It’s been another busy week, though I’m starting to think all weeks will feel busy…and on top of that I’ve become quite sick :/ so I haven’t been very motivated to write something.
But I’m laying here in bed, so I figured I would update you all on what has happened this past week.
Last Monday was my first visit to the school I will be working at this year. And I am so in love! The way language assistants are assigned to schools is pretty random, and I got extremely lucky.
It turns out that I’m working at one of the best high schools in Bordeaux (at least whenever I mention the name of my school, this is what everyone tells me) and it really feels like they value language assistants here.
I thought that the first visit to school would simply be administrative tasks, but we were welcomed with lunch and wine! Coming from the states, it’s pretty unusual to have alcohol (even if it’s “just wine”) during work hours. So, when I was offered wine (no one else had taken any yet) I politely declined and instead asked for some water. The other professors seemed rather surprised, and insisted I take the wine! I replied I would have some only if they did–to which they responded, “but, of course!”
The school is simply beautiful. It’s huge–and the facilities and resources are just amazing to me. There are beautiful staircases and chandeliers in some rooms–I cannot believe it’s a public school! On top of that, I have access to the teacher’s lounge. There’s a room for teachers to nap (what!??), private bathrooms, a coffee vending machine (it can create espressos, cappuccinos, etc.), a computer lab, and a little terrace for teachers to go have a smoke (so very French). Plus, I get a little locker! It’s shared with other assistants but this fact is still very cool for me.
I had orientation last Wednesday, but I didn’t find it too helpful. They were all basic guidelines as all of the language assistants from the Académie de Bordeaux were there. French orientations are so different than American orientations–they involve lots of presentations and pretty much no icebreakers and very little chances to meet people. The whole day was from 9am-5pm and pretty much consisted of Powerpoint after Powerpoint. Though, a fellow assistant who reads my blog came up to me to introduce herself and that was super exciting. So, if you’re reading this–it was so nice to meet you and thank you so much for saying hello! It made my day 🙂
As for my first weekend in Bordeaux–it didn’t go so great. I experienced my first harassment because I am both female and foreign!
It was Friday night–around midnight–and I got on the tram to go home after grabbing a drink with another language assistant. As soon as I got on, a man noticed me and began badgering me about how I was foreign and something along the lines of how I was stupid because I didn’t understand the language of his country. I replied in French, that I spoke French. He then went on about how I was ugly, French women were more beautiful, why was I in his country, I didn’t have the right, etc., etc., etc.
When he first started harassing me, I was still with the other assistant but she had to get off at her tram stop. Once she left, his insults only continued. I eventually was able to get off at my stop. I held it together until then, but I was pretty frazzled. For one, that he was harassing me for no reason, and that everyone else on the tram was simply watching and not doing anything.
I’m not sure why men in general seem to think it’s their right to harass women (so relevant right now…) And who was this guy to judge my appearance? Why the hell did he think he had a right to even speak to me? On top of that–what makes me look “less” French than someone else? He was confusing ethnicity with nationality–plus, seeing as my husband is French and I plan on staying here for a long time, I will one day be French.
The whole exchange made me feel quite helpless. My comprehension has gotten pretty good–so I could hear and understand all of his racist and bigoted rhetoric, but I didn’t feel like I could defend myself in French. So, I stayed silent. It made me so angry because he was insulting me essentially for being foreign and looking foreign, and not being able to defend myself in French made me feel very, very out of place.
It’s moments like these though where I’m very glad I am living with my French homestay family and that I’m not living alone. It’s comforting to have people to come home to. I thought I was over the whole incident the next morning, but when I told my homestay father about the ordeal, I began to cry–so I guess I was more effected than I thought…to my dismay.
My homestay sister proved to be a huge help in comforting me. I texted her as soon as it all happened the night before and she told me she hopes it never happens again, but if it does not to hesitate to fight back, even if it’s in my own native language. She even told me that while she has French citizenship and has lived in France her whole life, she has also been harassed for not “looking French.” She thought the “French women are prettier” statement was so insane, considering there’s no real way to “look French.” It’s a multiethnic country, after all.
When I told her how I felt extremely foreign and alienated, she replied, “You can feel French as you speak French, you’re married to a French person and you live and work in France.”
I realized, all of this is true. And even if I had a shitty experience on the tram, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m living and working in France–which has been my dream for so long–and I am trying. So fuck that racist dude.
Anyway, on a brighter note…
I started observing classes on Thursday and it’s very interesting for me to not only see different teaching styles, but also to notice all of the differences between the American high school system and the French high school system.
Keep in mind when I do make comparisons, they will all be based on my high school experience versus the French high school I am working at.
What I have noticed so far is that French high schools are much more strict, but (at least for the school I am working at) students seem very well behaved. They must stand behind their desks and wait for the teacher to give them permission to sit down before class begins. It’s pretty unusual for the class to not settle down–they’re silent while the teacher is speaking. However, if there is a student who is not behaving, the teacher makes a point of making an example of them. The teacher will yell in French (I’m observing and working in English classes, so this is the only moment where a teacher will speak French–letting the student know they’re in trouble) and the student may get sent out of the room for a few minutes. The whole class’s attitude will adjust accordingly, as if they’ve woken up. But the teacher does not stay angry and upset at the misbehaved student for the whole period.
This is something I believe to be very different from my high school experience. When I had a teacher who was angry with our class, they would stay angry. There was no feeling that we had moved on or that we could move on, and the class period would feel very tense for the rest of the day. The teachers I’ve observed have a way of letting a student know when they’ve crossed the line, but also reassuring them that they can still improve and this incident won’t be held against them forever.
I used a bit of that technique today, when I heard a student swear. He said, “Fuck you, bitch” to another student– and while it was in a joking tone, that kind of language is not acceptable in school. (I’m not actually sure if all Francophones get this, as that kind of language is used in so many American movies–so I don’t think they understand how rude and inappropriate using it is. Plus–he said it in English! So I’m guessing he didn’t think this one through as I was sitting right next to him. C’mon kid–if you’re going to swear at a fellow classmate–do it in French! I won’t really understand…lol. Plus, I’ve essentially been forbidden to speak French in the classrooms.)
I raised my voice and told the student that that language was simply unacceptable, especially on school grounds. I caused a bit of a scene, as other students turned their head to see what was going on. “Do you understand?” I demanded. I almost felt like I had a mask on–I’m not used to being strict or disciplining. The closest I’ve really come to disciplining someone is when my six year old sister has said or done something out of line–and she is tiny and I know she respects me and will still love me haha. This student was like three times my size and I had just met him. But, the student nodded and apologized. Before this interaction, he had been messing around a lot–tilting his chair and his desk. After, his behavior totally changed and I could tell he felt very bad. Once the class was over, he came up to me to apologize again. Even a couple of his classmates exclaimed (in French) how they were surprised how sincere his apology was. He seemed very relieved once I told him it was okay, we could move on–and not to do it again. He said thank you and that again–he was very sorry.
After class, the teacher asked me what happened, and when I explained she said I did exactly the right thing. You grab a student’s attention, let them know they’ve done something wrong–then you give them another chance and you move on. She explained that it’s important to be strict, but also to let students know they still have a chance, otherwise they won’t want to try.
All of the classes I’ve been in so far have been really wonderful. Students are very nice and most seem eager to learn. I’m very impressed with their level of English.
I’m supposed to get my own classroom soon where I’ll be working with about four students at a time! I’m excited, but a bit nervous. I don’t like having to be strict but I know it’s necessary, especially considering I’m not that much older than the students–I feel like it’s really important I lay down the ground rules, and then once those are established, we can have more fun. But not using French to explain English to them has proven to be way harder than I thought! I think I’ll be doing a lot of charades in the coming weeks.
Honestly, I wish I could work more hours at this school. I really love working there and I could use the extra money. I’ve started applying to babysitting and tutoring agencies, so we’ll see if anything happens with that.
That’s my update for now! I’m sure I’ll have more stories soon.