Category Archives: Story time

A teacher’s words – First rule of teaching: Enjoy yourself.

I am surrounded by people in my profession who are constantly asking why I spend so much time making “cute” PowerPoint presentations for my lessons. Why the cats, kittens, puppies and  other funny animals memes? Why the omnipresence of colours? All in every shades of blue, white and red with instructions in purple for French lessons. Red, yellow and orange for Spanish. Red, yellow and black for German. Yellow, blue and green for Swedish…

“It takes times, it must be a drag. No wonder you work so much!”

It is true that I can spend 50 hours every week planning for my 25 to 29 hours of teaching. That’s a lot, yes so why not just put some words and occasional fancy font on a couple of slides and go home?! Why am I doing this to myself?

Because I am not. I like it. I need visual stimulation to enjoy something and if I myself don’t enjoy my lesson, who will? That’s whence the very precisely aligned Comic Sans is coming, so are the little pictures on every slide. it’s not just perfectionism and hatred of emptiness, it’s something that brings me joy and a feeling of accomplishment in little things.

The colours came because, for years, I was teaching the same kids but in various languages, sometimes one lesson after another. French then Spanish. Same kids, same age so I decided that beyond the language itself I would make it more obvious for them. We were also changing moods. I took inspiration for respective flags and stuck with it every since.

On the one hand, I will admit that it used to be a drag somehow, at the beginning, but now it’s a reflex and one that allows me to be creative. Language-teaching is not always the most exciting of lessons. It’s hard and painful for all, as teachers, you are facing with kids who get impatient or demotivated very quickly, even in lessons where their native language is spoken, so imagine when everything is in another language. And when it’s Friday afternoon. So you have to constantly resist going the easy way and explain everything in your learners’ native language so you can save time and finish the unit in time for the test.

For the learners, especially teenagers, it can be a killer. Especially considering that a lot of school rationalise timetabling and put language lessons at once. It’s fine if only one is compulsory, better if optional (for the kids, not for the MFL teachers of course) but it’s torture for all when you have to teach Spanish to 30 kids for an hour and twenty minutes, get them out then get the same lot in again, just a couple of minutes later during which you switch to your German lesson. And there we go for another eighty minutes of hard work…

Beyond the mood, the need for a break and for clear, attractive visuals to keep their attention, it’s important to mention that I always have the highest expectations on everyone, regardless. I believe in the brain’s abilities to do and learn and that’s why I also like to somehow soften the blow with visually pleasing slides.

Not just games where they are learning a lot without realising it but also cute pictures of animals and funny cat memes. I love them, they love them, it makes them laugh between two exercises when I keep asking for even more of them. Put a cute kittens and you win over a classroom full of sullen girls.

However, before the kids, it’s for me. It is selfish before selfless for it allows me to be constantly creative which soothes my anxieties and when too tired to think of yet another totally new activity, I know I will always have the envy to google “cat dictionary” and add a little picture on the top right corner on an activity we did a couple of weeks ago.

Indeed, I will grant anyone that it is time-consuming to look through my hundreds of thousands of pictures on the Internet or my files to find exactly what I want and I know I have it somewhere or I know it can be found somewhere but this is something I enjoy doing very much.

“Ten minutes on a picture?!” I hear. No, ten minutes taking some time to let my perfectionist self relax and be inventive, be different. Only I, in the whole of England, would spend twenty minutes on Tumblr less than an hour before my lesson because I have decided I need a caption of Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls or Richard Hammond talking about the trout to simply illustrate the opening title of my Year 9 lesson on how to express sickness.

I could be calling parents, marking books or exams, I am told. Yes, I could but I hate it. That’s a part of the job I loathe beyond anything. Exams are fine but the books…I see them everyday when I go around checking on their work. The parents? Holy Mother of God, have mercy! Not them!

The ones you have to call are the self-righteous ones who hated school when they were little, think their child should be mentioned in the Bible as God or Satan, and believe you’re either a torturer or should do their job of teaching them manners. It says “MFL teacher” on my contract, thank you very much, not “nanny”.

I came into teaching to teach (duh!) because I like what I am teaching (duh!²): languages I want to convey it. It is hard to do so when restricted behind books mainly written by people who have close to no experience with children in a classroom setting such as university-teaching linguists or simply pedagogues. It is hard when you have a very restrictive timeline with yet another boring exam at the end where, in all languages, the writing text always starts with “You write to your penfriend about” something.

They don’t have penfriends and I want to have fun! I want my lesson to be pretty, attractive, colourful, animated. If I am not excited about showing someone what I did, I will not be able to open the door with a smile…Okay, I never smile unless actually amused but I do make jokes and love banter in the classroom and without the witty, always-on-point and creative visuals on the board, I would not be able to do so and set the evermore necessary positivity as, year in year out, teaching becomes harder by the week. The few classes where I have not been able to do it, I hate and I feel the work is far for the standards I expect of myself.

Whatever it is, the first golden rule of teaching is to enjoy yourself and it means whatever you want it to mean. I find pleasure in top-notched visuals, inventive games and the regular listening of songs and little activities around videos. Find yours. It’s doesn’t have to be massive, just a little something that’s for you every single time you teach. You have to take something out of it or you will grow to resent it beyond limits.

I have found that, even when it brings nothing for the kids as such, like a puppy with a mini basket ball to illustrate one sentence about playing sport, if it pleases you, it will please them. Because it is personal, that things will become your signature and if they always take everything for granted and don’t always acknowledge it at the time, they will come to miss it when moving on to the next teacher.

“Sir, I miss your cat memes! And the colours too. That was so nice and fun!” That sentence matters to me much more than “I think you should spend less time planning your lessons.”

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Raw & Rant – When the police refuse to police.

New section: the raw and the ranting.

My car was vandalised overnight. Stone through the passenger window, glove box opened, a couple of things stolen among which sunglasses adapted to my sight, a little bag full of mini perfume samples, some carwash tokens and an unfinished packet of biscuits…All you need for a perfect Saturday evening, ain’t it?

So that’s stressful enough when someone rings a bell at 9am on a Sunday but you think it’s some Jeovah witnesses and you are readying yourself to have a good time proving them what a loads of bollocks they are saying. No, it’s your lovely neighbour who points out to the shattered glass on the floor and feels sorry for you.

I call my mother, in Paris, and whose car it is, and she says I need to go to the police station and lodge a complaint. That’s where things get a real turn for the worst. Police station after a ride sitting on broken glass, I call on the intercom,  say why I am here, a woman takes more than 5 minutes to open the door just to tell me to come back tomorrow because they don’t deal with that kind of problems on Sundays.

Usually quick to react, I am flabbergasted. I just respectfully bow and ask her some questions I already know the answers too: should I make a list of what they stole? should I take a pictures? I already did. My heart is screaming that something is wrong with she is doing but my brain doesn’t register. It’s overwhelmed and I am in full anxiety mode which, weirdly, makes me very poised and clinical, but unable to think properly.

I return home and realise the extend of what happened after I called the insurance – what a nice, lovely man he was! So I call  the police again and tell them my car was vandalised, went to the police station when I was told it wasn’t the right time to lodge a complaint and should come back the next day. I ask for a police station that is actually working and with, at the least, a smidgen of professionalism.

The guy doesn’t answer my question as to where I can go and start telling me that on Sundays, it’s not the police station but the patrols that take complaints. So what? I am supposed to be standing on the pavement all day waiting for a police car to pass by – which never happens in my neighbour, considered posh. He says they will see the damage on their way. But it’s raining and two hours have past since I found out so I cleaned the car, covered the window and swept the glass of the road and pavement in a street with a lot of people are walking with their little animals…and dogs.

He tries to focus on one detail I said about the absence of cars passing by. “It’s not because you don’t see them that they…” I cut him short. “This is not the point. I asked you something simple, you still have not answered and it’s the emergency number. Some people need you, obviously you don’t think I do so have a nice day. Good bye.” I hung up as he’s speaking.

Now, thieves will be thieves. It’s rarely people leaving a fantastic life in a stable environment. I know it sounds rosy and rainbowy and carebeary but I can’t help but feeling some empathy, somehow.  A packet of biscuits and some perfume samples? Was the trouble really worth it? Did you really sleep well after you broke someone else’s car to get that? I guess the unknown person side of it makes it easier.

My problem is when the police will not be the police. “Not the right moment.” Can we be provided with a timetable of when we can report such and such issues? Vandalism on Mondays, assaults on Tuesdays, murders on Wednesday before lunch…

The media, the politicians are banging about the need for increasing security for the sake of us all but the feeling of insecurity doesn’t come only from terrorist attacks. Today, I am utterly stressed and my anxieties are through the roof because I wonder about my car which I use for a living. All the windows are open and the sightliest noise from the street makes me jump to see what’s happening.

I know it’s irrational but that’s the nature of insecurity. Sure, I wasn’t shot in the head by some mad men in the name of whatever ideology or beliefs but I have been spending the last five hours not knowing what to do with myself as the police is refusing to acknowledge that something happened. At least, until tomorrow because it’s Sunday. What does that mean for all the upcoming Sundays and Saturdays after 5pm. Should we all observe a curfew for our own sake and barricade ourselves and everything we had inside because anything can happen between now and Monday morning?

That’s insane but that’s insecurity for you: the biggest political gain for all parties today.

And it’s not the first time  not is it about Sundays. Years ago, on a Tuesday, when some people broke in the house when I was sleeping upstairs but left quickly after they realised the absence of car did not mean empty house, I went to the police. And during my statement, after a sleepless night of fear, the person refused to write down that I knew they were a group because I could hear different people walking on the glass downstairs.

“Broken glass doesn’t make any sound when walked on it”, she snided. I pointed out her job was to write down what I was saying, not to interpret it, surely not to counter it. I had to demand to see her superior and tell them she was questioning my version of the events for her to finally write down what I was saying. I felt like I was the criminal trying to lie my way into getting more that I should when I was just describing the scene as I experienced it.

The dismissal is not just limited to me nor is it to France. Friends of mine have countless stories about the police dismissing some claims and complaints and in England, after someone usurped my identity to steal £2000 for me, the police told me it wasn’t their job to investigate it, it was the bank. The bank was at fault because they didn’t check as they should so of course they would not investigate. Not matter my taking out the money-side of things and focusing on the usurpation as such and possible consequences, they would not take my complaint and I was left in limbo fearing of what the person would do in my name for months.

Today, I don’t feel insecure because of Daesh or Al Qaida or homophobic politicians lurking around the corner to make me an illegal again, I feel insecure because one of the few times I needed the police, they told me my issue was irrelevant and to come back later when more appropriate. Of course, this time, it’s just glass and some petty theft but still, it’s the kind of everyday crime that people must live with and unfortunately the police don’t consider important. It’s like they are all waiting for the next terrorist attack, nothing else matters. “If you don’t want to take my complaint because you have to be ready for the next Ben Laden, you’re wasting your time.”

Criminals will be criminals and that’s an issue but the real problems start when the people who must protect the everyday citizen against them refuse to act according to their mission of serve and protect and no, a patrol does not suffice, carrying a gun does not suffice, walking around looking threatening does not suffice, frisking some dark-skinned people does not siffice for it does not provide with a real feeling of security.

Today, my whole street is looking at my car, the glass in the gutter and worrying about their own possession. Maybe even their loved ones as we were told our neighbourhood was posh and trouble-free. This feeling of insecurity could be gone within a couple of minutes, provided the police agreed to be the police. They have not and my neighbours are appalled by crime but more so by their inaction.

Today, the police are basically making the feeling of insecurity even worse because the question now is : How bad must it be for the police to do something?

“If you want them to come because your neighbours are ASBOs, tell me you hear screaming, or you smell burning” a former roommate, who was a A&E doctor, told me. “If you have an accident, pretend one of your is badly hurt. They’d never move otherwise.”

That’s encouraging…