Back in Business

Source for photo The Talk of Toronto Blog

Source for photo The Talk of Toronto Blog

I promised I’d share both triumphs and failures, and I’m happy to say that I’ve had my fair share of Good News in the past few days. My last class for the first semester ended on December 20, which means I don’t have class until January 21. In the meantime, I had a string of exams the second week of December as well as a variety of assignments to turn in via e-mail. During my holidays, I promised myself that I would take full advantage of my time to spend with my friends and family instead of worrying about schoolwork, so it is only now that I am back in Amiens that I have been crossing things off my to-do list (I’m a big fan of to-do lists).

To-Do List

  • Write a one to two-page report in French on my journée mastériale talking about World War I
  • Write a seven-page literary analysis in English on The Awakening in which I analyze “the sea”
  • Write a five-page comparative analysis in English on two extracts of Children’s literature
  • Submit my application to the Teaching Assistant Program in France for 2013-2014
  • Write a ten-page sociolinguistic analysis in French of the anglicismes in food, gastronomy, and cooking
  • Study for my two exams in French on two theoretical approaches to research
  • Read the intensely boring Reflections on the Revolution in France and the delightful Everything in the Country Must before classes begin
  • Register for the June 2013 CAPES/CAFEP exam for English

So you see, I’m making progress! Nothing like being able to wake up at 11 am and sit around in your pajamas all day, writing blog posts and plodding through the rough waters of papers and exams. It certainly is a change. Speaking of change, AMETIS (the Amiens bus system) changed around their bus lines, much to my advantage (I now have an express line that takes me directly from my bus stop to the Campus in less than ten minutes), and the bus drivers didn’t even go on strike for it! (See my post La grève des bus to learn more about my history with bus strikes).

Since arriving back in Amiens, I’ve been hit with good news like a chain of explosive dynamite. It started on Monday, when I got an email from my professor who teaches that course on the linguistic analysis of translation (see my post A+ Tuesday for more on this professor). In a somewhat unsettling way of seeing my first grade back for one of my December exams – apparently in Amiens, they post all the grades collectively, so you can see what everyone else in the class got, regardless of how bad or good the grade might be – I opened up the attached file only to discover that I had gotten a 16/20! The second highest grade in the class on an exam entirely in French! I was astonished and delighted, considering that the only other grade I had received up to that point was a 4/20 on a translation exam (which will be averaged with four other translation grades, luckily for me). Even assuming I did as terribly on all my other translation grades (which is unlikely for my French to English translations at least), following the French system of compensation des notes, I could still take the 4 and the 16 and average them to make a 10, the passing note for the semester. To my surprise, yesterday, the same professor sent us the grades for our Wednesday class, the linguistic aspects of translation (not to be confused with aforementioned linguistic analysis of a specific translation, which makes up 1/3 of the CAPES written exams). Boom goes the dynamite, and I had 14/20! Not as good as a 16, but still, a very decent grade that will further help me achieve my required semester average. We are going to go over these exams in a few weeks, but I am fairly certain that most of my points were lost for not writing enough and incorrectly translating, “the knife was no longer coming at her. She was moving it up and down.” (Profound, I know). I’m still waiting on three more grades from November/December and five more grades in January, two of which I’ve already turned in the dossier for and now only have to wait for the result.

To boost my confidence on a whole different level, I’ve also had some reassurance that yes, I am making progress both socially and professionally here in Amiens, even if just a little bit. Firstly, I have been teaching something of a conversation class/ad lib basics of English to four French girls aged 7-10, albeit for one hour a week only. It’s a start (I keep needing to tell myself that it will get me somewhere). The best thing about teaching these girls, in addition to their enthusiasm, the flexibility I have to experiment (not typical of teaching English in French schools), and the gales of laughter that tend to accompany my Friday afternoons, is that I have a genuine contract which will last until July. So it’s very official, and the parents can’t just cancel on me without owing me 1/3 of the remaining pay. All this is relevant because for the first month of the contract, we began a “trial period” where, if they weren’t happy with me, they could let me go without reneging on the contract. Three weeks after my first lesson, the father who had initially interviewed and hired me calls me and informs me that he is rather surprised that I’m not speaking as much English as I am French with the girls. Granted, they have had a limited exposure to English and I’ve found that to get them to listen or understand me, I must often express myself in French. I heartily agreed with the father and began giving all my instructions in English before supplementing them with French, but I was slightly shaken up by his out of the blue call. Un peu de retour, he told me. As it is my first independent Teaching English as a Foreign Language job, I had some doubts about my abilities, although I was at least confident that the girls were having a very good time. Whether they are actually learning anything is another issue entirely.

Bref, now six weeks into teaching and comfortably past the one-month “trial period” I emailed the same father to ask for a bit more retour (feedback) with a long list of questions to help me evaluate my performance. Lo and behold, the other two sets of parents were very happy with my classes, and the parents of the two sisters as well, although they were concerned with the sisterly squabbling during the class. My youngest student was also apparently retaining the vocabulary I had taught her and, much to the amusement of her parents, was starting to use an American accent when repeating words in English. The father finished his e-mail with a highly flattering, I encourage you to keep teaching in the same manner. I felt like a million bucks at those words!

My final défi was last night, at our first locavore réunion since Christmas break. My partner-in-crime, N, called me a few hours before the meeting to tell me that she needed me to run, or animer, it. Honestly, I’ve never been in a student association, club, or society before where I’ve had to play a leading role (if you don’t count my years in the French club in high school), so this has been a huge learning experience for me, even being part of the group. The French is fast-paced, colloquial, accented strangely, and I’ve had to absorb a lot of strange vocabulary such as animer, échéance, ordre du jour, compte-rendu, scribe, commision, com’, partenariat, etc. often in the form of abbreviations of technicalities (even when you aren’t counting all the strange anglicismes such as flyers, brainstorming, and the like, all said in a heavy French accent). I’m not exactly shy, especially in English, but I sometimes lack confidence, and the last thing I was prepared to do was to direct a group of strong personalities aged 20-26, albeit close friends. But, as a close friend of mine told me yesterday, Qui ne tente rien n’a rien – (My favorite English equivalent is, Nothing ventured, nothing gained). And now, looking back on the meeting, I think it mostly went well!  Who knows, maybe I’ll be asking for a pay raise soon on my teaching English job?!  Now there’s a terrifying idea…!

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