Saturday, 22 December 2012

Things I'm learning from teaching

The last week of term has just finished, and already it's blurring into this confused whirlwind of things that happened: going to see The Hobbit with one of the American assistants (thanks, Heather!), ice-skating for the first time in years, the weekly English-speaking night with other assistants and students from the university ...

Not that all my weeks are nearly as exciting as this, of course. But in a week like this, you might be forgiven for forgetting why I'm in Reims in the first place: teaching. And boy, have I learned a lot about it since I arrived. Almost enough, in fact, to write a whole blog post about it. (A blog post which will be  a shameless copy of my sister's post on the same subject, which you can read here.)

Don't be too ambitious

This is one that I wish I'd learnt earlier. In hindsight, I think I was kind of still thinking in a university mindset when planning my early lessons, even when these were for the equivalent of Year 11. They're a smart bunch, but after three hours of textbooks they really don't appreciate another hour. On a related note, I've become a lot better at estimating how much will fit into one lesson: my typical lesson will feature a warmup for 5 minutes or so, something led by me for fifteen minutes or so, and then a freer composition-type activity for the rest of the time. On more than one occasion, I've tried to fit too much in, only to be brought back to a correctly-timed lesson by an IT failure twenty minutes before I was due to start. So don't try to cram everything you can possibly think of into an hour: you'll only end up beating yourself up that you didn't manage to, and if you try to, your students won't take it all in.

Be flexible!

For instance, one morning recently I noticed that my entire class had dozed off. Not literally, of course, but they were all staring into the middle distance, plainly wishing that the lesson could end there and then. It was sort of like 'the silence', but much worse. One game of 'Simon Says' later, and they were much more awake. (Yes, I really did this. Which brings me to ...)

Make a fool of yourself

You might think that this one would seem very obvious, but it took my a surprising amount of time to really get used to it. One of my last lessons of term focused on War is Over by John Lennon, so I decided to get my class of 15-year-old boys to try and sing. And sing they did, although it did require quite a lot of energy from me. They certainly won't forget me shouting, 'Louder, guys! Louder! There aren't any lessons next door!' any time soon, and hopefully that'll translate into them remembering the song.

So yeah - there's been a great deal going on on the teaching front. I'll probably post again before I head back for la reprise des cours, but before then, have a lovely Christmas!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Good news, bad news, great news

Welcome to an occasional new feature for this blog! Here's today's instalment:

Good news

Lessons finish an hour earlier than normal, so I can play badminton! Yay!

Bad news

Transport strike means I can't get out to the sports hall.

Great news

One of my students came into school the other day wearing this on a T-shirt.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

I'm not very good at this!

A guide to alienating your blog's readership (by Edward) 

1. Promise an update "soon", while teasing about some ridiculous purchase that you've made;
2. Do not update said blog for three weeks.
3. Done.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it's done. As you can see, it's a fine art, particularly when it comes to the "not-updating-your-blog" step, but it's something we're all capable of if we just apply ourselves to it.

Three weeks can be quite a long time on a Year Abroad, and indeed, quite a lot has happened since then. I've finally become a proper member of both the badminton club and the oft-mentioned Régates, procedures which both required me to submit myself to a medical examination. This was a somewhat unnerving procedure, particularly when I was handed a cup and it took me a moment to realise what it was for, but thankfully I passed it. Thankfully there was no-one else there apart from me and the doctor, so nobody caught a glimpse of just how ridiculous I must have looked after doing fifteen squat-thrusts and having my pulse taken with one of those clamp-on-your-arm thingies.

But of course, it was worth it in the end: I'm now able to play badminton and cox rowers without being asked constantly whether I've paid my cotisation. Both of these ends are going swimmingly, by the way (although that may be the wrong adjective to use when rowing's involved): I've been coxing some rowers from the nearby Reims Management School, which has been a very rewarding experience. My badminton skills have also got correspondingly better, meaning that now it's just 14-year-old girls who can beat me, not 10-year-olds any more.

The teaching experience has also been getting steadily better. It's now taking me less time to prepare lessons, and I've also learnt the danger of over-preparation: if you try to cram too much into one 55-minute lesson, then you'll (a) have wasted your own time in planning, and (b) not be able to give the material that you do teach enough depth. It's a hard balancing act to make, under- and over-preparation, but it's one that I'm learning to deal with. For instance, I'd prepared a lesson on female SOE operatives during World War II, only to find that I couldn't print off some of the activity sheets that I'd got lined up. In the end, it turned out that, if I'd tried to do that activity, I'd have ran out of time, so I guess that's one problème informatique for which I can actually be thankful.

There's one other thing that I learnt last week: don't use an electric radiator to dry clothes on. I won't go into detail about what happened, but let's just say this: it involved panicking; unplugging the radiator; using lots and lots of water from the sink; going into the office and saying that "I may have just done the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life"; and subsequently buying lots of air freshener. Yeah.

Finally, time for the stupid purchase! I promised you an update, so here it is: I bought a kazoo! Yeah!

No, really - I did.

He's called Antoine, and he's absolutely brilliant. I mean, really annoying for my neighbours, but brilliant. Adding kazoo solos to War is Over has to be one of the most amusing things I've done in a long time. Now, should I use it in lessons, I wonder?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

I can explain ...

Well, that was a long and unexpected absence. Two weeks is the longest time I've gone without posting, so I can only apologise for that. The strange thing is, it's not like nothing's been happening - in fact, it's been one of the busiest fortnights I've had in ages - but for various reasons, blogging hasn't been very high on my priorities list recently. But now I've got a bit of time, I thought I'd give you a rundown of some of the things that have been occurring on this side of the English channel.

As far as teaching is concerned, it's going pretty well, actually! The students are starting to get used to me and to each other, so 'class control' is becoming less and less of a problem. I'm still confiscating an average of two phones a week, but behaviour is definitely improving. Just as importantly, I think I'm also starting to gain an appreciation of how to make a good lesson: in the last few days, I haven't been afraid to deviate from the lesson plan a bit if needed in order to liven things up a bit. For instance, last Wednesday I was doing a lesson on 'presenting yourself', which is hardly the most riveting topic to have to teach, and what I call The Silence had descended over the class. The Silence here refers not to a Doctor Who monster, but to that awful moment during a lesson when everyone is looking down, not meeting your eyes out of a fear of being asked to talk. It's a horrible sensation for a student - I remember it well! - but it's ten times worse for a teacher, who's left wondering what they did wrong that allowed this situation to develop. Now, I could have just ploughed on with my lesson plan, leaving the students counting down the minutes until the end of the lesson, but I decided to do something just a little bit different. And so it was that, for the last twenty minutes of the class, we all sat down and invented a character to describe. Of course, the students did try to base it on someone they didn't like, but thankfully I spotted that during a casual glance at the register ... All in all, everyone just seemed to wake up during those twenty minutes, and so it became clear to me that lesson plans aren't necessarily things that need to be followed at all costs.

And ... and ... and ... my teaching website has gone live! While I had a few days spare over the school holidays recently, I decided to make a website for my students, in order to allow them to access resources that I'd made during lessons. If you'd like to take a look, I'll put a link below: any comments will be warmly welcomed.

What else has been happening? Well ... I've been trying some coaching at the rowing club, as well as coxing, which is a different experience: different, but rewarding. I also got my Pass Éducation the other day, which will get me into various national museums for free. As you can expect, I'm quite looking forward to making use of it.

More news is to come shortly, including an exciting update on my first ridiculous purchase in Reims ...

Friday, 2 November 2012

Unanticipated holidays

I have a defence for not posting much over the last week: specifically, that things have been fairly quiet here in Reims. Although I have garnered the distinction of being the only person in the history of the world, ever, not to be looking forward to the end of term.

French assistants start work comparatively late in the school year, especially when compared to those in Spain (I wasn't officially contracted by the Education Ministry until October). This, coupled with the holidays for la Toussaint (All Saints' Day) being two weeks long for the first time in ages, means that I'd barely taught for three weeks before having a fortnight's holiday. And it hasn't always been easy: I love my job, and a good part of that is because it quite simply gives me something really fun and constructive to do. All of a sudden, I was facing a week with very little set up, before hopefully heading back home for a day or two towards the end of the holidays.

So what have I been doing? Rowing, of course.

For the last few sessions, I've been on the bank, coaching from a bike. I'd seen this done quite a lot before, so I was aware of the basic rules of coaching, but I'd never actually done it before - let alone in another language. Thankfully, it transpired that French rowers make many of the same mistakes that English ones do. When we were preparing for our Years Abroad, we were told that immersing yourself in the language and culture was a very effective method of learning, but I don't think that I'd ever have expected to be shouting across a canal things like: 'Faites le changement - ralentissez la coulisse pendant la phase de retour sur celui-là!' or 'Donnez-moi une dizaine de coups, avec l'accent sur arriver ensemble à la prise de l'eau!'. To each his own, I guess.

Although you wouldn't know it from the way I write on this blog, I have been doing other things apart from rowing. Most notably, I've been getting acquainted with the municipal library system. (Because indeed, the club just can't handle me right now.) I've been spending quite a bit of time inside the old Bibliothèque Carnegie, which these days is little more than a reading room and storage space for some of the old or little-used resources. Thankfully, that was also where they kept a particularly obscure book on Alexander romances, for which I really did not want to pay £80. Instead, most of the resources are kept in the Médiathèque Falala, a much more modern building reopened in 2007. The médiathèque is absolutely brilliant: there's free wi-fi, a great selection of books, a whole section on medieval French, and - very importantly when the staff room photocopiers are shut down for the holidays - a printing room. So now there's no excuse for me not sending that letter to the MGEN. In fact, about the only drawback there is to the place is that its name makes me think of this.

Speaking of Christmas, I've heard the first seasonal tune being played in a public place: the award goes to A casa mia, a pizzeria in the middle of town. I commented on this to the waiter there, who laughed and nodded. This is either his way of saying 'I think you're incredibly funny, witty and observant', or alternatively a subtle signal to the other waiters that 'there's a weird Englishman over here who's trying to make small talk, and I need extraction, ASAP'. I can't be certain which one it is, but I know full well which one I'd prefer it to be.

Oh, and ... I went to Épernay the other day! Épernay is a small town about half an hour away by train, located on the other side of a dark and extremely expensive forest. The lovely assistants there - shout out to Josh and Diego! - welcomed me and Alessia for the day, and we strolled around, marvelling at the number of champagne houses, the quietness of the streets, and the fact that you were legally allowed to mess about in the playground until you were seventeen years old. Not that this stopped the other (twenty-something) assistants from having a go anyway. A few days later, one of the assistants, Josh, popped round with some friends of his and we met up for a coffee in a brasserie. Well, I say 'coffee' - it was more like an excuse to eat loads of free mini-pretzels. (Although the coffee wasn't bad.) Thanks again to all the Épernay assistants (Éper-sistants?) for putting up with me for a day!

I'm also starting to get through some lesson topic suggestions from the other teachers, to be used once the holidays are over. One of them is for 'Robin Hood', and I have to be honest - I'm struggling a bit. Hence today's open question:

By the way, please do reply to the open question if you're reading this! You can post using just your name, or anonymously if you like: you needn't have a Google account in order to comment. It's also just really nice to get comments! #soundingdesperate

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Things I've learned this week

Hello everyone! Just a quick post (as shown by the lack of an open question), after a pretty busy few days in which I discovered quite a few new things about living in France. Specifically:
  1. Presentations on the American elections are genuinely interesting. The secondes have been doing presentations on the American elections, as I mentioned in my last post, and by and large they're really good. There was some excellent material on things as specific as candidates' hand gestures, for goodness' sake! Unfortunately, during their presentation one group showed us this advert as an example of Democrat advertising. Whoops. (In their defence, the rest of the class got it ...)
  2. It's very important to check that you're going in the right direction on the bus. I may have made this mistake when going to badminton for the first time yesterday, and wound up heading precisely the wrong way. Thankfully, I made it there in the end; unfortunately, I then proceeded to get absolutely destroyed by some extremely impressive badminton players.
  3. Shorts are not cool. They may be great for playing badminton in, but walking through Reims at 9pm while wearing them does get you some funny looks (and sarcastic comments from passing 15-year-olds).
  4. Journalists are nice people. I had a chat with one who'd come to visit Régates rémoises the other day. He was writing a piece for L'Union, which you can read here (try to spot me in the photo!). 
Speaking of which, I'm off there again right now. Have a lovely weekend, people!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Poorly-attributed quotations.

Earlier today, a quote that I hadn't thought of in quite a while crossed my mind. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember it precisely, so a fair bit of Google searching was required; then, of course, came the inevitable challenge of sourcing it. In the end, I had to give up, and so I fear that the quote might be, at best, taken badly out of context (or even entirely fictitious):

The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing. (Attributed to Socrates)

Real or not, and regardless of whether or not I agree with it, the quote does make an interesting point. It's been almost a month since I arrived in Reims, and it now feels as if I've got through the initial barrier of setting myself up in a new town. Instead, in the last couple of days I've found myself becoming more and more self-conscious about my language skills: my accent, my vocabulary ... It's almost like moving up a level in a computer game, when you suddenly become much more conscious of how far you have to go, rather than how far you've come. Coxing in French is a good example of this: even if I'm capable of giving relatively clear instructions to a group of rowers, it's still very easy for me to fixate on how my r's are a bit too sharp, or how I occasionally mix up dipthongs. A lot of this will come with time, of course, and so, frustrating as the initial experience can be, I hope I get the chance to 'level up' again on multiple occasions this year.

Of course, in amongst all the existential ramblings there is the small matter of my job, which I'm very much enjoying. Last week, I had one of the most amazing lessons I've taken here, in which some secondes and I came up with the vocabulary list to end all vocabulary lists on the American elections. I've also had the chance to listen to that same class's presentations about the elections, which was an enlightening experience, and to go to a conference with them entitled La course à la Maison-Blanche. The académie is planning to put the event online in video form, so I'll link to it when it's available. With the premières, the theme for the week was 'superheroes'; this worried me at first, since I know almost nothing about them, but one comic strip with the text scrubbed out later, and we had ourselves an activity! The students' task was to write their own comic strip storyline using the now-blank speech bubbles (here's what the file looked like, if you're curious), and the responses were ... interesting. Seriously, it was like calque city out there, what with all the literal translations from French going on. Still, at least it gave me the chance to correct them ...

I'll try to put another post up by the end of the week, possibly talking about how my plans to join a local badminton club pan out. Before then, though, the open question:

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Joys of Magnetic Board Rubbers

You know how, in my last post, I said I'd try to post again before the end of the week? Well, fail.

But I'm back now, and that's what's important. (Unless, of course, no-one's reading this because you've all abandoned me from the lack of posts. In which case, come back! Please!) It's been a tricky week for me, for various reasons, so thankfully I've had plenty of things going on to keep me busy.

Now, I know of at least a couple of people who will flay me alive if I don't mention this on the blog, so ... I went to Paris last weekend. It was an extremely serene experience, and one which did not in any way involve going to the wrong train station, arriving there at the wrong time, and having to get a train to Disneyland Paris followed by the RER into the middle of the city.

Speaking of which, Disneyland Paris is weird. As soon as you leave the station platforms, you can see the monumental shadows of the park buildings through the windows, like some sort of monster threatening to devour the station. (Not that I'd know, of course. I've never been there.)

Finally, though, I managed to meet up with a friend of mine, who's studying at the Sorbonne on his Year Abroad. He's writing an excellent blog about the experience, which you can find here; it always reminds me how different our Years Abroad must be, even though we're within 45 minutes' train journey of each other. Courtesy of him, I got the full tour of Meudon, including a brasserie offering what was almost certainly the best couscous ever. Seriously, it was immense. The following morning, we met up again and headed into the middle of the city. We had lunch at one of the restaurants universitaires, before walking past the Champs-Élysées and onto the Petit palais. This was an art gallery where we'd arranged to meet some family friends, who happened to be passing through the city. We spent a lovely afternoon in the coffee shop there, talking about language learning techniques (thanks to Sue, the French teacher), before I headed back to Reims to take my classes on Monday.

In fact, those discussions we had in the coffee shop seem to have given my language teaching a real boost. One interesting thing of note was the principle that students prefer to talk about each other, rather than themselves; this makes quite a lot of sense when you think about it, especially if they have spent year after year answering the same questions of 'how old are you?', 'where are you from?', et ainsi de suite. With that in mind, I shook things up a little during my lesson about presenting yourself. Instead of asking pupils to tell me about themselves, I asked everyone to pick one other student in the class, and then describe them, with the others having to guess who it was. This of course has an additional benefit: it involves everyone, rather than just one person talking while all the other students fall asleep! *

Aside from that, though, my lessons this week have been fairly nondescript. Because I only have small groups of students at a time, and because I only see most classes once per week, I have to give the same lesson multiple times to different sections of a full class. That's meant that almost all the lessons that I've delivered this week were ones that I'd already done at least once; while that gave me plenty of opportunity to make changes where necessary, it wasn't exactly exciting (with the exception of the one new lesson I've made this week, which is for the premières and involved approximately half an hour of guillotining paper beforehand). Thankfully, next week sees me start at least some of those cycles again, so I'll have some new material to deliver. At least one of those lessons will be on superheroes, and thanks to another friend of mine I've been inspired to show my students clips from Avengers Assemble ...

Since it's Wednesday today, that also means that I went back to Régates rémoises. But not to cox, as it turned out - because crews haven't been set yet, I was asked to sub into a boat as a rower. Which was fine. I admit that sculling with three sixteen-year-old girls was not quite what I'd expected, but I didn't do anything too badly wrong. I've now got all the forms to join the club, and there's just the small matter of filling them all in. (This may take a while.) For the moment, I've been invited back regularly, which I can only assume means that they haven't seen me break anything yet.

All of this, though, pales in comparison to my most exciting news of the week. Since I arrived, I've been accumulating a collection of teaching tools: board pens, epic archiving systems (should I do a post dedicated entirely to my new folders?), and so on. Well, today the icing on the cake arrived. It's a magnetic board rubber.

I am inordinately excited about this. I mean, it sticks to anything! Look!


Exciting, eh? And guess what? Today's open question continues this theme:

* Oh, and Sue - would you be able to send me those links please? You can just leave a comment below, if you like.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Coxing in French

A word of warning before we start: this post will contain a lot of talk about rowing. Knowing my friends as I do, you'll either be really into it or bored witless by it; if you fall into the latter category, feel free to scroll down to the second part of this post.

No, seriously. I won't be offended.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~  ROWING START  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I went back to Régates rémoises again today. It was a bit of a fast turnaround - finish teaching at 12:30, grab some lunch in the canteen, drop off my stuff, run outside for the 1312 bus - but I made it. And this time, I got to actually go in the boat. Not that I was expecting to, or anything: when I got there, I was fully anticipating spending another afternoon running alongside boats. It turned out, of course, that the juniors (16- to 18-year-olds) were missing a cox, so I hopped in.

In the past, I've waxed lyrical about how learning to cox is kind of like learning an entirely new language, complete with its own vocabulary (rigger, blade, frontstops) and syntax (all eight from backstops, driving down on the legs in 3, 2, 1 ...). Obviously this makes coxing in a foreign language no easy feat, but thankfully it wasn't as bad as I had initially feared. In the event, there are quite a few similarities between French and English coxing.

First off, there are the words and phrases that require no translation at all. Coxbox, and to a lesser extent stop and go, are both used frequently with exactly the same meaning as in English. Go is quite interesting, actually: because it's monosyllabic, it's more efficient than the French equivalent in coxing (sur celui-là), and is therefore used with a surprising degree of frequency.

Most of the words and phrases that are used, though, do require translation, usually direct, from English to French. Some highlights included chef de nage ('stroke'), bâbord and tribord ('strokeside' and 'bowside' respectively), la phase d'appui ('drive phase'), and la phase de retour ('recovery'). These ones weren't too difficult to translate, particularly since they were used frequently; matters were complicated by my brain's stubborn refusal to accept that bâbord does not mean 'bowside', in spite of sounding very, very similar.

Then, of course, there were the things that were untranslatable, or just plain weird. For instance, when getting in the boat, French rowers do not get in one side after the other: instead, everyone steps in at exactly the same moment, and the rower furthest from the cox pushes off with a shout of au large! More seriously, the French number their rowers completely differently: instead of starting with 'stroke' and then going from 7 to 2, then bow, in French boats rower number 8 is in the bow of the boat, and the chef de nage is really rower 1. This also has the unwanted effect of flipping the sides of the boat round: the rower 6 is now suddenly on bowside.

Still, I think we managed fairly well. Nothing got broken, and there were no crashes (apart from one when a quad, or rather quatre de couple, decided to barrel down the middle of the canal without looking and clipped our épelles au bâbord. We managed to get some good work done on applying power during the drive phase, and finished off with a départ ('start'). It surprised me somewhat to learn that, whenever you race a French boat, their start sequence will always be the same: 3/4, 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, full. Still, it seemed to work well enough for the crew I was with, as their start was pretty sharp. The only issue was some rather spectacular falling forward from me, suggesting that someone was crashing into frontstops: a little bit of explanation (and a lot of hand gestures) later, we'd sorted the problem, slowed down the recovery, and did another start sequence. This one was miles better.

So all in all, it was good fun. I'll definitely be going back, and will keep you posted on how I get on.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~  ROWING END  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Aside from the r-word, I've been settling in reasonably well in Reims. I'm now well into teaching classes, and generally the standard is higher than I'd expected; it's always enjoyable to see a whiteboard filled with grammar points and vocabulary, and the students taking it in and understanding it. So far we've been talking about gap years, ageism, each other, and many, many other things, so things are nice and varied. I also have my own room (B.339, if you're interested), which I'm in the process of brightening up a bit.

I'll try to blog again by the end of the week. For now, though, your open question:

Sunday, 7 October 2012

"Get on with it!"

So I appeared to have settled into an unintentional schedule of new posts - that is to say, Wednesday and Saturday. Naturally, as soon as I realised this, I decided not to write this post until Sunday.

"Get on with it, Edward! What's happened since you last wrote?" I hear you cry. (All five of you.) Well, as I mentioned in my last post, I've been back in the lycée, observing lessons and finding my way around. Since I finally got my timetable a few days ago, it's been useful, going into classes, knowing whether or not I'll actually be teaching them from Monday. The students really are delightful: I haven't yet met a class that I didn't like. Everyone's really interesting to talk to, and I get the feeling that I'll enjoy working with them.

That said, this coming week will be slightly different from the last one, since I actually start teaching: proper "teaching", not just "standing-at-the-front-of-the-class-and-asking-what-people-know-about-the-UK". That of course means making lesson plans and preparing resources, of which the most fun so far has probably been the Dad's Army theme tune. I've also decided to get a loyalty card at the local branch of Chapitre, a combined book- and stationery-shop; let's just hope this doesn't lead me to make any rash shopping decisions that I might regret later.

I also paid a visit to Régates rémoises, the local rowing club, yesterday. They're pretty well-established, by the looks of things, and the nice lady who replied to my emails gave me a little tour before suggesting I go and watch some of their crews training. The standard was high, even among the benjamins, minimes and cadets (the names given to their younger sections), and their collection of Empachers was impressive, to say the least. The stretch of water they row on might take some getting used to, though - for someone used to coxing on the Cam, taking lots and lots of bends, the fact that I'd be steering on a canal (not best known for their challenging corners) might take some getting used to. Still, at least you can get good 1000m times ...

Finally, some good news for those of you who happened not to be fans of One Direction. I've updated the Random Link of the Week! Exciting, huh? No? Are you sure? Oh, fair enough. But at least have a look at what I've put there instead. I've been listening to this song non-stop for the last few hours.

And, as always, here is the open question:

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

"Une grande bienvenue au sein de notre académie."

After a few days away at a stage d'acceuil for new assistants, I'm now back at my lycée, getting ready to start work on Monday. I'm writing this from under about ten layers, because as luck would have it I've got the kind of cold that would make northern Scandinavia seem like a pleasant holiday destination.

The stage itself was a two-day course designed to welcome us all to Reims, and to prepare us for our jobs of teaching English. We were staying in, and fed at, the Centre International de Séjour de Reims, courtesy of the Académie (the term given to the regional education authority). Our first day was given over largely to administration, meaning that we were treated to the delights of social security applications, lectures on the importance of obtaining multiple copies of any relevés d'identité bancaire, and given the opportunity to do lots of photocopying. For at least part of the afternoon, though, we got to split up into groups according to whichever language we were teaching, and proceeded to talk about good practice. Basically, it's very important for us to keep things ludique, so that students think of going to the assistant as a treat, rather than a chore; with that in mind, quite a lot of starter activities were thrown our way, including some rather amusing mortgage adverts from a few years back. Apparently, lycéens respond rather well to this kind of thing, so make of that what you will.

The second day of the stage was similar, although we also had a visit from the rather wonderful team over at TRAAM (TRAvaux Académiques Mutialisés de Reims). TRAAM has a linguistic arm, which records foreign language assistants and uses the sound clips in schools which didn't get an assistant; as such, a few of us spent a very enjoyable half-hour talking in English about ourselves, our hobbies, and (in my case) our propensity towards blowing things up in Chemistry lessons. That afternoon, we visited the Réctorat, where we were treated to a verre de l'amitié with M. le recteur. It wasn't all fun and champagne, though: he had several serious points to make. Aside from welcoming us very sincerely (hence the title of this post), he made the point that, in France, "nous avons une forte culture de l'écrit", and that we had to be ambassadors for the spoken word. On a less motivational note, he also commented that it was essential for us to "vous comporter comme des adultes, puisque quelques cas de l'année dernière ont terminé devant la justice". Ooh-er.

Anyway, now that's done I'm back in the lycée. My timetable's arrived, and it's looking like a fairly well-balanced affair, with classes in the morning five days a week and very little else. I'm contracted to work for twelve hours a week, so that should leave plenty of time for other activities. At the moment, I've got several things lined up, including getting involved in the local rowing club, registering in the library, and playing some badminton. As my sister said, it is pretty important to keep busy, even when you've got a stinking cold.

With that in mind, I'm off. I need to sign some more forms.

The open question for today is fairly obvious, actually ...

Saturday, 29 September 2012

My first day, and other such clichéd titles

So I've been here for about a day now, and have just finished my first day's classes (well, observation). And it's certainly been busy.

After getting unpacked last night, my classes started at 8am today. That meant a 6am start (which, of course, felt like 5am), so it was a good thing that there was still some of the oh-my-word-I'm-in-France adrenaline in my system. The classes themselves were really informative, on subjects ranging from "consumer society" to "forming your own rock band"; one of my favourites, though, was the premières*, with whom I got to jump around the room asking what they knew about England. They were actually very impressive, with many of them knowing the differences between Great Britain and the United Kingdom, and came up with some interesting ideas. (If the class of 2D1 are anything to go by, perceptions of Britain centre primarily around the Queen, baked beans, Big Ben, Wayne Rooney, and rain.)

Of course, I'm only working twelve hours a week, so I wasn't in lessons all day. Instead, I took the opportunity to get some admin done. After my mentor teacher had taken me to get my assurance habitation (a sort of very basic home contents insurance), I took the opportunity to get thoroughly lost in explore the centre of Reims. After an hour of going round in circles, I'd finally started to get my bearings, and had somehow managed to get hold of both a phone and an appointment to open a bank account. Don't ask me how.

A pizza with my parents (and a look round the massive bookshop) rounded the day off nicely. I think I might grow to like it here.

La question d'aujourd'hui se penche sur mon déjeuner, acheté dans une boulangerie-patisserie au centre-ville - a ham and cheese baguette, a moelleux au chocolat, and some water ...

* In a lycée, there are three main year groups. Les secondes (2ndes) are roughly equivalent to Year 11, les premières (1ères) to Year 12, and les terminales (T) are Year 13. Once I've got my head around it all, I'll do a post specifically about the French school system. If you're reading this and are a language assistant, would you like to help me out? Please do leave a message in the comments.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Sixteen Hours. (And Mika.)

My room looks like a tip; there's a suitcase downstairs that should be full by now, but isn't; and I'm procrastinating by writing a blog post. This can only mean one thing: I'm leaving tomorrow.

So I'm obviously not physically ready to leave yet, but am I mentally ready? To be honest, I don't know, and I guess I can't know until I arrive. My main concern at the moment is getting through all the admin: sécurité sociale registration, completion of the procès verbal d'installation, opening a compte courant ... the first few days will be busy, if nothing else. So to keep my spirits up, I've been listening to Mika. Obviously.

Now, Mika's best known for Grace Kelly, but he has released other material since. Most interestingly, his latest album has more than a little bit of French in it. He released Elle me dit, one of the songs on the French version of the album, about a year ago, and left quite a few people wondering exactly how it would fit on an English CD. With that in mind, he's just released a new version, helpfully retitled Emily. As such, today's open question is:

Anyway, I'll try to update this blog within a couple of days. Hopefully it'll include some pictures of where I'm living, as well as prose which is a little more, erm, "focused". Thanks for reading, and again, à bientôt!

P.S. A big thank you to my old school's Modern Languages department, who retweeted me earlier today! If you're reading this because of them, then welcome along ...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Forty-Eight Hours.

Hello! Nice to meet you!

Thanks for stumbling by my blog. My name's Edward, and as my 'about' section says, I'm a third-year student, studying Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) at the University of Cambridge. As part of my course, I'm taking a Year Abroad, which I've chosen to spend working as an English language assistant in a French school. Specifically, I'll be in a lycée, teaching mostly 16- to 18-year-olds.

And yes, I am aware that my blog title is ... weird. On the bright side, that means it was easy to get the domain name, since Reims and Repeat is not exactly an address in demand. As for what it means ... well, I thought I'd do a drawing.

Anyway, enough of that ... I leave for France in two days. Forty-eight hours. (525,600 minutes.) My friends who are already abroad tell me that you do get used to it, but still it's slightly scary to think that I'll be living on my own in a different country. I'm fully anticipating cultural shock, but apart from that there's the question of actually understanding: I haven't even left yet, and the sheer amount of technical terminology included in the bureaucracy is somewhat unnerving. On the bright side, I've landed on my feet somewhat with the accommodation: I'll be staying in the lycée itself, which means that I really have no excuse for failing to make it to lessons.

Teaching teenagers will doubtless be fun too. I'm hoping that, since foreign languages are obligatory up to age 18 in French schools, that people will feel that there's a reason for studying them; if not, I may find myself in trouble. Unlike my sister, who thrives on finger-painting and seems to have 'the gift' when it comes to looking after four-year-olds, I much prefer older students. That said, there will of course be a fair bit of 'classroom management' to take care of. Going back into my old school for a few days really helped me to think about language learning as a process, and what people find easy and difficult; hopefully this will give me a boost when it comes to engaging students.

I'll try to post again tomorrow, since I'll probably need a break from the madness of packing. Before I go, though, I'd like to introduce you to what will hopefully be a regular feature: my open question. (I take no credit for the idea!) Basically, I'll have a question to ask my (hopefully many) loyal readers, and answers on a postcard (or, perhaps more productively, in the comments) would be very much appreciated. Today's question is:

À bientôt!