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.