Tuesday was my first day of work and I was nervous as I probably will ever be for a first day. Monday night was a mess consisting of me calling my mom late at night to freak out about the lack of knowledge I had about teaching English to a classroom of French high school students, not studying for my midterm that was on Tuesday and laying in bed, being petrified of what was to come the next day. Sleep? No. Prayers? MANY. After having such an official introduction to the job but accompanied by very little information, I just didn’t know what to expect and that feeling is fine when I’m trying a new food or venturing into a new street for the first time, but when it comes to a government contracted job, THAT FEELING IS LITERALLY PARALYZING. I’ve been challenging myself here in Lyon to do something everyday that scares me and I think this job gives me enough of those moments to last me for the rest of my life.
Tuesday afternoon I left the apartment with PLENTY of time to be able to get to my school, find the teacher’s lounge (which I had completely forgotten how to get to), and try to figure out which teacher was the one I had class with that day. Mind you, I had never met him. Let the games begin.
As I walked up to the gates, I encountered my first dilemma: the big gate that had been open the last time was closed. I watched, as I walked up to the school, a boy do something to a smaller gate on the side, open it and walk into the high school. I walked up the gate and just kind of stood there, pushing and pulling. Oh, right, sorry. I forgot to mention that there were about 50 TEENAGERS HANGING OUT ON THEIR BREAK, GAWKING AT ME. I was sweating and then all of a sudden, I calmed down, turned to two girls who were chatting nearby, asked them how to open the gate, got the lowdown, and was on my way. First challenge: check!
After asking the secretary in the front office where the teacher’s lounge was and being directed there by a very kind mailman, I ventured up the stairs and walked up to the door of the teacher’s lounge. And stood there. And said a quick Hail Mary. And stood there some more. And then took a deep breath, opened the door, and went for it.
I walked in and kind of just awkwardly stood next to three teachers who were chatting until they noticed that no, I wasn’t leaving and yes, I was in need of assistance. I explained that I was a new language assistant and that I was looked for Monsieur Thevenet. They told me he’d be there at the top of the hour and then chatted with me a little before going back to what they were doing. I wondered around, looking like I had the most enormous desire in the world to know EVERY piece of paper on the bulletin board and EVERY name on the cubbies even though I honestly just didn’t know what else to do. Here are a couple of pictures of the salle des profs that I sneaked on Thursday as discretely as I could with my bright pink iPhone.
The bell rang, signaling the end of class and the start of passing period and tons of teachers began to stream in. Did I know which one Monsieur Thevenet was yet? Nope. I stood there, smiling and trying to look professional, until Monsieur Picard came in, saw me standing there helpless, and hurried over to help me. About two minutes later, Monsieur Thevenet came up, introduced himself, and thanked me PROFUSELY for coming on Tuesdays just for his class. This school is way up in Vieux Lyon so it’s a little bit off the beaten path but for a metro/tram/funiculaire/bus extraordinaire like myself, it’s really no biggie. Also, maybe he doesn’t know I get paid…?
He led me down the hall to his class that was waiting outside in the hallway. The way it works in Saint-Just is that the teachers come to the lounge inbetween classes, leave when the ball rings, saunter over to their classrooms, and unlock the door for the students who then stand until being told to sit. Am I excited for the first time I get to tell the students to “sit, sit everyone”? UM YES, YES I AM.
We started off class by letting them ask me questions and they had tons. This is a class of tenth graders and their English is really quite great. I loved answering their questions which were everything from “what time do you get out of school in America in high school?” (when I said 3 pm, I thought this boy in the back was going to start a riot because most of the students in high school start around 8 and go until somewhere between 5 and 7 in the evening) to “what have you done so far in Lyon?”. They were all so smiley and kind that it was a great start to my year at the high school. I then sat in the back of the class while a couple students gave presentations. He kept having to call on students to go because they were all so shell-shocked that there was a real-life American girl in their class and were all nervous to give their presentation in front of me. It was endearing but also, they have no reason to be nervous, because their English was awesome. With this class, I will take half of them every week to my own classroom (I know, the fact that I have a key to the classrooms and have my own for every period still has not stopped shocking me either), prepare a lesson about a current event or something else that I find stimulating, and essentially just try to get them to participate and speak as much as possible.
On Wednesday I was back again for another class. I teach one hour (so one class) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and four classes with a break on Thursdays. This class was with Madame Escassut and her students had a test for the second half of class so I just stopped by, said hi, and let them ask a few questions as well. This was a class of students in their last year and similarly, I will be taking a portion of them for a separate lesson each week as well. They were a little less inquisitive then the younger students but still seemed very sweet.
Thursday I was back, back again. The first class was again with Madame Escassut and they also had a test so I was instructed to come half an hour later and then we did a similar introduction with questions as well. They had a lot more questions and one of the sassier girls asked me if it was true that the boys are good looking in the states. I replied that I think the boys are well-dressed aka better looking here but then kind of awkwardly retracted and said there were good looking boys in the States as well, but they’re just a different kind of handsome. Helloooooo to Ania stumbling over her words as she tries to respond appropriately in front of the teacher but also win over the students.
My next teacher was kind enough to come grab me from the room for my next course. Her name is Madame Barny and her style of teaching rocks. Her class was super nice and all wanted me to sit by them. They are studying American government and felt very validated when I told them that yes, their teacher was right, the Gettysburg Address is VERY well-known in the United States. We watched a clip of the West Wing and it was absolutely fascinating to hear their perspectives. I was so intrigued that I truly didn’t want class to end. I’ll be taking half of them every other week to teach a lesson and I’m excited to work with them (but also nervous as all be as usual).
The next class is super intimidating and I was sincerely so nervous the whole time. They are really talkative and barely asked any questions and basically just acted like a bunch of typical high schools nearing the end of their school day. They are in their last year of high school so they will be coming to my classroom one-by-one to practice their 5-minute oral expression like they will have to do officially for their end-of-the-year exam. I will give them remarks about pronunciation and also if they need to work on expressing a main idea more clearly or if perhaps they need to focus more on their grammar. Madame Roger even told me that she is purposefully not giving me a portion of the class because they’re a little rowdy so YAY for that.
After three classes, I have a break for an hour. I can hang out in the teacher’s lounges and there’s one that’s more social and another that is for quiet work. I headed to the social one and plopped down as I chatted with Madame Barny and Madame Escassut. Madame Barny was kind enough to re-explain the attendance system which is super important because if I don’t have a student in my class, I’m not held legally liable for anything that happens to them outside of class. When she came back to the teacher’s lounge after telling me to wait there, she had with her a beautiful, spankin’ new attendance notebook. I don’t think I’ve ever nerded out so much about an object in my existence. Actually gazing at it right now as I write this as it lays on my desk….
After my pause, I was back in the classroom with my last class of the week, a group of lively students that I will chat with every week (with about half of the class but basically everyone wants to come with me so…..?) about whatever I like. These subjects are more relaxed so she advised me to maybe start with a discussion about what to do in France, Lyon, Paris, etc.
Last week was really long. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I feel at ease now because I don’t. But I can confidently say that this will be one of the most fruitful experiences I will ever do. The amount of cultural differences I am learning about French bureaucracy and their education system is kind of mind-blowing. From the way the teachers act to the headmasters to the students to the school and the schedule and the classes and the interaction between teacher and students or students and students or students and teachers just like BAM RIGHT ALL IN ANIA’S FACE ALL THE TIME. This sounds so nerdy, but I am a nerd so whatevs, but it’s like a constant learning experience. I just feel like what I learned in the classroom in the States couldn’t compare to the amount of knowledge I gain in this school in 10 minutes.
Saint-Just has a two week fall break, so I am not working these next two weeks. I have my own fall break next week and then it’s back at it. I will have my first week of teaching the students and as usual, I’ll keep you posted! Here’s a few more pictures of the school so you can really visualize my new job set-up! (You’re welcome, mom.)
This is the funiculaire I take for the last stretch of my two-metro-one-funiculaire trek to the school:
The front of the school from a little overview I sit at when I get to school too early (the older looking, taller building in the back):
View from one of the classrooms:
Saint-Just in all its glory:
…and, to wrap it up, my walk home has some pretty nice views when I adventure off my normal path (which is close to a daily occurrence for me):