My failure is my success.

Despite having been working with my collègiens here in Laval, France for the past 7 months, it still appears as though I don’t know them or really know how to teach as well as I thought that I did.

As I’ve mentioned in many of my posts, teaching is difficult, and just when you feel like you’ve finally found your footing, the rug gets pulled out from under your feet again, sending you slamming on the ground, leaving you with a sore tooshie.

This was my experience last Monday. As I was going into my second to last week as a English teaching assistant here in France, the teacher with whom I work with at the middle school said she’d like to try separating the class into two groups, with me taking half, and then we would switch after 25 minutes. Splitting the class into two groups is something that I do often with my high school students, but I had never before done it with my middle school classes. However, I thought it was a good idea because it would give me the opportunity to challenge my teaching skills with the middle schoolers as well as to spend some individual time with them.

I failed. I failed big time. Middle schoolers are still very much children, so I actually ended up spending half of the already split in half time with them just managing their behavior (or rather, attempting to).

A few students would not stop talking repeatedly, even after asking them to be quiet and listen while I was teaching. Then, they even went so far as to say rude things to me and about me in French (because some of them still don’t fully realize that I speak and understand French). Then when I asked for their carnets (a handbook of sorts that allows the teachers to write notes to each student’s parents about their behavior), one student gave it to me, at which point I set it on the teacher desk (my mistake. I should’ve kept it in my hand), and I spent almost a full five minutes demanding the carnet of another student. I had two options: continue to stand there even though I was wasting the time I had or give in and just not take it from said student. If I just stood there and waited (which is what I ended up doing), I waste the rest of the class period. If I give in to the student, then the students will never learn to respect me, which was still important to me even though I only had two weeks left at this point. However, I was unsuccessful, despite my waiting and insistence, because of his straight up direct refusal during which the bell rang and at which point said student got up and walked away despite my demands while the other (without me seeing) stole his carnet back off the teacher desk and ran out of the classroom.

Not only was I completely frustrated, but I felt completely embarrassed, especially when telling the teacher what had occurred. It made me feel better that she said that she has trouble with the same students, but I still felt like I had completely failed, because I basically had.

I went home and was so frustrated that I almost cried. It was not a good moment.

Moments such as these teach me that I’m still learning though. I’m still a student myself. During this class time, I realized that even though I am more comfortable teaching than at the beginning of my contract, I have no idea how to actually manage classroom behavior and teach through the terrible behavior. I felt at a complete loss and as a complete failure, especially because in addition to not being able to discipline said students, the rest of the class was robbed of a proper lesson with me due to the behavior of those few students.

Despite frustration, I’ve grown just a little bit more because of my failure. I have to ask myself how I could’ve managed their behavior better. How do I properly gain the respect from my students, not just here in France but in future teaching positions? What do I need to do to make the expectations that I have for my students clear?

I’ve tried very hard this  year to be a resource for my students as well as someone that they can look up to and feel comfortable having fun while learning. However, that’s difficult to do when you are also trying to establish respect with your students at the same time. How should I go about creating a balance between the two?

These are all questions that I still don’t have answers to and will probably be continuing to ask for quite some time.

Despite the unanswered question though, situations such as these make me reflect on my progress, what I’ve managed to learn and what I still need to learn. It’s a reminder that I am and always will be a student myself, no matter what age I’m teaching, what I’m teaching, or where I’m teaching.

My failure pushes me to want to succeed and to learn even more. My failure is making me better, at my job and as a person. So, though I was frustrated, I’ve decided to look at it in a positive way, knowing that I can and I will do better next time.

 

For Some Laughs.

About a month and a half to two months ago, I decided to do a pen pal letter exchange with two of my classes here in France with some classes back in the States. My classes have only written two letters so far, because it does take much time for them to be sent. Not only do I enjoy this because it’s a great way for them to improve their written English, learning new vocabulary and improving their grammar, but it’s also a great way for them to directly learn about my home culture.

Many of them really enjoy it. They absolutely love meeting someone who is very different from them in some ways but also very much alike in others. It’s a fantastic way for them to have their minds opened up a little more about the world.

However, they aren’t the only ones that are enjoying the process. As their English assistant, it greatly delights me to see them so excited about using their English skills to have cultural exchanges. I really feel like I’m succeeding in getting them excited about learning my native language and about my native culture. However, I’d be lying if I said that this is the only reason I’m enjoying it. No, I also copy the letters that they’ve written before I send them to the States so that I can correct their spelling, their grammar, their vocabulary, and their syntax. After all, they need to see where they’ve made their mistakes, but what I absolutely love the most about this experience is getting to see their minds in action, trying to use English to the best of their ability. Sometimes though, it comes out super funky and provides some of the absolute best laughs. So, I wanted to share some prime examples for all of you back home. Maybe it will give you some laughs too.

Example #1: My students absolutely love to give their usernames for all of the their different social media: ”Do you have network? I’ve facebook, instagram, and I’m ashamed of my snap. Oh My God, it’s horrible!” I’m not sure what this particular student meant by that, but it did give me a good laugh.

Another social media example: ”If you want to see my face, I’m subscribe on Facebook with my name.” or another variation from a different student: ”I you whant see my face, I subscrite on Facebook with my name.”

Example #2: When talking about their siblings: ”I have one sister, and her name is….She is a stool pigeon and a show off.” I wonder where they get these things.

Example #3: When talking about traveling: ”I want to visit so much country who Australia and Thailand.” ”Do you go in France often?”

Example #4: When talking about pets: ”I have a little cat red.” ”And my three cats called Coquette, Brioche, Bouboaille. The best names for all the animals.”

Not only are sentences such as these entertaining, but I think I laugh so much because it reminds me of what I was like when I was their age trying to learn French. I can only imagine the type of things I said in French when I was 15 years old, trying to express myself in a foreign language.

I really find joy in my job, not only because my students make me laugh because of what they say or their thoughts about certain subjects, but I can really see how much they are trying. I can really see where I’m making a difference in their learning, getting them excited about getting better at their English and wanting to learn about someone else from a different culture. It makes me feel as though I am succeeding at the job that I came here to do.

I can leave at the end of my contract knowing that I came here to do what I intended, knowing that I did make a difference, even if it was something as little as telling them that we don’t actually say things like that in that way in English.

I’m really loving this adventure every day, especially when it provides some laughter.

 

“Are you single?”: French boys are too bold.

Truthfully, my emotions are quite a roller coaster, which was to be expected of course, but yes, they are indeed. I’ve been feeling lonely and out of sorts the past couple of days, but to focus on the positive, let’s talk about this past week.

This past week, from Tuesday evening to Thursday morning I was able to return to my French home, Nantes. I had a required orientation that I had to attend as English assistant in the Académie de Nantes on Wednesday. It was an 8 hour long session regarding information necessary for an immigrant in France to know, such as opening a bank account, immigration paperwork, enrolling in social security, etc etc and some tips regarding being an assistant in a French classroom. Though all of that information was quite useful and at some points, interesting, it was a bit of a drag. Most of it I already knew, so it was mostly just a refresher.

However, because of this required orientation, I was able to return to Nantes. As soon as I stepped off the train, I immediately felt it in my heart: I was truly in my second home. Of course, in typical Nantes fashion, it was chilly and raining. However, I welcomed the rain with open arms because this was France for me. Better yet even, I was able to stay with my host family from when I studied abroad and have dinner with them both Tuesday night and Wednesday night. I feel so incredibly blessed to have been able to see them again. It was almost as if I had never left. I love them all so very dearly, and I hope to see them multiple times while I’m in France for these next 7 months. I was also surprised at how well my French was coming out of my mouth, because let’s be real here, sometimes, the struggle is all too real. ( For example, my French failed me at the grocery store yesterday while I was checking out. The cashier had to speak English for me. It was kind of embarrassing.)

Unfortunately, I was not able to spend a lot of time walking around Nantes to all of my favorite places from when I studied abroad, but I did get some snapshots. I also met up with a former IES Abroad friend who is also a secondary English assistant in the Académie de Nantes, also in Nantes for the same orientation. Lexi and I walked around for a bit, and we decided to hit up an old favorite: le Nid. Le Nid means ”the nest,” and it’s a bar on the very top floor of the tallest building in Nantes, la Tour de Bretagne. Eggs with cut outs form the seats, and there is a long bird that encircles the entire bar, its back end being the part where you order your drinks. Le Nid has a balcony and overlooks the entire city of Nantes. It’s absolutely breathtaking, and I can say that it is definitely one of my favorite places in the city.

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Me overlooking the Cathédrale in Nantes from the balcony. What a beauty!

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Lexi and Me at Le Nid!

Unfortunately, I was not able to spend a whole lot of time with my host family because of how long my orientation was and because I had to head back to Laval on Thursday morning in order to get back to work on time. I was able to meet the student that they are currently hosting though, and it definitely brought back some memories talking to her about her classes at IES and the different activities she does. It’s hard for me to believe that 2 and half years have passed since that time. How different of a person I am and how many different experiences I’ve had since then!

Though my time in Nantes was short lived, it was definitely lovely, and I’m definitely going to go back multiple times before I head back home to the states in the Spring.

Onward to my classes at the high school. I started my classes at the high school on Thursday afternoon. I mostly just answered questions that the students had, introducing myself, telling them about myself, and telling them about my country. It really was an amazing experience to see what sort of questions they had for me and what sort of things they were interested in learning about me and my country. I really felt like they were engaged and actually curious, for the most part. There were, of course, a few who couldn’t care less, but I expected that. I absolutely loved it, being able to tell them about the differences in the United States and the American culture. I loved being able to shock them with different facts that either confirmed or broke the different stereotypes they had about my home culture. Most of them were also quite bold and confident in their English speaking skills, which I marveled at. However, of course I couldn’t scrape by without some awkwardness. In every single class, at least one 15 to 16 year French male decided that he was going to put all of his energy in pronouncing in the best English he possibly could “are you single?” *facepalm* Well, then. At least we got that out of the way. Good to know that high school boys are high school boys everywhere in the world. At least I know a little bit better now what to expect.

So, all 8 (yes, 8!) classes that I had at the high school were very fulfilling. I’m already starting to come up with lesson plan ideas and to write the actual lessons. Even though it’s been nice basically being on vacation, I’m ready to get back to work. I’m very excited to actually start giving lessons, teaching the students at both the middle school and the high school. I also found that I didn’t feel scared at all. I felt really confident about all of it, just being there and answering their questions. I’m very thankful for this opportunity and the experience that it will bring me.

As to other things going on, having my own apartment is both glorious and a curse. I love being able to manage my home and do whatever I’d like, whenever I’d like. However, it does get very lonely at times. However, this is where the growth comes in. I’ve set aside goals for myself during my time here in France, and one of them is to grow in independence. I think living alone will definitely push me towards that, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. I just wish that the loneliness monster wasn’t knocking at my door every so often.

Also, I finally built up the courage to try to go to a church today that I found online. However, when I went on their website to double check the address and the time of service, I discovered that the church has moved to a place that is a 45 minute drive north of Laval. I was extremely disappointed. I then tried to find another Protestant church online, and I discovered that most of them are at least an hour’s walk from my apartment or there is no information on them whatsoever online. There are also so few. I have kind of picked up on the fact that Laval is very heavily Catholic and that there are few churches in general, let alone Protestant churches. This I have known about France, being an extremely secular country where religion is heavily a private matter, however, I couldn’t help feeling frustrated yet again with the culture. That culture shock just keeps swinging. So, I went back to sleep feeling defeated and rather sad. My bought of courage was for naught, and I’ll be gone on vacation the next few weeks. So, I won’t be able to try to find another church for next week or the couple of weeks to follow.

I do hang out with my friends that I’ve made here at the foyer, but sure, go on ahead and come in and stay for awhile loneliness monster. I suppose that part of personal growth is suffering through at least a little bit of discomfort.

In the meantime, I’ll be trying to focus on doing my lesson plans for school (I’m working on Halloween bingo for my middle school kiddos, and I’m quite excited about it.). Hopefully my next post will be a little more uplifting.

Until then….à plus mes amis!