Maybe Mary Poppins Had It Right After All

I’ve been neglectful here, so let me catch you up.

Now that I’ve had my first few weeks and sorted out my schedule I can truthfully say that I love both of my schools and the children are absolutely adorable and eager to learn.

Elementary school in France has forty-five minute blocks for each subject. And after every two forty-five minute sessions, all the classes take a “pose”, french for “break”. Think of it like a ten minute recess.

This is when all the kids have to quietly follow their teacher down the stairs, floor by floor, until they finally reach the ground floor play area, where they promptly burst into screams and start running around like crazy animals.

The “quiet” journey down the stairs is actually a circus act. Each descending floor is a new stage. As soon as one kid shuts up the next one is trying to trapeze down the banister. Whoever is on door-holding duty is bound to be preyed by an aggressive predecessor, like animals claiming territory. This behavior generally elicits strong whispers of “C’est mon semaine!” “It’s MY WEEK!” All the while the ring master, ehrm, excuse me, the teacher is furiously yelling at the troublemakers to be quiet and walk properly down the stairs. All of two children actually do this.

By the time we have finally reached the play area all the teachers give each other sullen looks like “What did we get ourselves into?”. They shake their heads at the bat-crazy children and briskly walk into the break room. I cannot blame them.

But because I am new and naïve, I sometimes stay outside with the kids and try to enthusiastically answer each tepid “Hello” or boisterous “bonjour” that is given to me in this ten-minute period. I heard one little girl whisper to her friend in French, “Does she speak French?” Overhearing the question, I looked over and gave a knowing nod. This resulted in a fit of giggles and the two girls running off.

The boys run up to me constantly and yell, “Hello! What’s your name?” in fake American accents before, once again, running away. There seems to be a trend.

Another little girl keeps trying to convince everyone that I’m her sister. And another always wants to touch my hair. And I’m almost convinced that the cutest little boy with curly hair has confused the word yellow with hello.

I have so many types of children in my classes. Rambunctious children who want to talk all day; quiet children who would rather melt into the wall than speak louder; lazy children that need to be prodded even more than the quiet children to participate; pleasing children who desperately want to know the correct answer. They’re all so precious, these little people. Each trying so hard in their own way.

I have learned to go with the flow at school. For my first lesson I was instructed to just introduce myself with simple phrases like, “Hi, my name is…. I’m from…” I had brought along pictures of my family to pass around and said, “My sister is taller than me!” Then we had to review what the word “taller” meant.

I quickly realized that each class is going to be extremely different than the next. Even if they’re the same grade level, their class dynamics will be different, their comprehension will vary, or the professor might want a different subject discussed.

The lessons for my eleven classes at École la Paix are bound to be modified for one reason or another. And when I go to the rest of my seven classes at École Chabanon the following day, it’s more or less the same thing. I improvise depending on the student’s response and the teacher’s requests.

Some times a teacher’s request will be completely out of the blue. For example this week a new teacher wanted me for her class, knowing it was someone else’s hour.

“Sure,” I replied, “As long as Professor Denis is okay with that.”

He was not.

Yesterday, the teacher with the super fresh leather jacket and eyebrow ring asked me what a corn dog was. How do I answer that? No one eats cornmeal here. “Umm…its a deep fried hot dog”, I shrugged. Realizing that sounded weird and seriously gross I tried to clarify. “It’s covered in bread!” I said. That made it worse.

A little after my explanation, we were learning “I like…” and “I do not like…” phrases. A little boy named Antoine said, “I do NOT like corn dogs.”

My inner America voice said, “I have failed them.”

In some classes, I simply assist with pronunciation and the kids will be expected to listen carefully and parrot what I say, down to the last intonation. For each word or phrase we go around the room person by person practicing. “Parlez forte!” I tell them, meaning “Speak louder!”

In other classes, I’ll have free reign to teach what I please. Last week was Halloween and they cooed over pictures of decorated houses with huge spiderwebs and fake skeletons. This week was body parts and they absolutely loved Simon Says. I’ve learned that songs with hand motions are generally a great success.

By the time I take off at 4pm I’ve given about a hundred hugs, had my hair petted enough for a week, and repeated the names of primary colors more times than I thought I would in a lifetime. A little Algerian girl always anxiously asks me the same thing: “So you’ll be back next week??” And each week I smile and reply the same: “Yes, same place, same time.”

For the most part I leave feeling like Mary Poppins with my carpetbag full of photocopied exercises and Mickey Mouse flashcards. But hey, it’s working! No complaints here. Now if only I could learn how to fly…

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7 thoughts on “Maybe Mary Poppins Had It Right After All

  1. Dear Monique,
    I loved reading your blog. I currently work at Crain Elementary School in Victoria Texas. I am a computer lab teacher and have students from the age of Pre-K to 5th grade. I have around 500 students who come into my class weekly. I found it interesting that no matter what country a young school age child may live in they all seem to share the same qualities, entertaining curiosity and mischievous nature. I would love to have our children from Crain Elementary become pen pales (email pales) with the children from your school. I think it would be a wonderful experience for my students to be able to communicate with your students. Would you like to give this a go and have a long distance relationship with our schools?
    So Proud of you and miss you much,
    Ms. Tammy

    • Hi Mrs. Tammy! Thanks for your comment and keeping up with the blog. I thought the same thing to myself: It’s so funny how by the end of the day, students and teachers interact in the same way. It’s kind of refreshing when you think about it!

      The schools I work with generally have only have one computer to a room. And I have yet to spot a computer lab. But I will mention this to several of the teachers next week and see what they think. I know you’re on Facebook, so once I hear back I’ll send you a message. Thanks again for all your thoughts and interest!

  2. Monique; You are the greatest. When I see Muhammad Ali, I will tell him he has been replaced by my Granddaughter. Stay safe!!! Much LOVE.
    Grandpa

  3. Hey Monique! I love keeping up with you through you blog! I’m so proud of you, you are truly making a difference in that little section of the world. I always knew you’d do great things! I’m so excited for you that you get visitors next month! Love, Ms.Karen

  4. How could you have them not like corn dogs!? No! LOL!

    I guess they don’t celebrate Halloween?

    Sounds like you’re a hit with the kids- especially your hair! We need pictures of your students! It’s cool that I get to brag that one of my highschool/college friends is teaching in France! Keep up the great work! 🙂

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