Monthly Archives: March 2013

Teaching English

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An avalanche can be triggered by the slightest of movements, a small rock rolling down the side of a mountain.  As it falls, it gains momentum and slowly a whole face of the mountain follows in its wake, cascading down in a deafening, blinding explosion of snow.  A powerful, lethal domino effect…

To put it plainly, that’s my metaphor for how I went from teaching one hour of English a week to, in the space of two weeks, seven to ten hours a week with eleven different students.

It started small.  An online advertisement sent by a friend.  Another online advertisement that led to a phone call, which led to an interview, which led to another interview.  And now I have more requests for English classes than I can fit into my weekly schedule.  This is why I tell all those would-be-haters, Ye of little faith, back home that while having a liberal arts degree certainly doesn’t stack the odds in your favor, people can and do find work with a B.A. in French.  That and a combination of people you know, being in the right place at the right time, and various other jobs/internship/qualifications.  The most important thing is to have that first job, that first experience, and you are a thousand times more likely to be hired.

All that being said, it’s hard to try to teach ESL classes in Europe, especially in France.  You go to the language centers, and they want CELTA/TEFL certifications.  You go to the after-school tutoring companies, and they want experience.  You go to the middle schools and high schools, and they want you to first pass a national exam and pointless Masters.  You try to freelance it, and you know nobody, and there are a thousand other advertisements online.  Plus the British can always trump you when it comes to visa requirements and hiring priorities.  You go to Paris, and your rent costs too much.  You go to a smaller city, and there’s not the same amount of work as in Paris.  You realize that you might speak your own language but you have no idea why you say what you say.  You realize that everyone outside of an English-speaking country learned jargon that you have never ever heard of (“phrasal verbs” or “modal constructions” ringing any bells?).  And that no matter how hard you try, some people can just not successfully pronounce the letter “H.”

But why should you try? Because, for one, you appreciate that while not everyone speaks English, they make a valiant effort to speak a language other than their own native tongue.  And that you are not more privileged than a non-native speaker English teacher, just because you happen to speak one of the variants of English without thinking.  Do you know how to explain to someone when to use can rather than could or shall rather than should?  Teaching English abroad forces you to question yourself, your language, your perception of the world.  It makes you appreciate being able to communicate in someone else’s native language, to even be able to teach someone in French, let alone a subject as complex and erratic as the English language.  Because, let’s face it, teaching English does not necessarily imply teaching in English, even for purists who insist on full-scale immersion and improving oral comprehension.  If someone is going to pay you fifteen bucks an hour once a week, you can bet that they don’t want to pass those sixty minutes understanding twenty percent of what you are saying.  All they need to do for that is to turn on an American TV show.

But oh what fun and what headaches and difficulties and epiphanies and joy and frustration it is to teach English!  Teaching in itself is tiring and time-consuming, but teaching a foreign language – when only half of your students are actually interested and the rest are either forced to learn it by their parents or required to to pass an exam – is the real gauntlet of the teaching world.  And teaching English in a country where you are barely there legally, and there are one hundred other people who would like to be in your shoes, and the hours are bad, and the pay is subpar… Teaching English in France is for the brave of heart.

I’ve done the Hokey Pokey, I’ve “I spied”, I’ve gotten locked up in London Bridge, I’ve taught the basics of Bingo, I’ve reiterated the rules for pronouncing “-ed” verb endings, I’ve sung “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” I’ve translated ad lib a dozen complex business texts, I’ve “How do you do-ed” and “Nice to meet you-ed” and I’ve traveled all over the city, running to and fro from bus stations and language centers, cafés and campuses.  I’ve worked with four-year-olds, ten-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, twenty-year-olds, twenty-five-year-olds.  And somehow, I have still retained my sanity.

It’s language-learning in reverse.  It’s unlearning, relearning, faking it, ad libbing.  It’s scratching your head at all the various pecularities between British English and American English.  It’s knowing the superlative, the subjunctive, the passive voice, the present perfect, subject-verb inversion, relative pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and so much more.  It’s a whole lot of n’importe quoi.

And sometimes I say to myself, maybe I should move to Thailand or Korea.  I’ve heard there’s better pay.

Categories: Education, Expats, Working in France | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

I have walked a thousand miles…

For all the advantages and disadvantages of living in Amiens – it is a small city that few people have heard of, it rarely sees the sun, and it has the unfortunate quality of not being located on the French Riviera – one incredible attribute of my city, which is particularly important to me, is its walkability.  Partly for lack of trying, I can’t imagine being carless in either St. Louis or Omaha, but Amiens has allowed me to get by despite not being able to afford a car.  Once the clouds part and the sun comes out (sometime between now and July) I will consider renting a vélo vert, the really cheap green public bicycles, but for the moment I have survived the year thanks to a go-anywhere bus route that works 80% of the time and by wearing through a couple of pairs of sneakers.  As a student, I was even able to get a discount on my year-long bus pass, which I’ve probably got the value back on a thousand times over, what with the amount that I take the bus (for school and work).

When the weather’s nice enough, or the buses aren’t running (see La grève des bus or The Tempest: Snow Days in Picardie for two such occasions), or simply because I feel like I’ve been consuming too much cheese and chocolate, I book it on foot.  I live in the very center of Amiens, so I’m used to walking to get my groceries (5 minutes), to go to the bank (10 minutes), to head to the train station (15 minutes), to the Law library (10 minutes), to my favorite evening cafés (15 minutes), to my locavore meetings (15 minutes), to my classes (30-40 minutes uphill), to the park (15 minutes), to the south neighborhood of Henriville (30-40 minutes).  I don’t keep track of the kilometers I cover but the mere frequency of my walking is enough to give you an idea of my lifestyle. Carless, but then again… I don’t have to pay for car insurance, for gasoline, for a permanent parking spot, for the down payment on the car.  I don’t have to worry about finding a place to park it, about rush hour, or bad weather, or parking tickets, or speeding tickets.  For all the downsides and limitations of not owning a car, there are certainly many, many ways it’s “liberating” not to.

But I’ll probably have to invest in a new pair of shoes…

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, France | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Tempest: Snow Days in Picardie

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That is what Amiens looked like and the surrounding Picardie region for a couple of days.  It started to snow Monday, but the buses were still functioning normally.  School was in session, shops were open.  Come Monday night, it started to snow without stopping, snowing into Tuesday morning with great gusts of wind that rattled my windows.  The snowpocalypse had hit.  Normally on Tuesdays (see my earlier post A+ Tuesday) I have six hours of classes – it’s my longest day of school plus I have a two-hour meeting with les Tombés de la Charrette.  I have class from 9 am to 5 pm and am unable to return home and relax until 8 pm at night.  So I found myself at 7 am, on Facebook, chatting with my fellow Masters students about the situation.  Many students, and professors, live outside of Amiens, as it is the only Masters program within proximity of Beauvais, Saint Quentin, and within reach of the major axes of Lille and Paris for those professors who teach at more than one institution.  The situation was epic: roads closed, buses no longer running, trains canceled, people stranded.  I was in my pajamas and not about to attempt the thirty minute walk uphill to find out whether or not my university was closed.  Luckily, a friend of mine ventured over to confirm for all of us waiting passively on our computers that the Campus was closed – not enough personnel had shown up and the scolarité, the administrative office that informs us of canceled classes, was locked.  We got the news an hour and a half later – the entire university system in the region of Picardie was closed for Tuesday and Wednesday, as were all the elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.  We were faced with our first official snow days of the year.

You might have expected that I’d joyfully run down my five flights of stairs to make snow angels and snow forts, but despite the lack of vehicle circulation, there was still a lot of foot traffic. People were skiing down major throughways.  The snow had been cleared on sidewalks and roads, and the remaining piles of snow transformed into that ugly gray mess which resembles wads of chewed paper.  And as the day progressed and temperatures dropped, black ice began to cover the sidewalks and streets, turning walking into a very risky business.  I preferred to survey the scene from my balcony up above.  In the meantime, I’ve been watching TV, reading, and finally making progress on my Harry Potter thesis.  I just got an email this morning that my two hours of class on Friday have also been canceled, although the university will officially reopen this afternoon.  I have yet to determine whether I will still be teaching English tonight and tomorrow evening – the buses and trains might not yet be fully functioning.

I have survived the March tempest thus far and am looking forward to day light savings to finally come into effect here in Picardie – nothing like an extra hour of (hypothetical) sunshine to warm up though soul, à la chicken noodle soup.

View from the Tour Perret

View from the Tour Perret

Categories: Amiens, France, Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My Life as an Auxiliar in Spain

So sometimes I love to step out of my own reality here in France and get a taste for what life as an Expat is like for other Americans. I love this blog and thought this was the perfect post to share with all my followers… Enjoy!

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Lady in Spain

I get a lot of emails that inquire about my life in Spain. Most people ask if I’m friends with other auxiliares, what I do in my free time, and what I do at my colegio.

So here’s a little glimpse into my auxiliar life here.

I work at an awesome school located in Alcorcón. Mondays are my busiest day because I teach 6 classes. Mondays and Wednesdays I finish at 3:30, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:30, and Fridays at 1:35. The earliest I have to be at my school is 9:25 and that’s on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. You may think that since I go in at that time it means I don’t have to get up so early…well, you’re wrong. I live in the outskirts of Madrid, so the commute to my school takes 1.5 hours. So on the days I have to go in at 9:25, I…

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Hiatus

8050434766_b7d46aaec9_zHello there, my fellow Expats and bloggers, friends and strangers alike, I haven’t written in two weeks because, well, like any writer knows, sometimes you just need a break.  For me, this welcome respite came in the form of les vacances de février, one of the many numerous French school holidays scattered throughout the year.

Hiatus n. the pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process.

That’s exactly what I did.  From February 22 to March 1 I spent my days lounging around my apartment, occasionally venturing outside to buy bread and cheese and to participate in a lovely atelier pommes, that’s to say a cooking workshop revolving around apples with my locavore group “Les Tombés de la Charette” (our website is now operational, www.alimentonlocal.fr, if you want to see what we’re up to).  I watched more tv than I probably had previously during my entire lifetime (NCIS, “The Voice,” etc.) and I worked not one iota on my school work.  Not to say that I wasn’t studious.  I get antsy if I don’t have some “project” to work on, one I usually abandon within a few weeks, but I have been faithfully studying Italian on Duolingo and Memrise almost every day for the past two weeks.  Io mangio la fragola.  Grazie.

The weeklong holiday (those high school age and younger had two weeks off school, most of whom jetted off to the Alps for a colonies de vacances holiday camp to go skiing) was dark and overcast, the doldrums of the winter months in full swing here in Northern France.  And to make matters worse, very few students were around, most having gone home to their families, traveled to warmer milieu or worked as camp counselors.  I gave five hours of English lessons myself, but I mostly wallowed in my pajamas and woke up around noon every day.  I have tried several more adventurous recipes recently: tortilla española, bricks à la tunisienne, spicy chili, tarte aux poireaux avec une pâte brisée faite maison, crumble aux pommes, velouté à la courge muscadée

My most productive part of the break was the massive amounts of emails that I sent off to friends and the numerous “Skype dates” I initiated during this time.  I even talked with an American in Oregon, at 10 pm her time and 7 am my own! (I promptly went back to sleep afterwards).  It’s been such a pleasure to read all the responses to my emails (friends, you know who you are, and I am so lucky to have you in my life!)  And thank goodness for Skype and for the weekly “conference calls” my family does, which has allowed me to feel very close while being very far away.  I think I can say that I am successfully keeping up with my New Year’s pledge to email once a month and to maintain a good steady communication with my loved ones.

Since Monday, I’ve been back at school, with renewed vigor and focus (*cough cough*).  I’ve slowly stopped going to all those “extra classes” (you see my problem with resolutions and “projects”? I can never successfully audit anything for a full term) and concentrated on my job search and the classes I’m actually getting graded on.  I finally received my bulletin scolaire, that’s to say, my report card for the first semester.  To my delight, I ended up with a 15/20 moyenne (average).  Despite what you might think, approximately half of my classes were taught and evaluated in French, and I am proud to say that I did very well in them.  For my classes uniquely in French, I received 14, 15, 16, 16 and 17! My English to French translation class was my only shortcoming, but averaged with my much stronger French to English grade, I barely scraped past the passing grade of a 10!  What this all translates into is that I won’t have to “retake” any of my first semester exams in the summer, I’ve “validated” everything (grades in France are very different from what you can expect in the US, if you want more details, I invite you to browse through my previous posts commenting on the first semester).

And another “New Year’s resolution” to cross off my list: I got hired at a(nother) local tutoring company as an English teacher, the #1 centre de soutien scolaire in France if I do say so myself.  Between my various “employers” I should be able to generate much more income than what I was previously, enough to help me literally scrape by in these upcoming months.  With a part-time job for now, an exciting job opportunity in Italy for the summer, and a potential job for next year, all that awaits me is to discover what direction my career(s) will take me in.  Sometime in April I’ll find out whether or not I’ll be a language assistant next school year, and the results to the June CAPES (allowing me to be a stagiaire, or student teacher) will be posted in July.

All that’s left of my 2013 goals is to get back into running! I’ve run once this week and look forward to a slightly longer run tomorrow.  The sun is starting to shine more reliably, although it’s expected to plunge back into the 30’s and 40’s over the next few days.  Vivement le printemps…

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, Expats, France, Working in France | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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