“You’re not a teacher”

Ouch. I know. Luckily, I haven’t had that happen very often, but this instance was particularly awesome.

It was awesome because of what happened afterwards.

I was assisting the English teacher in a first grade class. It was the end of the day and we were putting their water bottles and homework away. I was doing the usual redirecting and encouraging them to put things away so we could finish our lesson. At this time a student made the comment that I wasn’t a teacher. In a way that said “why are you saying things the teacher would say” kind of way. I shrugged it off. Gotta roll with the punches. I hadn’t said anything about it, but the teacher had heard and wasn’t going to let it fly.

Her head perked up and zeroed in on the student who had said it. She spoke to the whole class and told them I was the teacher. She sat down and let me handle them for a good 10 minutes of clean up and get them through their transition. She then told them that I am a teacher and no one should ever say something like that to someone.

It was amazing to have the solidarity with my teacher that she would support and stand up for me like that.

And hot dammit, I am a teacher. Maybe not in teacher’s clothing, but I am.


Sometimes, recently, I had to remind myself to take a break. I came home today and took a nap. 20 minutes curled up under covers, comfy and cozy. A quick 20 minutes and I could feel the wrinkles on my attitude iron out.
Working all day in a role that you love is exhausting. In the moment, it may not feel that way. The ache in your shoulder or the headache aren’t there anymore. You’re using your energy to talk and or redirect. To share and (hopefully) inspire. But then you stop and you’re hit in the back of the legs by a wave.

Your feet feel all the steps you took during the day. Your voice gets that itch, you know the one, it makes you croak randomly, your jaw feels heavy. Words become so so hard.

When you’re almost to the end of the week, and the four days you’ve worked this week have felt like four months. The number of coffees you drink can’t bring the life back to your blood and despite your attempts photosynthesis still doesn’t work in humans.

So sometimes, you need to remember to take care. Eat some ice cream, paint your nails (if you do that sort of thing), take a long shower, and take a big fat cat nap.
Burn out is the biggest killer to young careers known to humankind. I encourage everyone, in a new career or a 10 year professional to take care of yourself. By doing so, you ensure your are well and those around you are well.

This is just a quiet, friendly reminder to you from me, who got a reminder today in the form of a sigh after a failed activity.

Just a kind quiet reminder.

What do you do at an american french school?

I’ve been working at my current school for almost 9 months. I’ve been trying to break down for people what I do and what my ‘title’ means.

In France most schools have surveillants, or ‘wardens’ but here I’m what they call a monitor. Now, that title is extremely vague and misguiding. I do more than monitor and I don’t quite do what a normal surveillant in France would do. They typically attend to students during their free times between classes, lunch periods, patrolling the hall, and some disciplinary actions. The very sound of surveillant is big and scary. I remember seeing them yelling across hallways at students and reprimanding them in all around scary ways. Even though I knew they were some of the sweetest, most generous people in the school.

I definitely never thought I’d be doing anything similar to them in the states. At first I explained my position as a sort of assistant/noon duty type person. You know, those nice adults at recess in elementary school who had whistles and band-aids if you fell. Usually someone’s mom who didn’t work during the day. However, what I know now is much more intricate and elaborate.

Yes, I do lunch and recess duty. I am responsible for some disciplinary actions, but I do classroom support (thank god, I’ll explain) and lesson planning. My position is like a catch all for the things the teachers couldn’t do. I’m the extra hands and voice of reason for a lot of the learning kids do outside the classroom.

My role as a monitor started out as a sort of surveillant position with a hint of daycare teacher. I head up the 1st and 2nd grade garderie(daycare) and it is by far the toughest daycare situation I’ve been in. I average 27 students a day in a room with a max capacity of probably 20. We plan activities, we work until 6 pm and my group is always particularly rowdy. I was coordinating crowd control. I was keeping the peace until we could go outside to recess and I’d have more back up.

I felt (sometimes still feel) disrespected and looked down upon by the parents and teachers. I got looks that made me feel like a lowly babysitter, or like nothing at all. The kids will constantly test us, and at this point of 9 months on the job, they can chalk it all up to the monitor staff being new anymore.

I’ve become a very hard person. It’s amazing I haven’t lost m voice yet. I raise my voice everyday. Not to yell at children (I’m not a heathen) I raise it to be heard. Remember the 27 students average? I have to raise my voice to be heard. If I don’t get their attention somehow we’d never get anything done. I have put so many children into time out, and sent them to the office because I had 26 other students to take care of.

In the end of November, I was assigned (finally) to classroom assistance. I helped the 1st grade english teacher and ESL specialist with reading support and language assistance with a few of our FOB frenchies. The instructor had no idea I have a TESOL certificate, or about my other teaching experiences. Some of the administrators had no idea I could speak french for fuck’s sake. I must have had some mysterious skill vanishing aura around me associate with the title of Monitor.

Since beginning classroom support, my experience at school has gotten better. Some teachers still don’t care about what I do or who I am, but more of them do now, or at least acknowledge my skills. The teachers see us doing our jobs and caring for all the grades. They worry about their classes possibly the cycle they work with, but they don’t have the same amount of face time we have. We are doing teaching without textbooks or proper class setting.

I miss having a classroom, but I still get those chances. As monitors we don’t get time off. All those holidays I had last year in France, I’m working them here. These are my most and least favorite times. I’d love to have a break and recuperate some sanity, but I also get to plan my own ‘lessons’ and activities. I always start the day with the kids and try to encourage learning through movement and vocalization. These days give me so much excitement and happiness and remind me why I love teaching and need to be doing it.

We’re also responsible for the emotions and manners in some cases. We deal with the bullying problems, the scrapped knees, and afternoon exhaust. The roles we play don’t feel crucial all the time, but thinking into the future, we hope we made a difference. We hope our support and care for the kids let them know they are worthy of good things.

My boss has been thinking about renaming our position, because it does not seem to fit what we do. We do more than monitor the students, we do more than surveil the kids. Maybe if our title changes the mysterious skill vanishing aura will be lifted and parents won’t stare at us like we’re just baby-sitters or lowly peons in the school hierarchy. We’ll be acknowledged as the educators we truly are.

So for now, I’m a monitor.

I did a grad school!

Hello my long ignored blog. I apologize for not writing more, but not being in France and having a TAPIF focused (initially) blog made it weird. I didn’t want to make it weird… now it’s weird.

I’m revamping this little blog space to go along with my exciting movements forward in life.

I got into Graduate school! After many months of writing, and stressing I’ve heard from the schools I applied to and will be attending UW for a Masters in TESOL. I’m really excited that someone wanted me! I really had no idea what I was doing while looking into and applying to grad school. I just knew I wanted something within the scope of education. It’s one of the only things I really feel passionately about. Teaching is one of the few skills I will boast about.

So here I am. Starting a new exciting education adventure. I’ve also been working at a great bilingual school in Seattle; exercising my french and tesol skills on the daily.

I can’t wait to share more about my adventures in grad school, life post-TAPIF, and fun lessons and stories about my kids at school.

Thanks for sticking around.


The Emma-pire Strikes Back

Remember that one time I said I’ve have guest bloggers? Well, I’m finally having another guest post from the same lovely who wrote the first one, Emma! This is her short reflection on being back home and how convenient it can be. I can’t help, but agree with a lot of her points. Except the ground floor first floor thing, I’ve always thought the french were crazy for that point. You can find her other post here!

I have hit a momentous mark in being home from France: As of today, it has been one month and ten days. And I have to admit, I’m starting to feel a bit more… normal. I know that everyone talks about how hard it is coming back to the U.S. after being away for an extended period of time, but I always forget how true it is. And even though it has been a month and ten days, and I can maintain a conversation without taking too much time to find the right words, there are still a few quirks about the American lifestyle that I still haven’t gotten used to. Again.
1) The ground floor is also the first floor: After spending all that time in France thinking “Ok, so I have to go to the fifth floor, which is actually the sixth floor”, I now find myself climbing one flight of stairs, looking at the 2 marked on the wall and thinking “How funny. They skipped a floor and didn’t realize.” I’ve been thinking this subconsciously for the past month and ten days, and finally today it hit me: “No, stupid. You’re doing it wrong”. Good.
2) Six o’clock a.m. wake-up calls: Not from my alarm. No. Even though I now have a job (yes it’s temporary, but I’m proud and will shamelessly advertise this fact in this post!) and am taking classes, I really don’t have to be anywhere until noon. Even with a few hours in the morning to run or (more frequently) plan classes and do homework, I still don’t set my alarm until a leisurely 7:30. But without fail, 6:00 hits, and I’m wide awake. I can’t get out of bed on principle; I need my eight (ok, seven) hours! So I just… lay there. I mean, I’ve been sleeping on this schedule for the past 23 some odd years of my life. Why would nine months take all of that away from me? It’s cruel.
3) The radio: I can understand it. I mean, I did reach a level of comprehension in French that allowed me to understand just about everything (even group conversation of five or more people! Again, excuse me for my hubris), but I had forgotten the ease of driving around with NPR, understanding all the witty banter and inside cultural jokes and twists. Word-play is one of the most underrated arts in today’s era, but boy do you appreciate it after the pathetic puns you try to make in a foreign language (e.g. when trying to get a child to eat a kiwi- It’s a kiOUI, not a kiNON).
4) Streets: They are HUGE. I mean, you can park cars on either side of it and STILL drive through. And I don’t mean parking cars by driving up on the sidewalk to do so. I mean six inches from the curb and you can still get your SUV through. ‘Nuf said.
5) Drinking in peace: I’m talking water. Not only am I no longer harassed about having a water bottle with me when I’m out and about, I am joined by the majority of the population. Instead of being gawked at and asked why, I’m told “You should bring your water bottle. It’s a hot one today” by just about everyone.
So though this list is not exhaustive, it does give some food for thought. You never know what you may end up missing. Maybe it’s because they are so little and ingrained in our society that they make themselves particularly loud and obvious at this point in my re-integration. Of course I miss the food and the beer and the wine and the people and the travel and the history and the culture, who wouldn’t? But these subjects are still too painful to elaborate upon at this time. Give me a year, a month and ten days, and then maybe we can talk.

Lessons that worked- #3 Creative Writing Ideas

I’ve been thinking about what my most successful lessons were when it came to both my college and my lycée. And by far, providing creative writing opportunities won by massive landslides.
Towards the end of February, before the holiday, my cooperating teaching at the high school, was being a real gem. So, I decided to teach whatever the hell I wanted to instead of waiting for him to avoid emailing me back and putting my students through more improv speeches I created a short creative writing/story telling unit.

I began week one with them doing a creative writing exercise. I’m sure many of you have done this at one point in time during an english class. You bring out a blank sheet of paper and start a story. After an amount of time you switch papers with someone. I had them group in two and they passed their papers in a circle. I gave them 2-3 minutes to read and add to the story. This took a majority of the 50 minute class I had with them.

They loved it. There was lots of laughing, sabotaging and excitement. I had never seen this class more excited and engaged in an english class. After about 40 minutes, I had the papers return to the original writers and they read through their new stories. I collected them and told them the next week we’d be editing them and practicing telling them to the class.

So this gave me homework, which was fine with me. I typed them all and passed them back the next week. Again most of the class time was consumed by editing and grammar. I created an edit guideline/rubric, example: wc=word choice, sp= spelling, wo=word order, etc.

Afterwards, I had them read their stories to the class just as an ice breaker to being in front of a group.
For their homework, I printed out stories from around the world and passed them out. I asked them to try their best to memorize the stories for next week.

Week three, I came to class and we talked about traits of a good story teller and a bad story teller. Which turned out great! I made a simple graph and wrote down exactly what they said, which is a way of encouraging students to speak up more often. I asked them to think about people who are good story tellers or public speakers (Francois Hollande was not on the great speaker list, which I found hilarious).
I gave them time to practice, because I know frenchies track record with actually doing homework is quite low. I also brought extra stories because most students ‘lost’ theirs over the weekend. *le sigh*
It went relatively well.. except for the first half of my class. A group of girls were not being respectful listeners. I had to pull the talk on them and put them in their place. I had been taking volunteers until this point. I then had the girls go one by one

MUAHAHAHAH The power we gain as assistants!
The next group was equally as disappointing. There came a point where I asked students to raise their hand if they were really interested in English. 4 (not counting the two exchange students) out of the 13 in the class raised their hand. Ouch.
The next week, I was suppose to have them bring their own original story prepared for a “score.” Now as an assistant we aren’t really allowed to grade, but it always seems to happen one way or another. I mostly told them I’d score them to make sure they actually did what I asked them to. Tricky, I know.

Unfortunately, my real gem of a CT cancelled class that day. And then I only saw that class maybe 2 more times before I left for good. I wrote a cool rubric up and everything.final story rubric

So should you choose to include a story telling unit you can feel free to trick your students with this rubric haha. I also recommend planning for a longer unit. Include sequence word practice, more public speaking practice and story development time.

Le Brevet et Le BAC

Since I was no longer a teacher, my middle schoolers were allowed to add me on Facebook. I’m honestly surprised they hadn’t tried earlier. Turns out they forgot my last name. They were totally convinced my name was Erinne Erinne. Totally, small ones.

Now, something I noticed the past couple weeks flying around my Facebook, aside from collège drama, was studying and stressing over the Brevet test.

I had also heard from the kid I tutored while in France. He had a big presentation that would go towards his overall score for his BAC test the following year.

For most american/canadian/english/french learners, we have a rough knowledge/understanding of the BAC test. For many people I just equate it to a high school exit exam plus the SAT. But with a lot more importance. It does measure the quality of education attained by the student, but they can also determine different schools students could qualify to go to. Think of it as a placement test as well.

The BAC was created by the first Napoleon (Yes there was more than one) as the official diploma to enter universities. It was created to test all subjects taken by a student, and cannot be taken and graded for just one subject (except for some foreign languages.)

But over time, things got weird. Really weird. The BAC started shifting and evolving into something new.. actually three somethings. There became 3 types of BACs: L, S, and ES. Starting the first or second year in high school, students must choose a direction for their future classes, future university major, future job.. 16-17 year olds have to choose their future… Sounds scary to me.

Here’s how those letters break down:

L- Litteraire= Literature. Includes, languages, history, philosophy, literature, geography

S- Scientifique= Scientific. Includes, Biology, chemistry, math, physics

ES- Sciences économiques et sociales= Economics and social sciences. Includes, Economics, math, some french and foreign language, History, sociology

When it comes to general entry to universities, frenchies and anyone else will need a BAC score of passing to enter. Unless you want to go to their ‘Ivy League’ schools. Then you’ll need to take some more tests and be stellar.

Now to my surprise, I hadn’t really heard of the Brevet test. This test awards 3eme/9th graders a diploma if they receive a passing score. At the end of the year they are tested on 6 core subjects, and the final at the end of the year is three papers: French,

math, and history/geography. It is very similar to the BAC, in that, they are tested on their education for the past 4 years. It is a very holistic test. It often helps students, parents and counseling faculty to determine the route the student will take with their future; whether they’re an L, S, or ES.

Now, from what I gather, if you fail the Brevet, it does not prohibit you from moving up to high school. Nothing seems to keep students from moving/progressing in school, as grades don’t mean much, when there are two giant tests waiting for them at the end of their college and lycée career.

Which leads me to wonder how much teachers are teaching to the test.
Teaching to the test= Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.33.03 PM
This is an on going issue in the US, and it seems the rest of the world. We, of course, need standards to measure progress or effectiveness of our teaching. However, I think tests are not the most effective way of measuring those things. I’m a stubborn die hard researcher and will always value interviews over surveys, participant-observation over bubble sheets; things may take longer to compute, but the results are much rounder and fuller.
Teaching to a test takes away from creative learning and teaching. People are worrying more about test scores than being well rounded life-long learners. Now, test scores are extremely important! They can increase funding and aid to schools and districts, they can help you get into uni, they can also tell teachers where their students may be struggling.
But this leads way for those ‘good testers’ to excel and students like myself and my sister who don’t test well to fail. My sister and I depended on homework scores in our math classes to cushion our grades. We write and research our hearts out. We pray tests will be short answer or essay because there we can fully express our thought process.. fill in the blank or math tests (in general) are difficult for us. Of course we show our work on math tests, if it’s allowed. However, with standardized tests they look at the cold hard numbers. The questions asked for one correct answer, you got it wrong, you may have the work to show your thoughts and can easily find where you hiccuped. Doesn’t matter the answer is C, or D, or A, or B. No partial credit.
Again, those good testers can excel. We all know (or may be) that one person who can cram the night before and Ace an exam. It’s quite a skill to have, but does it mean the information cram can be applied and utilized to the fullest? Maybe? Not necessarily?
I don’t know. I can only hope our education system will get some much needed financial support and our everyday heroes (teachers) get some much needed love and support.
Finally, felicitation to my 3emes who receiving passing scores on the Brevet this week. Good luck to you and your impending choices for your future!