarin to Palas de Rei
Friday, October 31: walk from Palas de Rei to Azura
Saturday, November 1: walk from Azura to Lavacolla
Sunday, November 2: walk from Lavacolla to Santiago (the end of the pilgrimage!)
Monday, November 3: spend the day in Santiago
Tuesday, November 4: fly back to Paris
I hope to return with excellent stories and beautiful pictures!
Monday, October 20, 2008
I wrote down a lot of remarks they made, because I thought they revealed so much about the U.S., not in spite of—but because of—the fact that it was being seen from the outside. So here’s a brief overview…
Colombani spoke first and essentially said that he sees Obama as the only choice for Americans, that there will be—from an international point of view—a “before the election of Obama” and an “after the election of Obama” (like two different epochs), and that he seems to be the incarnation of the American Dream.
Ted Stanger began more of the comparative discussion between the
We talked about the difference between the 6-month campaigns in
Let’s see…what other interesting things have happened this week…
I have continued my observations at the high school, and am teaching my first English lesson next week. I continue to enjoy my literature courses with Sophie, and I have also started observing English language courses with Lek Sang. She has a very different style of teaching, but it has been valuable to learn from nonetheless. She moves at an incredibly rapid pace, and students are repeating, essentially nonstop, what others have said. It’s not always the most natural way of speaking, but it keeps everyone engaged and on their toes, and everyone’s voice is heard in some sense—which is important in the language classroom. Students in Europe learn British English, so I feel a little awkward about my pronunciation sometimes, and occasionally I encounter some vocabulary that doesn’t exist in the
Again, I am teaching my first lesson in her class on Wednesday. Something I love about French education is their emphasis on “authentic documents.” Whereas American classes rely on textbooks—which are thorough, but are someone else’s interpretation of the information—they work from real documents and put together the information for themselves. The English language book, for instance, is filled with excerpts from British/American novels, news articles, advertisements, short stories, memoirs, etc. I am going to teach an excerpt from a John Jakes novel called American Dreams.
As well as observing courses, I have also been taking education courses at the IUFM with other first-year teachers. Where we have our student teaching programs in the
Friday night was fantastic—I hung out with Vanessa, Marky (another American in our group), and a few French teachers who did the other half of this exchange, and taught in Ohio last year! We had wine and cheese, alternated between speaking in English and speaking in French, and had lots of interesting cultural discussions. They loved their time in the
Saturday morning I observed class (yes, high schools have class on Saturday mornings), which was cool. Jean-Pierre (host father from
Speaking of art, I went to a display-type event in
Yesterday was also a really interesting day. Vanessa and I went to the well-known market in
Vanessa and I came back and made a delicious lunch with our purchases, and then headed over to the Basilique (Basilica).
Speaking of religious history, we have about 10 days off starting this coming Saturday—and Vanessa and I are going on a pilgrimage in
Monday, October 13, 2008
It was hard to say our goodbyes in
I then arrived in the
I have spent a little time at my IUFM in
I have generally been trying to take advantage of my access to
Vanessa (whom I mentioned earlier) lives in
This weekend, we went to see the gardens of Versailles, where there was a big display--the fountains were on, and were accompanied with music (to which the small boy is pointing). We also went to an art exhibit called Picasso et les Maitres (Picasso and the Masters), which sets pieces of Picasso’s work next to related pieces which influenced him in some way. We were surprised at some of the influences we hadn’t quite expected, like Rembrandt. It was also cool just to be surrounded by artsy Parisians.
So, overall, things have been going well here. Though I’m not quite “in”
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Anyway, tomorrow I start my observations at the lycée (high school) Pablo Picasso, which I am really looking forward to. I am not sure when I will be able to post again, as the wireless internet in our apartment doesn't work. I am currently using a computer in the IUFM (college of education), with--my favorite--a French keyboard. Hopefully you can look for a longer post from me in the near future.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Our last week of courses in
Perhaps one of the most moving experiences we have had in
On Tuesday, I watched a few English classes in Jean Lurcat middle school. The students were all about 11 years old, so what we observed was much more about classroom management than about the teaching of English. Teaching any foreign language in a ZEP school is challenging, not only because classroom management is notoriously more difficult, but also because French is not the first language for many of the students. Just as ESL students in the
As it is impossible to generalize about an American classroom, it is impossible to generalize about a French classroom, but this one did showcase some of the classroom practices which had been described to me as somewhat “common” or at least “accepted” in
What was strange for us in Jean Lurcat was the reaction of the students to our presence. I guess I tend to think that a lot of people travel to
On Thursday, I went to another ZEP middle school, called Montaigne. I knew the day would be different from the moment we arrived. They had arranged for some of their strongest English students to give us tours of the school, both to welcome us and give the students an opportunity to converse with native speakers. My friend Therese and I were taken on a tour by a boy named Samuel, who speaks English quite well, and also studies Spanish and Latin. He told us about the school and we asked him lots of questions about his life to get him communicating extemporaneously, which he handled really well. Afterwards, we watched two Spanish classes with one of the best language teachers I have ever seen. The students in the class seemed to be around 13 years old, and it was their second year of studying Spanish. Nonetheless, the teacher conducted the entire class in rapid-fire Spanish, filling in only more complicated directions and concepts in French. She expected the students to speak to her almost exclusively in Spanish, which is surprisingly rare among language teachers (at least in the
In the teaching of any language, it’s certainly important for the students to speak, though it is then harder to monitor their behavior. The teacher at Jean Lurcat had sacrificed opportunities to let the students speak comfortably in order to maintain control, whereas the teacher at Montaigne successfully blended her role as teacher with her role as facilitator of conversation. It involved using a great deal of energy and personality, but she had a more successful lesson and fewer "classroom management issues" to address. My whole experience at Montaigne reinforced what I already knew about the importance of a teacher’s attitude and expectations. Having seen two schools in somewhat similar situations, but with very different approaches to education, I realized that attitude often does determine reality, rather than the other way around. Montaigne felt like a more welcoming, safer place. It’s no coincidence that the school that wanted to make the most of our visit by providing us with student guides was also the school with brightly colored walls, artwork, and places for the students to hang out—decorated by the students. It was a great experience for us—really encouraging and empowering, as we consider and reconsider the roles of teachers in different communities.