WWOOFing in Ardèche for Christmas

img_1847

I am pleased enough with surfaces — in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child’s hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of friend or lover, the silk of a girl’s thigh, the sunlight on rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind — what else is there? What else do we need?

Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”

img_1637

Here are some surfaces from my incredible week WWOOFing with a (very) French family in the countryside at their chèverie (goat farm/butcher). The cast is: V, the goat farmer, T, her husband and the butcher, t, their three-year-old son, and M, my fellow WWOOFer originally from Lyon.

img_1748

  • Showing up nervous about letting the family know that I’m vegetarian only to be greeted by a pig cut in half and hanging from a tree with three grown men laughing around it. Unwittingly showing up on the traditional “tueaille,” or annual pig-killing/eating day/festival, and immediately deciding to tough it out and eat meat for the week
  • Being plagued with abdominal pain from said meat every afternoonimg_1808
  • Walking through the forest alone singing to myself and taking pictures all afternoon/ every afternoon while listening to the birds sing and the church bell from the village below keep time until V calls in the goats and their bells mean to go to the chèverie for the evening’s workimg_1661
  • t clasping my hand to take him back to the house at the end of a day and, after nearly 24 hours of hitting me and throwing caprices, saying “je t’aime
  • t farting on my lap while I read him storiesimg_1797
  • Petting Miel (“honey” in french) first thing every morning until, by the end of the week, he recognizes me and comes running and squealing for me every time he sees meimg_1669
  • One of the farm’s workers bringing a month-old puppy to the farm to play with a living-room baby goat and letting him lie on my chest to nap
  • Passing the time just after every lunch with bowls of coffee and reading the quotes about happiness from chocolate wrappers to each otherimg_1870
  • A baby goat being born and forgotten in the snow. Rubbing him with a towel for two hours to heat him up. Getting to feel life slowly creep into his small and lifeless body, starting with his humongous ears perking upimg_1835
  • The sadness on Christmas Day when, while babysitting the farm alone while everybody is away visiting family, the same baby goat dies after having just spent the afternoon cuddling my lap like a cat
  • Watching a baby goat take its first breath. Also on Christmas Day
  • The acute boredom that comes with only understanding and expressing the surface of conversation in a foreign language day in and day out with little to no perception of nuance or depth
  • Getting to see the Alpes from afarimg_1862
  • Giving a cat a piggy back ride along a country road
  • The smell of the wood-burning heater img_1815
  • Whittling away the scraps of meat and fat (in the end, 1.2kg’s worth) left on the remains of a pig carcass all evening with T and M, talking about how caring about cooking is a metaphor for enjoying the road to the greater ends in life
  • Taking long sunset walks with Laslo the dogimg_1715
  • Staying up till midnight on M’s last day on the farm talking about how to find happiness in the world (and how crazy it’s becoming) through groups of people that give us a sense of community and remind us that we are not aloneimg_1908

Reflections on France from a Trip to London

“If you were to cut my life in half, you could read it by the rings it would contain. You contain them too: who you used to be is enclosed in who you are. Your old heart is not erased. It’s encased in another heart, another axon-dendrite shell stacked, shellacked atop the old. We are a wasps’ nest of selves, each embedded in the next.”

“Everything’s Rings” in Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson

img_1585

Big Ben

Back during Easter week, 2014,  one of my best friends K and I went to London during my year abroad in Aalborg, Denmark. I remember one afternoon while we were walking along Regent’s Canal, we found a giant chalkboard asking people what they wanted to do before they died and, during the brief visit where I found myself falling deeply in love with this city in England, I, for whatever reason, wrote that I wanted to live in France.

It is rather amusing, then, that this next time in London was part of my current job where I, incidentally, get to live in France.

The trip was through the high school’s English classes; I went in order to fill in for a teacher who got sick at the last minute. The group was me, one of the English teachers I work with, a philosophy teacher who didn’t speak English, a history teacher who didn’t speak English, forty-nine varying-levels-of-obnoxious French teenagers, and Jaques, the world’s funniest bus driver. We left on a Sunday and, after hours of broken bus catastrophes, highways, ferries, and bathroom breaks where teachers lit their students’ cigarettes (God France is weird), we made it to London to see Big Ben,

img_1506

The London Eye

the bridges, the Globe Theatre, and the TATE Modern where I exhausted-cried at a Monet while the students all napped in a dark corner of the showing of an artsy film. For lodging, we stayed with British host families which, for me, meant Mr. (a silent man) and Mrs. Pope (a Brexit supporter, subtle racist, and all around charming old woman) with Jaques and the philosophy teacher, all of whom I got to try my hand at translation for the first time with (before the next morning where I got to do the same on a slightly more passionate scale concerning a problem between some of the teens and their host family; I was the only English/French speaker present and got to get yelled at in multiple languages). The next day we went to the Imperial War Museum (which is incredibly important and I cannot recommend it enough), the Natural History Museum, Borrough Market, and Camden Market (where I failed to convince the other teachers to pierce their noses like me). The third day, we went to The British Museum (aka, England showing the world “look at what we got to steal back when we ‘owned’ the world”), Covent Garden, and The National Gallery. There was a train strike going on during the whole time, so we spent hours and hours and hours on the bus otherwise. And then we came home.

 

 

img_1550

The Natural History Museum

Despite England and France, traditionally, having a reputation of inhabiting a dichotometic sphere, what I will take away from this trip is actually its hand in validating my homing sentiment for my current French life. Surrounded by the French, I ended up speaking more French on this trip than I have in my entire time in France thus far, and, for the first time, I was able to understand French humor across the hurdle of the language barrier. I even acted as a translator (many times), which I still don’t entirely believe are within my capabilities. I was reminded that French is not just a hastle getting in the way of my day, as it so often feels here, but a language that I LOVE speaking. I got to really get to know some of the students at Lycee Jean Moulin (they invited me to eat lunch with them at Burrough Market and told me about their hopes for adulthood; they taught me how to skateboard outside The National Gallery; they argued with me about if I was cool or not for an hour while waiting for the ferry from England to France (I am, it turns out, not cool);

img_1552

Harrod’s Department Store

they took turns singing to the whole bus on its microphone while we drove around London), and grew to see them as more than just the blank stares that make my job, from time to time, a bit miserable. I got welcomed into a kind of “teacher’s club” over misery-drinking and student-complaining at the end of some rough days in a way that I don’t entirely feel that I am gruff-and-hardened-enough for yet, but that validated the fact that I am, indeed, a teacher now. Above everything, I even had a few brief moments of homesickness for my life in Pézenas: the things I do here, the people I know here, the day-to-day that I pass here. Like the impressionist paintings I got to see in the beautiful London museums, I got to see the beautiful painting that the loose brushstrokes that my close-up life in France come together to make from the distance of England.

It is strange to look at everything that has happened between that 2013 visit and this one to the same city, especially in terms of the (weirdly unglamorous) filling in of the gap between aspiration and achievement. London has not only reminded me that, before I died, I got to pass some time in France, but that I really, truly am getting to live here as well.

img_1584

Trafalgar Square

TAPIF Lesson Plans for Lycée and BTS, Fall/Winter Semester

While I do not claim to be any kind of teaching expert (read: somehow the secondary teaching assistants for l’Académie de Montpellier never got any training this year?), I thought I would try to make a blog post adding to the online community about TAPIF lesson planning that I have relied on so heavily for inspiration this semester. I have been a Freshman Composition and French tutor for the past two years and a camp-human (counselor and unit director) for four that I rely on in my current teaching world.

To start, I just want to explain how working with the teachers at my lycée has worked for me, as it seems to be a different experience for everybody. I have a locker in my school’s salle de prof with my emploi de temps in it that teachers weekly write in when they want me, so every week is different. Some weeks I work four hours, some all twelve; it really depends. And just as varied as my emploi de temps is what I am doing in those hours. Some of the most common uses of time I’ve had are:

  1. Sitting in on chemistry students’ presentations in English to ask follow up questions testing their English ability and, in the end, assigning a language grade.
  2. Circulating classrooms where students are working on independent projects to answer English-related questions.
  3. Acting as an oral examiner for a terminal English class where I sit, silently, and have students come to me one at a time to present a topic, and then assigning them grades based on this rubric.
  4. (Most common) Having the teacher tell me what topic they want me to work around and coming up with something based on that (I have not yet had a class where I was able to choose my own topic).

Most of my classes are either structured where I have the entire class together with the teacher sitting in (and usually ending up taking over my lessons a bit), or (more rarely) I get half the class for half an hour, and then they switch.

With the way that I like to teach my classes, based on effective French classes I’ve had in the past, I do not speak any French in the classroom, especially at the BTS-level, unless there is a behavioral issue. It is a lot of acting things out and drawing on the board, not to mention constantly writing key vocabulary on the board and explaining them by whatever means necessary: I try to never just translate. Whipe board markers (along with a waterbottle for pregnant pauses allowing students catch up) have become my most useful classroom tool.

Introductions: The most common topic I have covered all semester is (by fucking far; it is December 8 and I am still giving this lesson) just introducing myself. All of the teachers I have worked with really wanted me to talk about myself, so I made a power point about me, my family, Arizona, my university, studying abroad, hobbies, and American food (which was the most popular slide in every single French classroom, of course) and then answered a torrent of questions, both personal (Do you have a boyfriend, always very popular) and about America. The students took notes, and then the teachers had the students make a million creepy little scrapbook pages about me that I find floating around the school every once in a while.

Something I would have liked to do to have the students talk more themselves would have been games like

  1. Name Bingo where you project about twenty questions on the board and have students write them in on a 4×4 bingo board. You then read the questions out in a random order, and the students write in the answers on their board. Whoever gets “bingo” stands up and reads their answers in full sentences, “my mother’s name is Judy,” “I am fifteen years old,” etc.
  2. Common Ground where you push the desks aside and have the kids stand in a circle with one kid in the middle who says something like “I share common ground with people who have pets” and whoever it applies to leave the circle to find a new place. The last one left has to stand in the middle and say a sentence.
  3. Two Truths and a Lie where a student comes up to the front of the class and writes three things about themselves (2 true and 1 not) on the board, so you can visually correct their grammar or spelling, and then have the class discuss which one they think is false. Take turns from there.

Reality Television: I started by having the students tell me which reality TV shows they knew in France and describe them to me. I then talked about the three different types of reality television, Documentary Style, Structured Reality, and Reality Competition, showing a clips from a few different shows that fit these genres (I used Keeping up with the KardashiansThe BachelorThe Amazing RaceProperty Brothers, and Ghost Adventures), having them write down words they didn’t recognize to discuss and having someone in the class give a summary of what they saw afterwards. I would then pose several discussion questions to the class such as “would you ever want to find your husband/wife on a reality show?” “do you think this is an accurate representation of reality?” “which genre do you think is the most ‘realistic’?” and “which genre would you most want to watch?”

The 2016 Elections: This lesson was fucking rough but also the most rewarding by far. I projected my actual absentee ballot onto the board to start and described all the things Americans voted on in an election as a gateway to talking about the three branches of government, the difference between the federal and the state level, and what propositions were. I then showed this video to the class to explain the electoral college, and then I had the class take this small test to see if they were republicans or democrats by American standards (carefully explaining that Donald Trump is not necessarily a republican and if you tested conservative, you were not a bad person). I then just opened the floor to questions because the students had so many, and from there we had some of the best class discussions I’ve seen yet.

Numbers: I started this lesson by simply reviewing numbers and counting, and then we played two different games to practice. With the first, we played “Fizz/Buzz,” which my BTS students lovingly described as a drinking game, where we go around a circle each counting up in English, but multiples of three are replaced by “fizz” and multiples of five are replaced by “buzz.” Whenever somebody messes up, they are out. Be sure to encourage students that, if they are going to swear at each other over this, swear in English. For the other game, I used this website to come up with two lists of ten numbers between 1 and 1,000,000 on two different pieces of paper. I then divided the class into two teams and gave each a piece of paper and a whipe board marker. The students then sent up a representative to write one number while reading them a number from the list in English, changing between each number. The first team to get all ten numbers accurately on the board won. If they use any French, erase the numbers and they have to start over.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday: I only gave one Thanksgiving lesson. It was a disaster. Don’t do what I did. Just show them pictures of food. They’re French. They’d like that. Maybe talk about Black Friday and show them this news clip of Americans being assholes about capitalism or this SNL skit that is self-aware about how Americans can be assholes about capitalism.

Christmas: With my BTS students, the lesson I gave on Christmas was special in that I got to teach them Christmas songs to perform at a local English Christmas event at a church in town. I taught “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night” by handing out the lyrics to everybody, playing a Youtube video of how the song goes, and then doing a call and response with each line to teach the tune and pronunciation. With one of the classes I did this with, we ended early and ended up Youtube karaoking any English Christmas songs they liked and dancing around the classroom, which I would fully recommend.

And these are the main lesson plans I have sustained myself on for this semester! I have a million different plans for what I would like to do in the Spring, and I hope to do another blog post on those materials before heading back to America later in 2017.

Dear Predecessor

Dear 2015/2016-School-Year English Teaching Assistant for Lycée Jean Moulin,

More than anything, I am perplexed by the black-and-white photograph of a woman playing accordion that you left (off-center) on the wall of (y)our living room, my dear predecessor. Of course you left furniture here, a little bit of dish soap, a roll of toilet paper, even the bath salt makes sense: but why that singular piece of paper that could have so easily gone home with you? Why did you leave behind this picture of quintessential France for France? This France in two dimensions, in black-and-white, in 1940s jazz?

Paper travels easily, so I read this singular break in blank wall space as a deliberate act. I mostly assume that it was a gift for whatever future you knew would replace you. I assume you are generous, choosing to love the person that would take over your life here.

And, for some reason, I want you to know that the person that took over your life here, who now possesses your accordion photograph, is a vegetarian, just like I am told you were. I only have a fingerprint here or there to build my image of you from, but I want to tell you that I think we are fairly similar, you and me. I am American, not British, but I have certainly been described as “nice” in the same way that people talk about you these days: meaning that I know you too are quiet, I know you like books (you used to hang out in the library a lot, I am told), I can easily conjecture that you struggled like I have to fit into the niches of this small town. Or maybe you didn’t and I am only projecting (isn’t that all this is). There is no way to tell, really.

Perhaps I am wrong in the image I have made for you as all love and generosity, anyway. Perhaps you did not love that future which ripped away your home to give to me. They say that ghosts are usually the result of violence, of unfinished business, and I can certainly feel you lurking in my life here.

I have always been obsessed with ghosts, my dear predecessor, like the memory of a past France haunting that image in our living room. I am, of course, obsessed with the ghost of you. The ghost whose shoes I fill daily in the classroom, the salle de prof, my place of residence. The ghost against which I can feel the teachers comparing me every time they comment on my lessons, or when they tell their classes “Lizzy will do this, just like the old assistant.” I am obsessed, I think, exactly for this sake of context. I want to be my own person. I want to be an adult, but I cannot get rid of that teenager–like the ones we teach, predecessor–whose worth only came from her comparisons to those around her, frantically obsessed with others only for the sake of being better than them. The same teenager enchanted by an image of France where a woman could look so happy, alone, with only her accordion. I need to stop seeking your ghost.

But I still want to ask you, my vegetarian, what was you life like outside of the classroom? Did you struggle like me? Perhaps it is wrong, anyway, to assume that leaving the picture here was an act of generosity. As a former Francophile trapped in an Anglo world (like I assume you would have been to do TAPIF), I can immediately identify with the photograph’s sentiment about the dreaminess that France can have from afar. It has the same ambiance that lives in La Vie en Rose, the film Amelie, and all those Eiffel Tower souvenirs floating around America. The same enchanting sentiment that a real life anywhere has a tendency to invade, for lack of a better term. Was leaving this paper here an act of generosity or disillusionment? What did you think of your France in three dimensions, mon assistante anglaise?

You, predecessor, are still but a projection, and I want our images to be the same just like I want them to be nothing alike. What kind of teacher were you? What did you think of Pézenas? Why did you leave that picture here?

Who are you?

Sincerely,
The 2016/2017 English Teaching Assistant for Lycée Jean Moulin

(Also, this definitely comes from reading Ander Monson’s Letter to a Future Lover a little too much)