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 ...