Monday, 30 December 2013

Year's End

It's the end of 2013 and I'm feeling bored and restless. It's not as if I want to be working flat out all the time. During the lead-up to Christmas I was working day and night marking exam papers and trying to complete all the admin I needed to do as an English teacher. I'm not certain when I start back. The teaching establishment is bankrupt and needed a bailout of several million euros from the government just to pay the staff and keep the doors open. Much of the blame for this can be put squarely at the door of the previous head and her administration. There have been student protests around the cuts to hours, classes, degrees, conditions. The current CEO even started a 'save our school' petition and launched it online. I was rather surprised at this. It created a lot of worry amongst staff. So it's in this environment of uncertainty that I'm trying to look at the approaching year with some balance and optimism.

That's not easy. At the moment I think I will have my maximum number of classes again but I don't know if my contract will be renewed for its final year, I hope so. They need teachers but can't afford them. I've got an idea of what classes I might be teaching this coming semester but nothing's confirmed yet so I'm on holiday, sort of, needing to go back to the uni to drop off marked papers to various academic secretaries next week.

This Christmas, as before, I've spent the festive season at JC's so I'm not alone but I'm not in an environment where I can do what I like. Naturally one must fit in. All the visitors have gone home now. I've made a pavlova and an apple tart, brandy balls and choc-dipped strawberries but the feasting needs to stop. I can read or potter on my laptop or watch a DVD in French but that's it. I'd really rather do something to advance myself but how? Without spending money there are few hobbies I can do. I'll go back to the mairie in January and try to find out why my offer to the mayor to do volonteer work for the city hasn't gone anywhere. I really wanted to contribute and make contacts and feel part of things here but there's been no reply to my written offer of 6 months ago so I'll follow that up.

I've started working on my book again, especially the final chapter. That's something constructive I can do. My French language competence doesn't improve in leaps now but I continue to pick up snippets here and there. Yesterday I helped JC in his garden though in the middle of a European winter things to do are strictly limited. This constant incertitude over how long I can stay in France, in my apartment, is corrosive to efforts at putting down roots.  It's hard to know what direction would yield any results.

Finding employment is always top of my priorities but it's a needle in a haystack situation. I can do so many things competently and I'm frustrated at not being able to use even half of my abilities in my current job. International relations interests me. Europe is interesting but being a kiwi is a major problem.

Despite being a member of the Commonwealth I can't even live and work in Britain and I can 'thank De Gaulle' for forcing Britain to relinquish its ties to NZ in order to be allowed to enter the EEC. I grew up in an era where the emotional (and economic) ties to Britain were still strong. We stood up in the cinema to sing God Save the Queen as a photo of her was displayed each time before the main feature. We ate boiled mutton with parsley sauce, had apple dumplings and watched Z cars and The Saint. And there were scones, rock cakes and Louise biscuits. Alas, my British heritage isn't working for me and neither is my French one.

 As I look back it's been a year of changes as well as some stability. I've changed job/career, I've taken measures to stay in my apartment a bit longer because I feel comfortable there. I enjoy living in my town and having access to other places via the train station. I also enjoy some independence with my little car. JC and I  are still in each other's lives. My shoulders have improved quite a bit thanks to time and physiotherapy. I'm happy planning my daughter's visit next year and am looking forward to also having a high school friend come and visit me. I've spent another year here and that's an achievement but I'm not at ease because I have no idea where I will be this time next year and certainly not the year after that. Living in the moment isn't something I can master more than a few hours or a day at a time.

 It's a no-man's land, biding my time, waiting and hoping when really, I'd rather be acting on something concrete to get my teeth into for the next few years. While writing this post I've just found out my daughter has been mugged in Thailand and lost her wallet. Thank goodness for social networks to help communicate during times like this. They bring people who can help together. And it shows you can't plan for everything. I hope 2014 is better for everyone. It won't be, of course, but I hope it will be for YOU.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Paris Christmas Markets

I noticed them last year when JC and I went to Paris to see the first Hobbit movie at the Gaumont cinema. All the lights, the crowds, the merchandise. What was it all about? I was determined to find out this year.

JC and I braved the chill and the long car journey with the associated traffic hassles to get to Paris to look at the Christmas markets. They are temporary
structures, merchandising cabins really. To fortify ourselves we started with a hot drink in a nearby cafe in the ritzy fashion district.

There were wall-to-wall people and pickpockets. I left my wallet in the boot of JC's car and he put his wallet in a zipped compartment on the inside front of his jacket. Just as well. As he was collecting his hot roasted chestnuts he realised his pocket had been picked. Only a few coins but in Paris wherever there are crowds of tourists you have to take serious precaustions (as I unhappily discovered at the same time of the year in 2010).

Both sides of the Champs Elysee at the Place de la Concorde end are involved in this market where the wares include lavender, meats, cheese, dried fruit, toys, touristy souvenirs, ornaments, hats and gloves and handbags and scarves, ice-skating. There were stalls offering hot wine and hot soup. There were plenty of weird and pointless consumer goods for sale too. And food, food, food.

JC and I bought what turned out to be one of the most disgusting sandwiches we've ever eaten. It was made of two enormous round buns filled with cooked onion sand fatty ham bits. Beurk! The bread and ham were tasteless mushy, floury gunk and the onions weren't properly cooked. Just as well, said JC, that he and I like each other. We tossed our sammies in the rubbish bin. See, industrialised crap food can happen even in Paris. It was a shame.

One thing I did enjoy was the featured lighting in a couple of areas near the Grand Palais. It was set up so that members of the public could take photos of each other with a festive backdrop - a great idea. And of course La Grand Roue ferris wheel is always  pretty. It's now a permanent feature there, not just at Christmas.

The merchants didn't make a killing out fo us. JC bought his hot chestnuts and I bought a tiny bottle of Lavender oil for my diffuser. We simply went along for the experience, the atmosphere.

The photos show the merchandise on offer, a statue of Clemenceau, JC in front of the photo opportunity area, street lighting, entertainment. 

I had some problems with condensation inside my camera due to the low temperatures here now. In future I'll get some silica and store it with my camera.

Friday, 6 December 2013

What students think

Another of my  English classes consists of students studying human resources. As third years they are a little more competent in their English though the ability level is very wide. I try to find topics that will interest them and also be useful to them. We are together from 9-11am every Thursday this semester. We do a variety of activities including team debating, personal presentations, watching educational videos, grammar, themes linked to human resources, impromptu role-plays, reading and writing, listening and speaking. Themes have included the Christchurch Earthquake, the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior and the creation of nuclear-free NZ, CV's and job interviews, writing media releases, women in management (or lack of), HR in organisations, writing emails, the French in NZ and the establishment of Akaroa.

I like to have discussions but it's not easy getting them to offer ideas and participate in a foreign language (English). I haven't included any photos of them as they didn't want that so I'm  respecting their wishes. I'd like to thank them for their honest input into this blog and their encouraging feedback. So... here are the students' comments....

My first impression of our teacher was that she is very dynamic, more so than us students and we very quickly learnt that she loves France. It's a good thing that we have a dynamic teacher who teaches with energy and gives us  fun activities to teach us English. For example, to learn the parts of the body we played a game: someone had to go to the front of the class and say the name of a part of the body while the rest of the class had to show which part it was on thier own body. it was really fun and different. In class we talk about a lot of subjects such as nuclear-free New Zealand, human resources, equality between men and woment etc. Like that we learned a lot about New Zealand because it's not a 'famous country'. We also learnt things about CVs, job interviews and things relating to our speciality which are useful in finding jobs in Anglo-Saxon countries.

I am very pleased to have a New Zealand teacher because it really helps to know the culture of the country and the real pronunciation of the language. I always had French teachers, which is not bad, but it's different because those teachers, even if they travelled in Anglo-Saxon countries, are not part of that culture. Besides, some of them had a really bad accent. When I go to English class I expect to practice the language as if I were in the country: USA, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia. I know that French is a beautiful language but honestly, I would have liked to be born Anglo-Saxon, so when I go to class I want to learn the customs, culture, anecdotes, the cities, the landscapes. I have to say that with Miss Harrison my wish was granted.

Miss Lawson has an accent which is difficult for us to understand. For the majority of us, this is the first time that we have met someone from this country, but I think it's interesting to hear different English accents- a new experience.

Our teacher never spoke to us in French so we had no choice but to speak English. The topics were very interesting, especially when we talked about nuclear testing in the Pacific. The debates were fun. Personally I'm shy so it was a good means for me to practice speaking and
see where my difficulties in English lie.

The classroom really sucks as it sounds like a goddamned church. People in the class are cool, even the teacher Miss Lawson who seems to really enjoy her class, her work and even France, which is pretty weird.

 I like the energy of Miss Lawson for teaching us on Thursday mornings. At this hour we are like zombies. I like the videos we watch in class (Mr Bean for example). But I don't like the acoustics in the room. In fact, often we don't understand the instructions because there is a lot of echo. We have to speak louder, very slowly and clearly to be understood.

Our class is very heterogeneous: some people have a good level of English but others are backward. It's a shame the university doesn't divide the students into 'level' groups. In this way, students could progress according to their own competencies and at their own rhythms.

After my third year I'll want to leave and do a Master in HR in a university. I really hope, in my future study, that there are English, law and history courses to continue developing my competence.

This place is good for those with long term goals who know how to work and think and its easy to get into and not expensive.

We did a lot of oral work which is good because it allows us to speak English in front of the class. I did a debate on racism. My favourite video was on job interviews because it teaches us how to deal with these interviews and how to do a CV and the differences between English and French CVs.

Miss Lawson is a good teacher because she has, on the one hand experience, and on the other hand she is a New Zealander so she speaks very well. This progresses us faster than a French teacher who speaks English. It's the first time that I have had the impression I'm making progress with my English.

The teaching is motivating and practical but the teacher needs to speak slower for me. In the next semester I think more work on CVs and cover letters would be a good thing. For the past 3 years I didn't take English as an option but now I'm going to take English as an option every semester.

I liked dictation and your accent when you speak English.
I think we need to do more listening comprehension
I'd like us to study a newscast from the USA or a TV series like Breaking Bad or Dexter, or Game of Thrones.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

French sports students learning English

I'd like to introduce you to one of my favourite classes - my STAPS students. They are all studying sport but English lessons are mandatory for them. Rather than write this blogpost completely by myself I thought it might be fun and useful for my students to have a say about what they think. They are all French students studying  their chosen sport and also the rules of other sports. In order for STAPS students to have the best opportunity to improve their English they are divided into three classes to keep class sizes down. I am responsible for one of these classes.

My students spend most of their week studying sport at two locations with activities at various stadiums. Although their level of oral English is not high they are a very personable and open-hearted bunch willing to display their personalities more than some of the more academically oriented classes I teach elsewhere. Roguish charm and a willingness to help their classmates characterises these students. You can see this in the photos and they were comfortable enough to agree to a class photo. This also sets them apart.

I like travelling by train and bus to work from my home in another region because the train is more direct and the city where I work is charming and super bourgeois. It's also the only campus where I get to have a short conversation meeting other other English teachers. The teaching campus contains the sciences faculty and sports fits within that. Those of you will think it ironic that someone who is not into sport (though into dance) should end up teaching sports students but it has been an interesting and rewarding experience.

The class runs for three hours on a Wednesday. For several weeks we practiced the words and movements of a traditional NZ haka. I wanted to give them a unique 'sporting' experience, get out from behind our desks and have some fun. It was an uphill struggle to get them to display the menace and intimidation required to do a more authentic haka. I kept asking for more testosterone  and we all laughed about that. Goodness know what other students who walked pass thought.

We practised in wind and rain outside because somehow it was always too loud for neighbouring classes. I would have like to have got them to performance standard but it wasn't important to them, more the experience. French culture doesn't have anything comparable. So there I was, Frances Lawson Haka coach in France, a unique experience for me. I also enjoyed introducing students to key NZ sportspersons and the concept of extreme sports of which NZ excels. There's a lot more I'd have like to do but there's so much evaluation/testing required it gets in the way of actually teaching. This is, after all, university level.

I'll leave you with the ideas and opinions of my sports students:
  • In  my opinion studying English is very important for all students, not only for sports majors.
  • During our class with Miss Lawson we watch videos about sport, we debate sports subjects and we do grammar. The class is very entertaining. I like when we work on the whiteboard.
  • I'm studying sport. We practice different sports like dance, swimming, football/soccer, judo, gymnastics, horse riding. During our studies we learn about the  movement of the body with biology, anatomy and biomechanics.
  • I decided to study sports because I would like to become a physical trainer for professional athletes one day. Therefore it's important to learn English because then we can train English, American or German athletes.
  • I like learning about other cultures including NZ culture
  • It's fun, not boring in our class
  • We study for nine months from September to May.
  • My class has a very good ambiance.
  • I like playing games in class where there is a little competition
  • I like doing the worksheets
  • I don't like speaking because I am shy
  • I don't like learning grammar
  • I don't like writing or reading in English
  • I like doing the haka because not many classes do it
  • Grammar is boring and difficult
  • I like the interaction between students and the teacher but I don't like the debates
  • I don't like evaluations/tests
  • I don't like having to go outside because the other teachers can be annoying - they don't want to be disturbed by our haka
  • In English with Miss Lawson we learn how to have a conversation in English and debate sports topics. There's also listening comprehension
  • I like doing the haka when the temperature is cold
  • I like doing the Poutini haka,it's fun. I think I like everything
  • The whole class is interested in playing games in class
  • I like talking about real life in English
  • My best memory is the haka; it's a very good experience for me