Thursday, 17 February 2011

Les arbres se couvrent des feuilles

The stages this week went so well! I know I bitched about the students a little on Monday, but luckily, because the stages are voluntary, the students with terrible levels of English and no enthusiasm didn't turn up after Monday, and I was only left with the good ones. I can honestly say that after leaving the school at lunchtime today, I seriously thought about training to be a teacher. Only for about five minutes, of course, I don't really want to spend my life cajoling kids into conjugating avoir (or maybe reading Of Mice and Men with GCSE students every year until I retire). But there is something very rewarding about building a rapport with a class, and having them leave a lesson with some skill, some knowledge, some understanding that they didn't enter it with. It helps that a foreign language is an academic subject, but also a practical skill, as well as a conduit for things that they are already interested in. By which I mean the lyrics to "Billionaire". I planned the whole week myself, which meant I only had to teach what I was interested in.

Highlights of this week:
  • Introducing my students (half of whom are training to be electricians) to the poetry of Philip Larkin and THEY WERE INTO IT!!! I did The Trees ("it is a beautiful poem") and This Be the Verse ("I think it is funny... and provocative"). They all grasped the meaning of "They fuck you up, your mum and dad", even if finding a French translation was nearly impossible.
  • The Post-It Note game, where you have to stick a Post-It note with the name of an unknown celebrity onto your forehead, and ask questions about them to try and guess who they are. We had a 17 year old studious Algerian guy with "Lady Gaga" on his forehead, and a stoner guy in a Slipknot T-shirt guessing "Amy Winehouse".
  • Discussing the differences between the British and French education systems. To summarise, the French system is rigorous, incredibly centralised and theoretical, and practically everyone, from trainee electricians and hairdressers to future accountants and lawyers and teachers, does a year of Philosophy in Terminale. I happen to think that is amazing and idealistic and wonderful, but not all of them agree.

  • An activity where they had to produce a translation of some song lyrics, and where Slipknot Guy translated a heavy metal track called "Adoration for No One" by Gojira. I put the English version on the projector and he had to read out his translation in French;  it was unexpectedly hilarious (to me) to hear a mild mannered 19 year old metalhead read out (in French) to his class such lyrics as:
           "The stones and dust bite hostile
           Devours flesh and bone
           The weakest lost in hatred
           Consequence is upon my door"

          The lyrics really were terrible - "The wolves are back and crave to kill" was another gem. 
  • After covering the basics of the tuition fees situation in the UK, I got them to research various arguments on the topic and stage a mock debate whereby one side supported the rise in fees and the other didn't. Those who did support it used their limited English to insist "But err... good job mean... you can... err.. pay ze money for ze university, it is not a problem" and it really didn't sound much different in tone or sentiment to hearing the Tories defend the proposals. Yeah, take that, Clegg. Of course, when I asked their actual opinions on the subject, they were as socialist as I expected (paying?! for university?!) I'd like to think all the Philosophy lessons have given them an idealistic view of the value of education, but again, that could well be my own projection.
  • The student who said he didn't want to change groups because he didn't think he'd find "une autre prof qui est aussi sympa que vous" (another teacher as nice as you). And after hearing today that there was no class tomorrow, I distinctly heard "ah, c'est dommage!" 
  • When the favourite books of the class turned out to be 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Agatha Christies' mystery novels and Lord of the Flies. I want this class all the time!
It was a good week.

After finishing work today I walked around the Parc des Buttes Chaumont again, and found a waterfall which tumbled into a shady cave. It was thundering, if artificial. It got me musing on baptism pools and being reborn, coming back to Paris, Heroclitus, stepping into the same river twice, a city in bloom, une jeune fille en fleurs... but that would better suit an entry filled with pretty flower photos, I think.

Maybe I could photograph the purple primrose I bought on the way home, which is currently sitting prettily on my desk. It's well-watered, but needs a bigger pot. No one in Paris has enough living space. 

The title is the French translation of the first line of "The Trees", which I will quote here because I love it and because it's apt. 

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf,
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
While we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

But still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.


  1. You've probably seen the movie "The Class?" Even the wiseacres are smart.

  2. I hadn't seen that film, no, but I do remember it coming out when I was doing A-level French, and thinking vaguely that I'd like to see it. I will definitely try and check it out! The article makes it seem rather sad, though. Also, the school I was working at last week (a different one to the usual) was in the 19th.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  3. I didn't find the movie so much sad as gritty and realistic.

    Francois Begaudeau is very good - I just assumed he was a long time actor

  4. Hey eeddie
    Glad you enjoying Paris. But there is more to France. You could hop on a train and visit Avignon or Bordeaux even Marseseille (don't arrive at night though, best during day time there)

    Mum and me had great time at Lizzy concert, now she want's to see the Specials.
    Ps. Your dad sang along at Limehouse gig :)

    pouvoir vos bons temps continuent pendant que votre éloigné à travers la mer(may your good times continue whilst your far across the sea)

    ;) oncle fou

  5. Love hearing about what you are doing in your classes was wondering how your teaching was going, no exactly what you mean about teaching feeling like a real achievement at times :) think a lot of the way your class's socialist mindsets is down to cultural norms as you suggest. It does amaze me just how heterogenous the viewpoint is but then again it defines the country's history, politics, and therefore policy. Do you have any students that we would term conservative however, because with a socialist outlook seeming so ingrained it must be hard to buck the trend so to speak Kate xx