You know in L’auberge espagnole when Wendy, the English girl, doesn’t understand why Xavier calls his university the “fac”? Well, I work at “la fac.” It’s a public university – I work in “la faculté des langues,” the language department.
This week was my official back-to-school week. I actually have classes and students now! (What was I doing up until now? Lesson planning. Let’s say I was lesson planning.)
The last time I had classes and students was in May. Then I went on vacation.
Just kidding. I graded a zillion handwritten translation finals and invigilated exams. ( I think we’re supposed to say “proctored” in American, but it’s kind of an ugly word, and “invigilated” sounds like a Harry Potter spell.)
Then I went on vacation.
I’m happy to be back at work, though. I’m teaching almost double the hours I did last year, but I still have good balance – a few early mornings, and a couple mornings where I make coffee, read, and do laundry, and teach in the afternoon or evening. (I love being at home in the morning with the washing machine running. It’s so cozy.)
And I do like teaching when I’m gifted with a reasonably attentive and inquisitive class. I hate discipline. (“Wear a tie and look mean,” the head of the department joked. “It always works for me.”) I love thinking about words and talking about language. I love when students ask questions that make me think about my native language in ways I never considered.
For example, two students asked me the same question this week: when we use “they” as a gender neutral singular pronoun, do we change the verb conjugation to singular? So, we normally conjugate verbs like this – I eat, you eat, he/she/it eats, we eat, they eat. Right? But, these girls wanted to know, when we use “they” as a replacement for he/she/it, which has become increasingly common, does the verb conjugation change accordingly? Do we say, “they eats” because “they” is now singular? Well, no, we don’t. I never even thought about it. But it was a reasonable and logical question, and I love when students ask me things like this.
What? Pronouns are cool and interesting.
On the whole, the first week went smoothly, better than I could have expected. I was ready to lay down the law about chatting in class – French students tend to be very chatty, and it drives me crazy. Then when I get mad, they have no idea why I’m upset, and I get the, “Mais j’ai rien fait!” (“But I didn’t even do anything!”) But this week I had class after class of attentive twenty-year-old angels who listened (and laughed at my jokes, bless them).
There was that one class where I fell off the stage because the whiteboard is longer than the platform in front of it, but the students were kind enough to make me at least feel like they were laughing with me, not at me. But otherwise, I did my best to be a good teacher and stay out of trouble.
And then there was Thursday. Thursday is a long day for me. I start at 8 a.m. and I finish at 8 p.m. My classes get zanier as the day goes on.
In the morning, I have three first year classes, and I actually have a couple students that were in my classes at the lycée where I was a language assistant! Isn’t that cool? But it makes me inexplicably nervous. It’s a little like how performing in front of a huge crowd isn’t as nervewracking as being on stage when you know someone in the audience.
I get a break for lunch, thank goodness, and in the afternoon they have me running back and forth to opposite sides of the building for every single class. PLUS I have to stop and pick up a video projector for one of the classes smack in the middle because the classroom isn’t equipped with technology.
Naturally, that’s the wild card class because I haven’t taught it before and I know nothing about first year history students. Or history. By the time I picked up the projector and walked what I can only assume was a mile and a half to the other side of the building, I was ten minutes late, and after we all shuffled into the classroom and the students crowded themselves into seats against the back wall, I realized I had no idea how to work the damn video projector. I looked at it dubiously and poked some buttons on the top.
“Any of you guys know how to work this thing?” It wouldn’t be the first time students have rescued me from dysfunctional technology. They look at me like I’m a weirdo. I give them a writing assignment while I try to figure out the projector box thing. It takes me twenty minutes to get it to work.
Getting behind schedule results in a domino effect; I’m ten minutes late to every class for the rest of the day. In my next class, second year translation, the first slide of my PowerPoint is “Come to class on time.” #fail
Halfway through the class, I notice my laptop battery is at less than 10% and I have no power cord. Why didn’t I bring a charger on a day when I’m at school for twelve hours straight? Maybe I thought the laptop faires would come help me out, I don’t know. It wouldn’t be so bad, but this isn’t my last class of the day. I have one more second year class, and the whole lesson plan is in a PowerPoint. Merde.
In the ten minutes before I show up late, I try to figure out how I’m going to get through a 90 minute class with no materials. I can do the introduction without it, and I can do the grammar activity without it. The problem is that the bulk of the lesson revolves around two videos that I now can’t show.
I fell back on a packet of grammar quizzes in my bag that I had intended to do with an earlier class, but then I’d changed my mind and decided grammar on the very first day might be off-putting. I was worried about how it would go over, but it ended up being a good refresher. They did pretty well on most of it, which I hoped helped build their confidence, but they were stumped by “either” and “neither” (I sang them a little Ella Fitzgerald and got blank stares) and phrasal verbs (Throw the sandwich? Throw out the sandwich? Throw up the sandwich?)
I went home feeling energized and exhausted at the same time. Sometimes Thursdays are bad go-home-with-a-migraine days, but this one was pretty good. If the rest of the semester goes as well as the first week, I have no complaints. Even though I have less time to work on projects I started over the summer, it’s nice to be back into the routine of teaching.
Well, I say that now. Talk to me in a few weeks when I’m grading 400 midterm exams, and I might tell you a different story.
Are any of you teachers (or students)? How was your first week of school?