Monday, 4 July 2011

Nantes et au révoir!

The view from the terrace
This is a view of the vineyards that surrounded the villa where I spent ten happy days near Nantes.

I'm back in England now and my year abroad is over.  It's been a fantastic year.  Many thanks for visiting this blog and commenting on it over the last few months.  Au révoir!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Five things I learned about the French education system

Hello from Nantes!  Sorry about the delay, since I last wrote I've done some work experience and moved house.  I haven't had internet for a while and it's all been a bit manic.  I'm spending my last few weeks in France going around the country a bit.  I'm staying with a lady who wants to sell her house in the countryside near Nantes, and in exchange for some excellent hospitality I and a New Zealander are helping around the house.  I wanted to share a few thoughts about how my year as an assistant has been.  Guardian-style, here are five things I learned while teaching:

1. French students do too many subjects

With the bac you choose your broad path (literature, science, economic/social for the general bac, and others for the bac pro) and you do a variety of subjects.  For example a bac litteraire student will do two foreign languages, French, philosophy, Maths, History and Geography, P.E., maths over the course of their studies.  The main difference between the L/S/ES options are the weightings given to each subject.  I understand the idea of the bac: to give a well-rounded education to French students.  The problem is that very few students in any school are genuine all-rounders who are capable of excelling in every subject.  Most pupils will have strengths and weaknesses.  One might be strong at sciences and maths, another might be brilliant at languages.  The French system insists on producing these well-rounded students - in my school it seemed to produce students who got mediocre marks in almost their subjects. 

2. French students don't have enough choice over what they study

Every time I told my students about A-Levels and how they worked, they were surprised by the amount of choice we had.  When I was in school after my GCSEs I could choose to do whatever subject the school offered for my A-Levels.  The only condition was that you had to have the required grade set by the department at GCSE. 

On the other hand in France you pick the stream you want to be in, but all of them require you to study the basics such as French, Philosophy (they are hot on philo in France) Maths and a language. 

One of the things that made my job difficult at times was that I had dozens of students studying English who had no enthusiasm for the subject.  They were only there because they had to be, not because they wanted to be.  These seventeen and eighteen-year-olds had decided long ago that English was not their strong point and were marking time until the exam.  If French students could choose more of what they studied, hopefully you would have more motivated students in class.  Ask any teacher and they will tell you a class of motivated students is all you want or need. 

3. French kids have too much work to do

I remember when I first joined I asked the students what they would do at the weekend.  Always I got the same answers: "I sleep," "I am sleeping, whole weekend."  At first I thought I got these answers because they were boring kids.  However later on I realised that it wasn't so much because they were boring, it was just that they didn't have time to do much else.  My school started at 8:30am and finished at 5:00pm.  It ran Monday to Friday except Wednesday afternoons, and there was school on Saturday mornings (not for me though, thankfully!)  The only day they had entirely free per week was Sunday.  In theory, the Wednesday afternoon off compensates for the Saturday morning, but I would much rather a full weekend than two half days.  When you factor in the homework and travelling to and from school, it was no wonder I heard "I sleep" so much.  To be fair to some of them, they did dancing, played football and did other activities.  I used to wonder how they fitted it all in.

4. My school's teachers were fantastic

I couldn't have asked for a more welcoming group of staff.  They were always interested in me and how I was doing.  They invited me to do things with them outside school hours - off the top of my head I was invited to dinner, to drinks and to a play.  They often gave me lifts that cut short my longish commute.  They let me know when things were cancelled or changed, which happened quite a lot at the beginning of the year with all the strikes.  They care deeply about the students they have and I was lucky to work with them.

5. Teaching can be a very rewarding job!

Not all the time, but it was satisfying when something I saw on the BBC or the Guardian developed into a discussion (of sorts) in my class.  It was scary how easily my lessons could have fallen apart, and I got some lessons which veered off away from what I'd originally thought of (a girl asked me in my last week whether Prince William could have married a black girl, which threw me a bit...) but on the whole it was a very rewarding way to spend my year abroad.

I'll write something about my last few weeks in due course.  A plus.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Bonnes Vacances!

Just to say that I'm heading back to England for the Easter holidays.  This blog is putting its feet up in the meantime.

Have a lovely Easter wherever you are.  A la rentrée.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Sunny Jardin des Plantes

Paris is experiencing unseasonably hot weather and the people are loving it!  The mercury touched twenty-three degrees today and it's set to be the same, if not slightly hotter, tomorrow. 

Parisians have been taking advantage of the sunshine by going to the parks.  The parks that are within the Paris cityscape are smaller than Hyde Park or St. James's Park in London, for example.  The city compensates for this lack of greenery with the huge Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes on the outskirts.

One of the most popular parks is the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th arrondissement.  It is a museum, zoo, and a botanical garden.  It's also a very popular destination when the sun is out, although everyone seems to head for the shade!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Review of Mémoire de Zinc in Paris Voice

The Gallery at 3 Rue Jules Valles

I've been published again!  It's a review of a photography exhibition called Mémoire de Zinc, which is currently on in the 11th arrondissement.  It's a small collection of photographs showing Paris cafe life.  You can find my review in Paris voice here.  Go there and enjoy. 

Friday, 1 April 2011

Only Joking

Read all the questions before taking this test.

Cast your mind back to the days when you turned over exam papers at school.  Did you follow the above instruction? 

I didn’t.  I don’t think anyone else did either.  What was the point?  The exams were always in exactly the same format.  There were never any trick questions.  You just got started with question one.

Today, my teacher and I used this to pull an easy April Fool on our terminale class.  I created a double-sided test paper full of ridiculous questions with the instruction to read it all carefully before starting.  The last question ran, in English, “you don’t have to answer any questions on this test, it’s an April Fools’ Day joke.  Put your hand up, say you’ve finished and go next door.”  I went next door and waited.

The first girl turned up almost immediately.  She arrived so soon I was a bit concerned that they were all going to see through it.  I asked her whether the others were writing.  She nodded.  Another girl and a boy came in soon after.  He shook his head at me.  “That’s not funny,” he said.

The others began to turn up in drips and drabs.  I had them sit in the order they came in, while I sat there looking smug and revelling in my own cleverness.

After about fifteen minutes, they’d all come in.  I talked to them a bit about April Fools’ Day and what people do in England.  I mentioned some of the classic hoaxes such as the Panorama spaghetti trees and Sir Patrick Moore’s low gravity.  We then talked about some popular jokes such as “knock knock” and “an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman” (apparently in France it’s the Belgians who are the butt of the joke).  They told me the French call 1st April “poisson d’avril”.  Other bloggers have covered what children mostly do here and here. 

I rounded off the lesson with a couple of videos starring Vicky Pollard and Del Boy.  I wanted to show others such as Fork Handles or Peep Show, but my internet’s so slow that anything longer than two minutes isn’t really doable.

I hope most of them saw the funny side.  They appreciated the sketches, but I think some of them would have been quite happy to wipe the smile off my face.  At the moment though, as Gap Yah guy would say, it’s 1-0. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Quaint Île Saint-Louis

Here's my plan for my life: finish university, pursue a long, distinguished and lucrative career as a writer, save prudently and invest wisely during those years and then use the money to retire to the île Saint-Louis the day after my sixty-second birthday.

All right, so it's more of a dream than a feasible plan.  What I am fairly sure of is that in forty years' time Saint-Louis will probably be much the same as is today: quaint, calm and delightful.

During the recent spell of glorious weather, I've been taking in the sunshine around the city.  One of my favourite places to walk is Saint-Louis.  With its narrow streets and bustling cafés "it's almost as if someone dropped a small French village into the center of Paris".  With no metro stations or major landmarks, it's calmer than its neighbour île de la Cité, perfect for a wander.

These two photos are ones I've taken of Saint-Louis.  One is of a saxophone player by the Pont Louis-Phillipe, the other is of two fishermen.

If you are tempted by life on the île Saint-Louis then have a look at this estate agent site where you can find the latest ads.  Sadly none of them are in my current price bracket, but maybe one day eh?