Friday, December 14, 2012

Reflections on My First Year of Teaching in France: A Long, Long Day

I have experienced yet another agricultural idiosyncrasy in my life here in Sablé-sur-Sarthe: having a student stab himself in the foot with a pitchfork is considered a "normal accident" in my school.

The Christmas vacation is fast approaching, just like the "entretiens avec les parents," the parent-teacher conferences that I was expected to participate in. As a teacher, it is my duty to have face-to-face interaction at the end of each trimester.

Before that was to occur, I spent the rest of my week still working through my strained vocal chords and fluctuating between coughing and hacking. In fact, I spent the whole week pivoting between working hard and catching 1-hour cat naps between teaching and planning lessons. Waking up to a damp pool of saliva that had formed on my pillow has been only clue that I may have gotten any rest. As each day passed, bringing with it tallied insomnia, a drudging fatigue affected every one of my actions.

Panic increased as Friday, the day of the parent-teacher conferences, loomed ahead.

Today, I woke up, started teaching at 8:35 (as I customarily do) and worked through four lessons until it was time for the lunch break. The class right before lunch, with their incessant talking, disrespect, and haughty remarks, proved to be trying. I normally don't let bad behavior get the best of me, but once class was over, I snapped. The lack of sleep, the effort put into planning lessons and the weight of feeling unappreciated by a bunch of talkative ingrates proved too much. I rushed to the teacher's lounge and bawled my eyes out.

I had lunch and felt better.

I went back to work and taught two more lessons. For the sixth lesson, a Spanish class, I introduced food vocabulary and presented them with information about Spanish cuisine, la comida española. It got my kids excited and got them talking about how they've eaten paella, gazpacho and tortillas. We worked on saying whether or not you like something.

"Me gusta el gazpacho."  "No me gusta la paella."  "Me gusta la crema catalana."

"Ah, la crema catalana looks like crème brulée!" they eagerly remarked.

Talking about food really perks the French up.

We worked on the verbs comer and beber and called it a day. Or at least it was a day for the students. I still had to deal with three hours straight of parent-teacher conferences. Each one-on-one conference lasted roughly 10 minutes at a time, and it was all in French.

With my more puerile students, I kindly, but sternly, reminded them that they needed to be a little more serious in class. After all, whatever they do today gradually leads them down a path to their futures. When the time comes for them to be adults, they will have to be ready to deal with anything, and a good education is key to being prepared to face the world.

They seemed to have taken this advice into account.

Six hours teaching (with a factored-in emotional meltdown) plus three hours of speaking in French in rapid-fire interviews meant that I was completely wrecked. All I wanted to do was to be lazy and do nothing. I finished work around seven p.m., contemplated buying a Christmas tree (decided that I would get a real one tomorrow), and felt my stomach complain for food.

I got home, reheated some leftovers, ate. Then I logged onto Facebook and began to chat with Hanny (the Coffee Bean). We needed to catch up on each other's lives. After my arduous and tumultuous day, it was good to have some interaction with a dear friend.

Then, at 9:52 p.m. French time, the news came.

Hanny told me that she felt sad. I asked, jokingly, if the reason for which she felt sad was actually bad-bad or if it could be eased by drinking a strong cup of coffee.

"Earlier today in Connecticut, there was a shooting at an elementary school."


I searched for the story. I needed to know what had happened.

After an entire day of teaching kids and later meeting their progenitors, I couldn't fathom that across on the other side of the Atlantic, back home, this tragedy unfolded.

My thoughts immediately jumped back to my students and how I would feel if something like that happened to them. My blood froze. I see their faces all the time. They look to me, ME, for knowledge and advice. They are curious. They think. They ask questions. They have their futures ahead of them.

They are alive.  What if their lives were ruthlessly cut short, their futures tapered by one sudden act of senseless violence?

I began to tremble violently over the thought of it. I still can't wrap my head around this. I can't fathom it, seeing something like that happen to my students. Having to see the parents I met this afternoon grief-stricken over their loss. For the second time in the same day, my eyes watered.

Like any good American, I looked to my President for words of comfort.

I also prayed a bit. Prayer helps to soothe the soul.

I only wish coffee could help.

Barb the French Bean


  1. I heard about the shooting. It's one of those things I doubt we'll ever fully understand. I really hope you feel better soon, mentally and physically. Be happy that you were able to get through all that toughness you've been having with your health and that you got through the parent teacher conferences. You've done good, don't forget that.

  2. I'm with Mark...and I'm horrified that such incidents keep repeating many innocent little lives...gone.
    Being the crazy Francophile I am,your life sounds so much fun...I'm definitely coming back for more of your adventures Barb!


Apparently, leaving comments on this blog is a hit-or-miss game of Russian roulette: you are either lucky and can comment away, or you are required to log in when the settings are CLEARLY set to allow trouble-free commenting (sorry 'bout that, folks). If anything, the Facebook page is always a viable option. :) -Barb