Category Archives: Work – Travail

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.”

Having a job is about making a living.

The new thing right now is to blame everything on the unemployed. The idea pushed by the rich and powerful that they cost so much to the country that they are the reason why the crisis is lingering. It’s nothing new to blame the poor and the minorities: wanderers were blame for everything throughout the Middle-Ages and so were the Jews up to 1945 in Europe.

Today, however, anyone actually interested can check the numbers on every government websites for they are obliged by “Evil Brussels” to publish them and they would find out that the money dedicated to unemployment benefits is always way less than the money given to private companies so to encourage them to keep buying State’s assets. Like the railway in England.

Also, anyone with a memory will remember that the banks and their recklessness have sunk economies, not the poor and the unemployed. The hole in the State’s treasury in most “Western” countries which “justifies” austerity comes from the £500 billion bail-out given to the bank which they don’t even have to pay it back. Not from the few millions given to council housings and job centres.

I have always been amazed how even the working poor themselves are ready to believe that idea that welfare state is responsible. The whole speech about the working vs the unworking on all right-wing tabloids and media is working wonders. So much that even the Left is using it now because now even the poorer, the most unsecure, the ones whose work life-line is holding by a thread – it takes nothing now for a law to pass so the minimum wage they are living on is abolished – even these people say out loud that we should abolish benefits because all unemployed are “happy to live on it”. They are not simple-minded, they just believe anything Rupert Murdoch and co’s press will write.

What the neo-classical vox populi deliberately ignores is that people are not on benefits because they want to but because they need to. Unemployment is not a situation where people like to be in. You don’t thrive in unemployment: you are nothing but a name, you lost part of your identity, you don’t contribute to society, you are a pariah, you have to be helped like a sick person but a sick person has been struck by fate whereas you “must have done something wrong”, you lack social interactions and intellectual stimulation, you don’t have a sense of purpose anymore. It’s a physical and moral degradation, the biggest source of depression and suicide, and, except for some bastards loved and cherished by the tabloids and Channel 4 for they confirm their views, no one is happy to be useless. But for Paris Hilton and most rich heirs and heiresses, of course.

The reason why some people are not in a job and stay on benefit is mainly because work doesn’t pay anymore so they have to make a decision between poverty and decadence in a job or barely making it on benefits. What would you choose?

We have reached a situation today where the State, following its mission to protect its citizens, is still being more or less honest and fair whereas most of private companies have come to treating their work force as disposable “resources” that bring nothing. The State benefits are taking hundreds of criteria into consideration to ensure that unemployment doesn’t mean instant and extreme poverty. Benefits have to allow people to get back on their feet after they lost their living.

Whereas companies would rather be spending millions lobbying ministers, governments, sending corporate lawyers at huge expenses to ensure that the minimum wage doesn’t go up, or better, gets abolished completely, and to deregulate the job market so they can decide the fate of workers with a click of their fingers. The Zero Hour contracts the unemployed are forced to take in England is nothing but modern slavery for private companies where people work for free as their decreasing State benefits have become their pay. The State is paying the wages of the employees used and abused by private companies and everyone thinks it’s normal.

Before I am accused of being anti-corporation, I know many companies are doing the right thing. The multi-national firm my mom works for is actually doing everything they can to make sure their employees are happy and healthy, they pay internships and work-experiences fairly but they are not the ones you see cosying with ministers and put on a national pedestal by governments. It’s like the Left is ignoring them to make a point and so is the Right.

Anyway.

The reason why some people are living on benefits is because having a job is not a guarantee to being able to survive whereas being on benefits, weirdly, offers more security and hope to unemployed people.

So how do we fix it?

The solution we advertise the most and the one applied the most right now is to cut the benefits. There is this idea that abolishing benefits will put people to work as if cutting benefits would suddenly create 15 million jobs in Spain. CEOs say it would because the companies would not have to pay social charges to finance them anymore. The truth is these charges are nothing next to the hundreds of billions of Euros, pounds and dollars these companies and banks are sitting on at the moment, greedily waiting for the State they loath to fix the problems so they can invest again. Cutting these charges will not make them abide by their very own definition of capitalism which is to take risks, invest the vast sums of money they are keeping tightly against their chest right now and create jobs. They have the money but they are waiting for something to happen and cutting benefits will not suddenly get people back to work, whatever they want us to believe. Even studies commissioned by various governments (widely discredited and disregarded by ministers who asked for them themselves) say this is not the solution.

What abolishing benefits will do is throw millions of people of all classes, races and backgrounds into extreme poverty whereas the richest will get even richer thanks to the Stats intervention in their favour. However there is something people tend to forget: human beings are animals who will do anything to survive. Extreme poverty is exclusion of the “civilised world”, it’s reducing people to nothing in a society where everything costs, even being born.

Willingly pushing people to extreme poverty will harm social peace because nowhere at no time in history have people put up with it for too long. Even in times of no social media and world communications have people organised and rebelled. Social unease then unrest will increase and when people have realised that their democratic state has indeed sold them out, they will not see it as theirs anymore and will try to harm it (by voting for the fringe parties) or overthrow it. But in a world where politicians have not visions, no convictions, I’m not surprised there is not long-term dedication.

The other solution is therefore to ensure that people can live of their job, not by making the State pay the wage of private sector’s employees, like in England, but by making sure companies pay their workforce enough for them to actually live. It has been shown again and again that people whose work is paying fairly are more prone to like it, are more dedicated, more productive and happier in general. And someone who is happy and secured is someone who will buy more as well. Someone who works for hours to get nothing in return and with no prospect will not even try because there is nowhere to go, no point whatsoever.

We are born on Earth, we have no choice and yet are told to pay for food and water. We are then told that a job will give us money for that so we get a job and what should we do when this job we do for hours, day in day out, doesn’t help us pay for that food and water?

When mentioning it to most big corporations, they shrug it and tell us that having a job should be enough as a reward and satisfaction.  People should be happy that companies are here to grant them with a job to begin with as if it were selfless from them to employ us. It’s not their fault if they money they grant us is not enough. It’s the State, we should complain to the State, even if they have dismantled it. We should realise the companies are a force for good and we should work just for them just for the sake of it.

A job is to “make a living” but today, listening to the richest CEOs, it’s like jobs are just becoming a way to keep “lazy people” busy between breakfast and dinner so they don’t have time to think too much. The image we are made to believe is that big bosses are doing the world a favour by maintaining social stability through the jobs they grant to the common men. How dare we ask for money then?

How have we come to this? How can a CEO believe that he’s the force for good in the company and all his employees should just be happy to be working for him for nothing? How is it possible for companies to genuinely believe that their workforce brings nothing, only managers create wealth? How can democratic states not only praise these people but make sure the law is increasingly on their side? It’s Ayn Rand all over again. No wonder they all praise her work as the one of messiah.

I feel like we are stuck in a vicious circle of levelling down. Benefits should be abolished and pay should go down to allow private companies to “flourish” but who is benefiting then? What’s the point of companies making profits if the majority of people don’t see the benefit of it? Where is all that money going then? We all know but we don’t really mention it because we don’t question the force for good Reagan and Thatcher’s understanding of capitalism is, whereby the living standards of everyday people is irrelevant for a ruling class that doesn’t seem to be able to grasp the looming disaster of their inward, short-sighted, profit-centred and selfish vision of the world. It’s not democracy, it’s plutocracy.

If it’s only about the money, like they like to say, at the end of the day, the people will not go with what is easier but with what allows them to survive. If benefits paying better, people will “choose” unemployment. It’s not benefits we have to change but pay altogether.

Atlas will drop the world, the world will drop on him.

Make work pay or face unrest.

The French Atopia

I am always striking against England but at the end of the day, I did leave France to live in England and, yes, I am back in France but I can’t wait to leave so why?

Now that I am back in France from abroad where I have learnt to stand aside and observe a society to assimilate, the feelings I had a decade ago about my country, these feelings that made me leave it have found words to be expressed. It took me years to understand why as a highly skilled young I never felt like I could make it here in the long run.

People have a lot of theories as to why France is not making out of the crisis and there are many reasons that could be listed. One of them I am addressing here is France’s psyche in the face of change. It doesn’t mean other places are doing it right or that their struggles can be explained the same way.

At first, in France, we hate everyone and everything is shit so it will always be difficult to appear like we are thriving: our job is shit, our life is shit, the weather is shit, our car is shit, our shit is shit. We do have qualities, like the refusal to level down or play into the don’t-worry-they’re-all-dumb speech from the economists about the sacrifice everyone should make…except the rich… but frankly we are a nation of self-deprecating, yet arrogant and self-centred pessimists who can never see the positive sides of anything. That would be fine if we could at least see ourselves for who we are and go beyond the first line of criticism we put on every aspect of life.

I am like this. I am extremely French and have learnt to be proud of my inner Frenchiness and that’s thanks to England! You never realise how French you are until you go and live abroad. “Everything is crap. Even what I do, although everyone should do what I do cause I still do it the best. That’s to say how shit everybody else is” is pretty much my way of life when facing alternatives but I do know who I am and I always force myself to go beyond my first instinct of rejection. It’s called growth but on a daily basis, I encounter too many people in France who we are too happy to dismiss everything as worthless or to see a potential for failure in everything and everyone before even considering them. There seems to be the idea that looking down on everything will make yourself bigger and your condition more worthy. The finding of confidence in the demise of others.

Facing with all that crap in our everyday life, you would think that someone would be ready to do something about it but no. There is a gobsmacking general refusal to evolve hidden in a funny “Yeah, it’s just that we like complain”.

In England, it’s different, it’s apathy towards problems hidden in “It could be worst, you know” with hint of self-deprecation so to commiserate. People will not care because they have been taught that protesting was against the inherent interests of capitalism. So they will mention politics sometimes but not give a damn about it unless it interferes with their freedom to get a brand new car at 18. Then we will see them in the streets because that move would be anti-capitalist in itself, to stop people from buying new cars when they have not even voted for the first time.

In France, people talk about politics all the time. That’s a normal topic of conversation in everyday life, we are political and interested and, yes! there is a will to move, we strike, we fight as long as it’s to show our disagreement, as long as it is to protect the status quo, to make sure things remain the same and are left unchanged. Change is the enemy in France. It is true that change is often attempts to copy what the US are doing for the sake of it and regardless of cultural differences and outcomes. But it’s not a reason to dismiss other alternatives. In France, there is fear of change, of novelty because when you are told that settling is security, anything that unsettles the routine you build for yourself is a threat.

Throughout French history you will look at a schizophrenic country that praises and rises thinkers, philosophes, politicians and critical playwrights but I have the increasing feeling that it’s not because of their message to change, rather more because they were basically saying that “everything was crap!” Such good French they were!

The French are taught to settle down. After 25, that’s it, you made your choices, now you have the right to more or less enjoy it until you die. Changes are bad, they will disrupt your opinions, they will disrespect your decision, they will force you to adapt when you just spent 25 years learning how to be and do that way! How can one expect to survive if things are changing all the time?

When I say “taught”, we are not taught this as such of course, because frankly that would sound whiny and immature so how else do we ensure people feel that way and pass it on? You have to call to the French’s self-righteousness and inherent pleasure to be able to look down on people as if we understood something they have not. So we are not taught, rather made to understand that:

“Children have dreams whereas adults have responsibilities.”

Once we understand it, we understand the meaning of life “French-style” then we can then look down on people who have not yet and so on. The pleasure of feeling superior.

But what does it mean? It means: come with a dream in France, with a will to change things or even just yourself, with hope, desire and ambition to evolve and to make it happen… You will be on your own from start to finish, having to swim against with sharks in endless tides of sneers from everyone: “Here we go, another one with a dream…Little one, it’s time to grow up.” Our behaviour towards hope of a different life is mean-girlish at best. We criticise the “jungle”-view of English capitalism but we are happy to give innovators and risk-takers the same medicine.

This statement will sum up France in every aspect of life and when we talk economic behaviour, it is lethal for the young generations today and it explains why between 30,000 and 100,000 French are moving to Québec every year or that millions of us are longing and looking to leave.

Let’s talk work, for instance, and why it’s impossible for younger people with ideas, concepts and innovation to make it here because it takes time to mature these ideas and it’s quickly “too late”.

In England, when someone told us they wanted to be a teacher, we did not care how old they were or anything. We always helped them:  whoever they were, whence-ever they were coming, whatever time of the year. We did not have to do so but we always let them come in the classrooms, observe, help the kids and we had a genuine, frank conversation about the training, and the goods and the bads of being a teacher. We do it because that’s the way things are (mostly) working in English-speaking countries: you have an ambition to do the same job and you go forward yourself, you came all the way here, opening doors for yourself, so we will help as much as we can. It was not from us to judge whether they would be good teachers or not, they are later performance and hard-work would determine that, not us.

In France, no one will help. First, they will look at you like someone who’s coming to steal their own jobs but mostly it’s because in France, between 20 and 25, you will have made a decision regarding your professional life and what you do at 25 is what you will stop doing at 65. Your life is set in stone at 25. France’s life expectancy is 84 for women. That’s 60 years of unchanged continuity, oh the joy!

If you want it differently, they are no doors so you have to break the walls while everyone shouts negativity at you and drops nails in front of your wheels. If you are a teacher, you will stay a teacher, you have to remain a teacher and if you want to move on, we make you understand that “no one just decides to change career at 30”. Very definite rule of life, isn’t it?

I am not saying other countries are fully open-minded. The ruling classes only see benefits in making sure lower classes don’t realise they are actually free to do whatever they want, but there are different ways to do it, different degrees with which each country is doing it and who is targeted. In France, even when a highly-educated person seeks change and has everything they need to do so, they are still publically called reckless, irresponsible and ridiculed. If you insist, well then, you’re on your own, do not expect anyone to be positive about it, to tell you anything good and encouraging, to help you, not least to accept you.

Then they find it weird that brains are going abroad. “The brain drainage”, they call it as highly skilled people are leaving. Of course, we suffocate here! Incentives are ignored, ideas shrugged aside and entrepreneurial spirit looked at like the plague. There is something wrong with “the changers”, they are up to something.

There are many ways to not “teach you” rather make you understand that you are being childish with all your dreams. The one above when they just tell you straight away that you should grow up and get a job, that’s final. “Aren’t you ashamed of being maintained by your wife?” a friend of mine was said by his in-laws as he tried to change career, or “If you don’t like it, you’re unpatriotic so just leave!”, well that’s constructive! You do feel like a 15-year-old who had just dared throw a tantrum, just to get slapped in the face.

There Is also the soft, wolf in sheep clothing way: A friend of mine told me I was living in a utopia where people could just make decision whenever they want with their lives. Well yeah, we’re not prisoners as far as I know… But she uses “Utopia”, the U word, the ultimate, patronising insult to make her hit-and-run point: crazy people (or children) believe in Utopia whereas sensible people (or adults) are realistic. I’d say “cynical” but it’s a matter of opinion.

Or there is the parental worry: We worry for your future. Recently, I was talking to my uncle who looked at me with that same look most French have given me since I came back and mentioned changing careers. Then he started to lecture me on the need for everyone to have stability in their lives and although he “supported and understood” my decision, he thinks it was “best for me to have stayed in England in my stable job because a job is not everything…”

It’s true that we are hedonists and when it comes to work and making a living, we still like to think gold and silver are for little kids who like shinny things and that the true meaning of life is somewhere else.  But he’s very wrong and somehow I understand why he said that with his two marriages, kids in France and the US, his moving back and forth to France, UK and the two US coasts in the past 20 years. The only stability is his life is his job and that must be terrible to realise that when you’re 57. He was a taught the “school, wed, job, kids and retire”. He is part of the generation that turn your job into your identity but he hates looking at it like.

Today, in modern society, and in France, where private matters shall not define who you are, your identity consists in your name and your job: the who you are and the what you are. You are given your name, no question asked, but you would think that you can have some kind of control on what you are throughout your life.

However to change name in France, you have to have a “good reason” (whatever that means), pay a lot of money, go to court, have your file discussed at length and a panel of judges will decide whether you should be allowed to become Elizabeth instead of Elisabeth. And that will cost you even more afterwards. Well, changing jobs is as difficult.

In France, you have a name and you have a job, you don’t change one or the other. You can lose your job but you have to look for the same one with a different company or/and in a different town. You want change? Look for change in continuity and get a promotion in your own business. “Mind your own business!” is what you will hear when you asked someone else’s about their job if they feel you’re fishing for information about it.

Today, no matter how many times I have to explain that I want to be something else than a teacher, I am still reckless and the relevant people I interact with to make it happen will make sure I see the light of day again: they make it impossible to get a proper training after you’re 16, the job offers will be solely related to your previous job because the websites don’t allow you to apply for jobs that do not fit your CV, and most people will not talk to you and give you advice on their profession because they think you are here to get their job, take their life away and the promise of a life-time of settling down unchallenged.

Thou shall not go after someone else’s wife and thou shall not go after someone else’s job. You made your decision; you chose your own, deal with it!

I am wondering then…How can the French society move on and prosper when it is so rigidly and negatively stubborn in keeping every aspect a status quo? How can a society adapt to a world where technologies and mind-sets change every six month and plan for the future when it is so hateful and distrustful of changes (even positive) and belief in Utopia? How can France possibly move forward where everybody is content with being so little out-going and willing to accept or even just, mildly consider alternatives? How can a country appeal to visionaries when it tells its population that children have dreams whereas adults have responsibilities?

I learn to accept that France is a deeply conservative country built a stone-like society that only rocks when the system becomes too clocked up and explodes. I am not asking France to become as insanely reckless, frivolous and short-sighted as the English-speaking countries. I do like the feeling of long-term decisions and stability because it does give some time to process things.

Nevertheless, I do see France on the other side of the spectrum from the English-speaking world and there are many alternatives to a society that brings up its citizens to expect absolute, blind continuity: what you are and do at 25, you are and do at 65. But what the world is and does in 2014, the world will not be and will not do in 2054.