I have a great desire for cordial, which is apparently insatiable in France.
It’s strange, the things which are and are not available in a foreign country. Sometimes they really take you by surprise. For example, breath mints appear to be absent from French grocery stores, as are any types of cordial not directly made from fruit syrup and – strangest of all – hot chips don’t seem to be a thing here. Fries are plentiful, and sometimes there are quite thick ones, but never quite what I would call “chips”. I discovered most of these things last time, but I still feel a mild sort of surprise at each encounter.
The last couple of days have seen me finally begin my illustrious career as a teaching assistant. First and foremost, I attended the formation in Clermont-Ferrand – it was basically an all-day seminar which explained what our obligations were and answered some FAQs. For example; can we hand out punishments? (Yes, we can.), How many students are we allowed at a time? (no more than about 15, it’s in our contract) and do French kids really stay at school until after 17h00? (They sure do!).
It is, of course, impossible to teach even a tiny fraction of what’s required to be a teacher in a single afternoon. And to their credit, they didn’t really try and do that. More than anything, the time was mostly spent explaining the extremely complicated French school system, including the different types of students in a general lycée(L, S, ES) and how these specialisations affect their timetables. We also discussed some ideas for how to motivate classes, activities that might work, and other similar things. Overall, though, it was made clear that they don’t expect us to be professionals – the assistant de langue is, above all else, a resource for the students. One which – might I add – the French government seems entirely willing to pay for. I think that’s admirable.
After that, it was straight back into things. I spent a day at one of my collèges – think middle school, about 11-15 years old – meeting some of the students and sitting in on a few classes to see how things went. I was interested to discover that the French kids were generally pretty good. Since I arrived, I’ve heard nothing apologies from French people about their (and their children’s) poor English skills, but some of these kids – twelve-year-olds – have a considerably better level than second-year Uni students I’ve met.
Despite my professed dislike of young children, I couldn’t help smiling through a whole class with cinquième (12ish) students – they were really motivated! A lot of them tried very hard to get it right, and it’s goddamned adorable to hear French kids asking politely – in English – if they can please clean the board. Almost the entire class was taught in English, as well, and I was very impressed that the students seemed to follow without any major trouble. I didn’t anticipate it, but I’m actually really looking forward to working with the younger kids – their excitement is kind of infectious.
Things have been a little difficult off and on the last few nights – I’ve been occasionally forced to confront the uncomfortable reality of homesickness. For a long time, I thought I was nearly immune to that particular problem, but it would appear that I was mistaken. More than anything, what stresses me out is the knowledge that my stay here is a long one, so any issues I have are going to stick with me for a while. Fortunately, the blues always pass and the feverish excitement of living in France replaces them. Some of my housemates, too, have been a great help in making me feel better – they know what I’m going through, it would seem.
One thing that never fails to improve my mood is market day – this actually comes twice a week; on Friday and Sunday mornings. Open air markets are my true love here in France, and it’s quickly becoming my habit to fill my pockets with all my change from the week, head out to the town square and come home having transfigured the coins into sacks of produce and sundries with the musical accompaniment of the inevitable (and much beloved by me) accordionist. These are really the days where I remember why I like it here, and why all the bureaucracy is worth it. It makes me happy.
To see a gallery of images relevant to this post, press one. To learn what a spinning wheel is, and how it actually works and what it can be used for – other than putting princesses in eternal comas – press two.