Being a Teacher During the 2016 Election

This election has been exhausting. Though I am excited about the possibilities ahead of our country, I’m also ready for a break. One of the things we’ve talked about amongst the teachers this year is whether or not to bring the election up with our fifth grade students. This is my first time teaching during a presidential election, but my colleagues have said that usually they love election years because it provides a whole slew of teachable moments–especially in fifth grade, when we learn about how the government works. But this election is different, and most of the teachers at the school won’t even touch it for a variety of reasons.

I’ve thought a lot about being a teacher during this election, and especially over the last few months. I been absolutely appalled and disheartened by so many things, whether it’s the words of a candidate or the reactions of voters. But each time I feel like it’s about to push me over the edge, I remember that I’m in a position to affect change.

One of the tools we use at our school is called THINK. It’s an acronym that leads students through a series of questions so that they can determine the appropriateness of what their saying. They ask: is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If the answer to the questions are no, it’s probably not the best thing to say.

I’ve thought about this acronym and how helpful it would have been to so many people this past year; the absence of truth and kindness is especially concerning. I think of my fifth grade students, and what I expect from them. They know that their opinions must be based on fact. They can’t just say whatever they want; they have to back it up with evidence. When we’re reading a book, they have to find quotes to support their ideas. When we’re looking at nonfiction articles, they have to point to the moment in the text that backs up their position. When they answer a question, we respond with, “how do you know that?” And they answer, even if the answer is as simple as, “I know this because you wrote it right there on the board.” I’m teaching my students the importance of truth based on fact–not just opinion. I teach them that it’s up to them to make their own conclusions based on the fact–but they must have those facts backing them up. I teach them that everyone is allowed to have their own opinions–as long as they’re backed up by fact.

My students are also kind. Even though I work in a middle school, we spend a lot of time schoolwide making sure our students understand kindness: what it is, why we need it, and how to live it. I’ve seen my students reach out to someone else who is struggling, or may be sitting alone. Most of my students know to use kind words, but I’ve seen my students apologize when they’ve made a mistake. They don’t blurt out whatever they’re thinking; they take a step back to take perspective, and think about how their words will affect others. I am confident that my students can go out into the world and treat others with kindness–even when a teacher isn’t checking over their shoulders.

Last week we had a discussion about the election during morning meeting. Students shared who they would vote for and why. Before we shared, we had a talk about respecting everyone’s opinions, basing our opinions on fact, and making sure we treated others with kindness. I reminded students that everyone could have their own opinion, and while we definitely do not need to agree with everyone, we do need to respect everyone. I also explained that if students wanted to keep their opinion private, that is perfectly okay too.

Students went around the circle and shared. We had students who said they would support both major party candidates, as well as students who wanted to keep their opinion private. Afterwards, we talked about the importance of basing opinions on fact, and then where we could learn these facts. Students said that they could listen to speeches, look at candidates websites, read articles, and listen to the news. We discussed how some news sources will think one candidate is great and the other is awful, and other news sources with think another candidate is great and the other is awful, and so it’s important to examine both sources and then make your decision. We discussed all of this before 8:30, and everything was fine. We finished our discussion and went on to have a great day.

Every time I think of this election, I try to think of my students. I think about the absence of kindness and truth that I’ve seen from voters across the board as well as from politicians (and one candidate in particular). And then I think of how impressed I am everyday by the kindness I see in my classroom, and by my students’ thirst for knowledge. And while I’m excited about the direction our country could possibly take over the next four years, I’m even more excited about what’s going to happen in fifteen years when these students are running things–students who value the truth, and who value kindness. That will be a nice change of pace.

 

 

 

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Obviously I’ve sort of fallen off the blogging radar. I just looked at my stats, and WordPress so gently reminded me that it’s been 6 months since my last post–thanks! But what do you do when you start writing a blog about a specific period of your life, and that period is so, completely over?

I’m never doing TAPIF again. I will never live in France again. And now I’m completely over that two-month phase when I moved back home and the thought of that made me depressed.

I’m now in my second year as a fifth-grade teacher and I absolutely love it. I’m married. That’s about it on the adult stepladder as we still have to do other important things like buy a house and whatever, but we’re getting there, and that means a lot of things have changed since my first three years of post-grad life when all I did was travel around Europe, or impatiently wait for my next trip to Europe.

First of all, I’ve realized that actually teaching is way harder than TAPIF–sorry TAPIF-ites. Yes, there are certainly challenges that come with moving to a foreign country, but the actual teaching part of TAPIF is a total breeze. I understand that you have to plan lessons, and it’s difficult working with French teachers who are totally bizarre, and sometimes you don’t understand what the kids are saying, and there are all these weird rules and you’re expected to yell and be totally mean, and all that can be really hard. I get it. I was in four different middle schools during my two years, and one of them was so awful to work at that I considered leaving the program over Christmas break and just staying in England with my now-husband because the thought of going back to work at this school was that upsetting. But the stresses of TAPIF are not the same as being a full-time teacher, where you’re responsible for standards, IEPs, and responding to thousands of parents and student emails, among other things.

This is something that’s so hard to realize in the throes of France-induced craziness, but it’s so clear to me now. And while I still love to give advice about TAPIF and would answer any question that someone has, I also have the hindsight knowledge that everything works out and it’s a total character-building experience and the whole TAPIF life pretty easy in the grand scheme of things, and so I can’t keep writing in this blog as a TAPIF-guide shrine.

My years in France were some of the best years of my (so far pretty short) life, but in my real life I’m totally over the phase of starting every sentence with, “well, when I was in France…” and there would be nothing worse than continuing to write all about being a teaching assistant long after finishing the program. In fact, this is probably most I’ve thought about TAPIF in the last six months, and that’s because the title of the blog is “Hannah Goes to France” so I kind of had to. I did get a wave of sadness when I realized that this was the first time in six years that I would be breaking my “year in France, year in US” cycle, but there’s so many other awesome things going on that the feeling passed pretty quickly (and now, three days into the new school year, I’m too busy to think about it anyways).

I took a class this summer about how to teach writing to students and while most of the class did little in helping me adjust my practice, one thing became immediately clear to me. The professor asked us about a time we felt great writing, and most of the people in the class struggled to answer. They said they hated writing, or they never did any writing, or they struggled to teach writing because it was so difficult for them. And the whole time I was thinking about how I maintained a pretty regular blog for three years and totally loved it, and maybe I should get back to that.

I’m super busy and have a strict 9PM bedtime, and I have nothing to say about France or being a teaching assistant, and I am deathly afraid that a student’s parent will stumble across this blog and learn I am an actual human being outside the classroom (though having a new last name does give me an extra layer of security). Let’s see where this goes!

 

The Nostalgia Years

I have no idea why, but last year I downloaded the the timehop app and I’ve been love/hating it ever since. I totally understand the appeal of seeing what you were doing a year ago, or five years ago, or whatever it is. Yes, wall posts were dumb in high school, and I can’t believe I wore that. And I know everyone gets nostalgic when they look back at whatever they were doing in the past, but sometimes doing that can be a little overwhelming, especially this year, since my life is so drastically different.

Take this morning’s update. I woke up at 8:43, not because I set an alarm or anything, but because I get up so early to be a real live teacher during the week that I can no longer sleep past nine, a feat I thought was impossible. Last night I graded 100 papers to get up to date for the end of the trimester on Friday. I had an internal discussion: should I go to Weight Watchers and the gym, my normal Saturday morning plan, or should I stay home and try to plow through the last fifty papers and get a jump start on entering the first 138 grades out of the 368 with comments that have to be entered in two weeks?

I rolled over and grabbed my phone, going through my normal morning routine: check email, see what lame offer they’re running at groupon right now; check work email, cross my fingers that no one had a problem on Friday night; check my message group, see what Anne wrote after I went to bed and what Julia added before I woke up; check timehop, immediately cry/hate my life.

There are days when I know I’ll get extra nostalgic, like January 13th, the day I arrived in Grenoble, or February 2nd, the day I met Gabriel, or the whole end of April which will bring on the biggest sobfest because it’s when Anne and Julia and I went on our perfect trip. But today falls into one of the most well-traveled weeks of my life and I had absolutely no idea.

Because apparently, seven years ago I was in Switzerland. Six years ago I was in Romania. Five years ago I was in Grenoble (checking out the Grottes de Choranche). Four years ago I was in London. Three years ago I was in Béthune. Two years ago I took a break, but last year I was in Chambéry. And then today I woke up debating whether I could make a deal with myself to skip Weight Watchers because I ate too much this week as long as I spent the time doing work.

The thing is, I love my life. I’m not saying this to convince myself, like, hey, Hannah, you’re really happy now, REMEMBER?? I really do. First of all, I can’t believe Gabriel and I are actually living together, and not flying back and forth across the Atlantic to see each other like we had to do for the first four and a half years of our relationship (and thank god we haven’t gotten tired of each other yet). I love my job; my students are crazy and hysterical and I work with amazing people and even though it’s a ton of work I don’t feel like I’m just going through the motions. I love that I can hang out with my family and my friends, and get Brody’s on Sunday mornings and drive my car to a shop that’s open after seven pm and on Sundays. But, man, it’s tough not to feel like, “what the hell am I doing now?” when I see it all laid out like that.

I had a major freak out like this last weekend: I will never be able to live or travel like that again. I was looking at pictures of Anne and Julia and me in Portugal and I realized that part of my life is totally over and I burst into tears. I’m not going to be jetting off to France for the year any time soon, and my responsibilities are going to get bigger and bigger. I can’t just blow $4000 on a trip somewhere–I have to buy a freaking house! But then Gabriel talked to me, and calmed me down, because he gets it too.

We’re not one of those couples that you’re going to see in one of those articles posted on facebook: “They gave up all of their possessions and have spent the last three years traveling the world–it’s easier than you think.” But we did decide to go to the bank, and open up another bank account, so we can deposit $50 from each paycheck into a travel fund and go somewhere totally freaking awesome each summer. And the next time that sneaky timehop wallops me with a particularly well-traveled day, I can go online, log into my bank account, and start planning my next trip.

 

 

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate. I missed three days in a row, but who cares?

Mom Knows Best

It’s International Women’s Day, and I thought I would take this opportunity to give a big shoutout to the number one woman in my life: my mom. She taught me how to do pretty much everything: how to be kind, how to have fun, how to manage a million different things at once and not let anything drop, how to listen, and how to problem-solve…among other, more trivial things, like don’t forget to take a jacket because it will be really cold, and make sure you go to the bathroom before you leave, and are you sure you don’t want to try on the next size up?

There’s one story that I always tell about my mom that really sums her up quite perfectly: loving and kind, and always looking for the teaching moment.

When my sister and I were younger, my mom took us to movie camp. I was seven or eight, and my sister was two years younger, and I only have a few memories of the whole thing. I remember it was far away, and it was in the morning so when you left the theatre the heat wave would hit and you would instantly start to sweat, and the sun was blinding after two hours in the dark. One time they had a guy in a popcorn suit there, and another time they took pictures beforehand and then projected them on the screen and that was very exciting for eight-year-old me. Each week during the summer, in between work, and summer camp, and trips to visit the family, my mom took us to movie camp.

The only movie I remember seeing at movie camp was Grease. Or maybe it wasn’t even at movie camp, and I just saw it as a rerelease when I was younger. I loved the music, and the dancing, and the whole thing, and spirits were high as the movie ended with Sandy emerging as her new, sexier self amidst the high-energy last song. My sister and I loved the movie, and I couldn’t get enough of it. My mom walked my sister and I out, listening to us gush about the film (and probably attempt to sing the songs), when she stopped us to impart one important pearl of wisdom: “I know it was a really good movie, but remember, don’t ever change yourself for a man.”

This is one of the most vivid memories from my childhood, and I still can’t hear the movie Grease mentioned without thinking about it. My mom let us have fun, and she let us enjoy the movie, and she probably sang the songs with us all the way home but my mom also made sure that I never got the message from anyone–even Sandy Olsson–that I should be anyone other than myself. And sometimes I make fun of her for turning Grease into a teachable moment, but the real thing is that I’m lucky to have a mom who, even when I was eight years old, made sure that I always knew to be confident in who I am. Thanks, mom!

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11454297503_e27946e4ff_hSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

Memory Lane

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I took this picture five years ago. When I studied abroad in Grenoble, I didn’t have class on Mondays, and Gabriel had two weeks of vacation, and so we decided to go on a day trip–just as friends, since this was before we started dating. As the resident European, I let him plan everything. He chose two towns for us to visit: Annecy, renowned for its beautiful everything, and Chambéry, another famous town that maybe wasn’t as picturesque as Annecy, but it was on the way from Grenoble, so why not stop there too?

We arrived in Chambéry early Monday morning, without a map or a plan. All we knew was that there was a pretty famous castle and an elephant statue. And that it was Monday. Which means that everything was closed. Literally, everything. We found our way to the elephants, I took the above photo, and somehow we wandered to the castle. Closed. We passed an adorable little bookshop, right at the mouth of an alleyway, that I was dying to visit. Closed. Bakeries, shops, cafés, all closed. The weather was grim, the town was empty, and we didn’t really have much to do or see. Somehow, we stumbled onto what seemed to be a deserted main street, and we found a restaurant that was serving lunch.

The restaurant was long and narrow, with rough stone walls, and to my 20-year-old, fresh off the plane self, it was so French. I had the lasagne, which came with a small salad (mustard dressing, of course), and in the middle of the lunch I was struck by how intimate the whole situation was. There I was, an American in France, on a day trip with my British friend (who I secretly had a huge crush on), hiding from the rain in a tiny French restaurant. We sat across from one another, and throughout the whole lunch I kept thinking, “okay, how am I going to eat these giant pieces of lettuce and still look kind of cool and coordinated and also consume this entire plate of lasagne without spilling sauce on myself and he’s staring me right in the face??”

We left the town after lunch, and went to Annecy which completely eclipsed little old Chambéry. The sun came out, the lake and the mountains were stunning, and we took tons of pictures and wandered through the little streets, talking and marveling at the Frenchness of the whole place. I took my mom and sister to Annecy when they visited later in the semester, hung up pictures of the town on my wall, and promptly forgot about the gloomy little town we visited on the way, of which the most vivid memory I had was the anxiety of trying to look cool while eating lettuce.

And then four years later, I found out I was going to be working and living in Chambéry for eight months. As soon as I got my placement, I combed my memory for any details about what would be my new home: cloudy. Elephants. Book shop. Messy salad.

And after eight more months building on that one morning’s experience in Chambéry, I was able to update those impressions just a little bit. It’s actually quite stunning there when the sun comes out. They took the elephant statues away for cleaning, but it didn’t really matter anyways, because there were so many beautiful buildings and details in the town that the elephants didn’t really matter after all. The book shop was actually only open for about eight hours a week–and I would know, because I lived right above it. I never went in, but I did exchange friendly nods and bonjours with the owner whenever she was there. And I went back to the restaurant with Gabriel a few months after I moved there. I only had a chocolat viennois and I didn’t care at all how messy I was when I was eating it.

 

 

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

 

 

 

Adventures in Wedding Planning

The thing is, I haven’t really touched this blog since I started teaching. It’s a combination of being ultra busy, not wanting my students’ parents to find out about my awesome, non-teacher life, and feeling like the stuff that I’m doing now isn’t very interesting compared to weekend trips to Turin and Copenhagen. But my best mountain friend (and amazing blogger) Anne and her teacher guru mom Sally told me about the Slice of Life daily writing challenge and I thought it would give it a try. I get so caught up in feeling like I have to write about something fleshed out and *~*~interesting~*~* and this will be a nice change of pace.

 

One of the reasons that I’ve been so busy is that on top of struggling through my first year of teacher, Gabriel and I are also planning our wedding. In the eyes of the wedding industry, I’m probably a pretty bad bride. My pinterest board has been long forgotten since last July, when we first started planning. I immediately delete any vendor email I get. And neither Gabriel nor I are too bothered about spending money on the little details that get super expensive, but nobody really cares about anyways. $1500 to upgrade from the regular chairs to Chiavari chairs? No thanks. $2 a person to upgrade from regular potatoes to fancier potatoes? Yeah, not happening. $3000 on over-the-top centerpieces that will die in a week anyways? Nope.

The little details are actually pretty low-stress, because neither of us care too much about them. We want to have people we love there, who are having fun and dancing a lot, and that’s about it. So sometimes we’re not the best at “wedding situations,” because it’s pretty hard to swallow all the crap that people try to convince you that you MUST HAVE for your wedding. I’m a nice person, and I’ll smile through the sales pitch, but I really can’t be bothered to be completely extravagant about things that don’t matter at all just because it’s for a wedding!!! Like last night, when we went to open up our registry at Bed Bath & Beyond.

First of all, we live at my dad’s house. We’ll probably be living at my dad’s house for at least another year, probably two (thanks dad). And so we can’t really register for everything in the house…because we don’t have a house. But we decided to register for kitchen stuff, because we know we’ll need that no matter what and it won’t have to match anything.

We thought we would just get one of those scanner things, and then walk aimlessly around the store. We didn’t realize that there would be a woman whose entire job was following us around and guiding through the registry experience (which we had already decided didn’t really apply to us anyways). The poor woman at the store was ready for the hard sell.

“Have you thought of what china pattern you want to buy?”

“Nope, not our thing!”

“You’ll need to register for at least three sets of sheets.”

“We don’t know what size our bed will be when we have our own house.”

“Why don’t you register for some nice sheets for while you’re still living at home?”

“We really don’t mind using our crappy, $15 IKEA sheets for now.”

But she adapted to our minimalist registry mindset, and walked us around the store, pointing out anything we could possibly need in the kitchen. Things ranged from necessary (like a set of pots and pans) to pointless for us (a high-tech blender) to pointless for anyone (a crème brûlée torch). And then we got to kitchen gadgets.

We picked out wooden spoons, and a can opener, and a cutting board. “Hey,” my mom chimed in, “don’t forget a wine opener! You’ll definitely need one of those!”

“Oh absolutely!” our registry guide gushed. “This is the best one.” She held up a $50 wine opener set, complete with a whole bunch of things that confused the hell out of me. So I asked her why you would possibly need a whole box of things to open a bottle of wine?

“Well, you know, if you’re a wine connoisseur this would definitely be something you would want to have.”

I’m well settled into my American life. I know that I won’t be moving back to France for another TAPIF year. My pining-for-France time is usually limited to one or two afternoons a month, and to the eyes any outsider I am pretty much a typical townie girl. But then every once in a while, there comes a moment where I can take my ultra-cultured France years out of my back pocket and flash them around in the most extravagant of manners (because how else can you refer to the years you spent living in Europe?). And this was one of those times.

“Well, I lived in France for two and a half years, and all they use to open their wine is a tiny little corkscrew.”

Wedding industry – 0. Sophisticated, post-France Hannah – 1.

 

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Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

2015 by the Numbers

Sooooo I’ve kind of fallen of the map a little bit. Here is my excuse: first year teacher (and no, TAPIF doesn’t count). It’s a combination of having absolutely no time to do anything and living in fear that a parent will find my blog. I had good intentions when the school year started to muster up at least one blog a month, but my last post was in September…and now it’s December. Oh well! Something to work on for next year. Anyways, I swear I will write more about the all-consuming role of being a real live teacher, but right now it’s T-13 hours until 2016, and there are bigger things to talk about.

2015 by the numbers:

6 countries visited: France, UK, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, and USA (home tourism!)

3 jobs held: TAPIF teaching assistant, incredible English tutor, and 5th grade teacher

76 books read: I probably won’t ever read this much again until I retire. Highlights include Half of a Yellow Sun (Adichie), The Red Tent (Diamant), Ready Player One (Cline), The Book of Strange New Things (Faber), Station Eleven (Mandel)

3 trips to Grenoble: My favorite place in the world got a lot of traffic this year

1 engagement: On that Grenoble note…

3 weddings in the works: Getting married to an English guy on a K1 visa inevitably means you’re going to have a lot of parties

2 new BFFs: Anne and Julia, what would this year have been without you guys??

40,000 facebook messages: The best way of keeping in touch with said BFFs, whether we’re living down the hall from each other, or across the ocean

25 trips up and down the mountainous road in St. PierreI may have cursed this walk, and this job, on each walk, but man that view was beautiful

285 miles ranAnd this is really only from March to August, so that’s pretty good

2 10Ks ran: Leeds and York

446 students taughtHopefully

1 perfect trip to the beach: Mandatory bridesmaids event

6 sweaters purchased from Loft: Because now I have to dress like an adult at work

9 roommates: Including my four French roommates, my roommate’s cousin who showed up and didn’t leave for two months, the roommates in Leeds when I was crashing in Gabriel’s room for three months, and my dear old dad

14 croziflettes eaten: Still having croziflette withdrawal

1 elephant returned: It may have only been the plastic one, but I did get to see the return of a Chambéry elephant!

20 cheese naans devoured: No better lunch to be found for 3.5o euro in Chambéry

4 weekend trips around the UK: London, Liverpool, Wales, and Swindon…I really got to see everything that the UK has to offer

2 birthday trips: Samantha’s birthday in Copenhagen and mine in London

1 chicken found on the front porch: Yeah…

5 chicken caesar sandwiches eaten at the Geneva Airport: So expensive, but soooo good (but actually probably not that good)

1 lion crocheted: My crochet game made up in quality what it lacked in quantity

368 grades reported: A feat of perseverance

234984209384 chaussons aux pommes consumed: A rough estimate

150 podcasts listened to: Also a rough estimate, but this one is much more realistic. Thank you Radiolab and TAL for making my 25 St. Pierre walks more manageable

73 morning meetings led: Which means about 50 games of “Night at the Museum” played

23948230948 nostalgic moments thinking about Chambéry: Not over it

 

 

 

The New World

Once again, I’m facing the same dilemma that I came up against two years ago, when I got home from my first TAPIF year: what do I do with this blog? Thanks to the very specific blog title that references a particular moment in my life, the whole blogging thing seemed a little…pointless once I left France. Basically, the whole point I started keeping a blog was to keep in touch with my family and friends while I was in France (but really to brag about all of the cool things I was doing in Europe), and once I was home and my whole life revolved around going to Chipotle three times a week, there wasn’t anything too exciting to talk about. But two years ago, I decided to keep writing here, mostly because I decided I rather liked keeping a blog, and also because I felt confident enough in myself that I would continue to lead at least a moderately interesting life. And what do you know, I ended up back living in France again, and the blog title was germane for another year.

Now I’m back home again, and I’m definitely not moving back to France in the near future (read: ever), and yet I still possess the highest level of self indulgence that makes me feel that it’s absolutely appropriate—nay, necessary!—for me to continue writing a blog about me and my life; my parents were never worried about my self esteem. So here’s what’s going on.

I am well into my first month as a fifth grade teacher. It’s incredible to me that, after three postgrad years of refusing to do anything that even closely resembled a career (I never even made a linked in profile) that I landed my dream job—I’m not exaggerating on either front. I work in a wonderful middle school, the kids are great, and the staff is remarkable—I can’t even count the number of times people have stopped me in the hallways to say hello and remind me that they are always there if I need help, or the number of lessons and resources people have shared with me. I know that this isn’t what every school is like, and sometimes I feel like I have to stop and say, yes, this is all happening.

I’ve never been so exhausted in my life, and I’m in bed by nine pm every night, and my focuses have completely shifted; the thought of doing anything social on a weekday now lies somewhere in the realms of laughable to horrifying. I feel like I’m finally a teacher.

I was talking to Anne and Julia, my Chambéry friends (who I still keep in touch with on a daily basis) about how we feel like we’re all sort of living double lives. I think about France (and England!) a lot, and I think it’s really been hitting me recently because it’s just over three years ago that I arrived in Béthune for the first time, and it’s coming up on my one year Chambéversary; Time Hop is about to become a minefield. And that life seems so far away from me. Sometimes I’ll think about how I used to walk around Chambéry, and take in the beautiful scenery, and stop by the bakery for a chausson aux pommes, and it’s crazy to think that it was only a few months ago. I had such a full life there, and in Leeds, and in Béthune. And I have such a full life here in Massachusetts, and sometimes it’s hard to comprehend how all of those experiences are all wrapped up together.

For the first time, I’m also in a completely different state of mind. Ever since the first time I went abroad really, when I was seventeen and took a high school field trip to France, I was always focused on the next trip back. This feeling increased a thousandfold after I studied abroad, and probably a millionfold after Gabriel and I decided we would try and make a go of a transcontinental long distance relationship. When I came home from Béthune, I threw myself into my life here, but my next trip to England to see Gabriel, or a possible second TAPIF tour was always at the back of my mind. Things are not like that anymore. First of all, I’ve aged out of TAPIF, and even if I could do it again I don’t think I would—I love my job, and I’m starting to look towards the future here. And, more importantly, Gabriel is immigrating to the USA in less than twenty days so that we can get married and live happily ever after. My life is all…here. And I’m totally happy with it. I’ve even thought where I would like to go on my next few vacations…and all of the places were actually in America. And so it’s not just like, “oh, I feel like I lived a double life because I had all these memories and friends and experiences living in a foreign country.” It’s that for the past eight years I’ve lived my life from one perspective, and now things have pretty drastically shifted.

That’s not to say I’m done with France, or I’ve put all this stuff in the past. I’ve been trying to keep the connection alive as well as possible, without any trips or moves on the horizon. I introduced myself to the French teacher at my school, and she introduced me to another woman at the school who loves speaking French. Now, every time she sees me in the hallway she greets me with a bright, “Bonjour, Hannah!” and launches into French small talk—and I love it. I hung up pictures of Béthune in my classroom, and the background of my computer is a picture from Chamonix, and I told the kids all about living in France (and they are begging me to speak French).

The best part is, I’m continuing the pen pal exchange that we started last year with the school I work at now, and the school I used to work at in Chambéry. I showed my students a slideshow with pictures of Chambéry (“See? We have a town hall—in Chambéry, they have a castle!”) and the kids were practically jumping out of their seats with questions: do they know what football is? Do they speak English? Can we send them American coins? I collected the rough drafts that they had written of their letters, and they were so adorable and eager that it almost brought me to tears. They tried so hard, and wrote such thoughtful letters—even some of the students who I can barely squeeze two sentences out of in class. We’re sending the letters off this week, and I can’t even imagine how excited they will be when the responses arrive a few weeks down the line.

This is so cool, and so exciting, and I realized that this is where my former Europe-centric mindset has disappeared to. Seeing these kids’ enthusiasm about their pen pal letters and learning more about another country made me feel that same sort of excitement I did every single time I came home from Europe and said, “I need to go back.” That’s where it went: into getting a whole new group of kids to realize that there’s a world outside of the town in which they live. It’s totally sentimental, and totally true.

So I probably will continue writing in this blog, at least for a while. It won’t be as frequent, and the focus will change, but I still have a lot to talk about.

Summer Breeze

Even with all the free time I had in Leeds because I didn’t have a job, I still managed to let a month go by without writing a blog on here. Whoops! Here’s what you missed in Hannah’s Life:

I ran my first 10k…and then my second

I decided to start running back in March to give myself something to do and to combat all the calories from my daily chausson aux pommes (didn’t work on that front), and I knew the only way I would stick with it was if I spent money on a race and then had to train for it. So I signed up for the Leeds 10k, and in early July I actually had to get my act together and run it! The atmosphere was amazing. I love Leeds, and I love the city’s vibe, and people were out in full force on race day. There were thousands of runners and so many spectators cheering, singing, and even playing steel drums. The scenery wasn’t that nice because you basically run through the lovely city center for half a mile and then spend the next five miles running up an industrial road, but I managed to finish the race without needing medical attention (woohoo!!), I got a cool t-shirt, and then I laid in bed the rest of the day eating pizza and guac. The race was so fun, in fact, that I decided to do another 10k, three weeks later in York! The course was much more scenic, though there were less people and it was more hilly, and Gabriel was there to cheer me on—even though it was his birthday.

The nicest birthday boy ever

The nicest birthday boy ever

I visited Wales for the first time

It was beautiful and we had one beautiful sunny day with no rain at all—which is quite a feat, apparently! We went down to Cowbridge with Gabriel’s parents (yes, that is the name of the town) and I got to see a quick little tour of the area. We got to see the castle where Gabriel’s brother is getting married, we went to a Welsh beach (which was very windy so everyone was wearing jackets, except for the two sunbathers stretched out between the cars in the middle of the parking lot), and I got to see the commons of Llantrisant, which Gabriel has some connection to which I believe involves being allowed to graze his sheep there—I am not making this up. I didn’t get to hear a full Welsh accent, so I guess I’ll have to go back again.

This is pretty much sums up a beach in Wales--windy

This is pretty much sums up a beach in Wales–windy

I celebrated my 25th birthday in London

Gabriel went to university in London, and so we spent a lot of time there during his senior year when I was so obsessed with him that I literally flew over to visit every two and a half months. We wanted to take one more trip there before we both left the UK, and so we went for my birthday weekend. I’d never been to London in the summer, so I wasn’t prepared for how absolutely mobbed it was. But even the massive tour groups that somehow all managed to stop directly in front of us everywhere, London was still incredibly wonderful. We went to see the clocks at the British museum (and then quickly left, as it was a rainy Sunday afternoon and so it was more crowded than Disney World during April vacation) and we bought a ton of books at the big Waterstone’s and we got to wander around Gabriel’s old campus—he even bought a sweatshirt from the school store so he would fit in with all the Americans constantly wearing college sweatshirts when he moves over here. I was a little stressed out on my birthday because I turned twenty-five and I felt like that was such an alarming number, but we went to Chipotle which obviously made everything better, and then we went to the South Bank, found a bench completely untouched by tourist madness, and spent the afternoon hanging out and enjoying the beautiful view of the Houses of Parliament. London is still one of my favorite cities in the world. I was sad to say goodbye, but it was great to have a last visit there.

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We went to Liverpool

I’m not sure why we chose Liverpool, but Gabriel and I wanted to do a day trip with our friends Danny and Emma, and that’s where we ended up; two years ago we went to Blackpool, so we’re sticking with the Pool theme. Danny and Emma said Liverpool was fun at night, so we decided to stay overnight, and it was a choice well made. We spent most of our time wandering around, popping into museums, and desperately trying to eavesdrop on an authentic Scouse accent (we did manage to find a parking attendant who spoke very sternly to us in a very Scouse accent—mission accomplished). Liverpool is obviously the home of The Beatles and so we had to go to The Cavern Club—the place where The Beatles got their start. It was so fun. I expected it to be another tourist trap, but it was great. It was waaay underground (okay, maybe not so underground but I feel like there were a lot of stairs), and since we went on a Wednesday night it was crowded enough but there was room to breathe. I usually hate going to bars because I feel like everyone is trying too hard, or trying to compete with each other, but The Cavern Club was great—it was a bunch of middle aged Beatles fans with some young people like us mixed in, and everyone just wanted to have fun. There was live music but it was all Beatles and oldies covers, so I actually knew the words to everything, and we stayed until closing dancing and screaming the words to every song; it was the first time I’ve ever actually lost my voice a little from a night out. We didn’t get to spend as much time with Danny and Emma this summer because they are real adults and actually bought a house this year so Danny and Gabriel are no longer roommates, so it was so much fun to go away to Liverpool together. Next time we’ll all be together is in America, so I guess we’ll have to find some –pool place to go here…

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I had my first Chambéry reunion

Luckily, one of my closest friends this year is British, so I was able to go visit her this summer! Unluckily, she is from Swindon, so that’s where I had to go to visit her…just kidding. But Julia did spend all year telling us just how underwhelming Swindon was, and so I was so excited to see it in person. I took a taxi from the train station to her house, and I told the driver it was my first time in Swindon and I asked what there was to do in town. He replied, “Well, this is where the trains are from, so they have the old workshops which they turned into a shopping center…the ladies usually like that one!……do you like swimming? There’s a heated pool with waves!” And then the conversation was over. Alas, I did not get to visit those two stunning attractions, nor did I get to see the magic roundabout, but the Swindon weekend was still wonderful. As far as Swindon goes, Julia lives in a lovely area, there is a beautiful park nearby, and we went to an amazing tapas restaurant. And Julia and her family showed me all around the area too, which was so fun. Julia and I went to Bath for the day, and Julia’s family took us for a drive around the Wiltshire countryside. We saw some ruins thing, and the biggest manmade ancient mound in Europe, and some chalk horses painted on a hillside—I’m not doing it justice. We also went to Marlborough, which is nothing like Marlborough, Massachusetts. And we hung out at the house, I witnessed the drama of the family redoing their backyard, and I got in some good cuddle time with Julia’s dog. I have so many good friends from all the times I’ve lived in France, but they come from all over and so I rarely get to see where they actually come from; I’m glad I got the chance to see Julia on her home turf in the Swine Dun.

We didn't have Anne to complete our Plastics trifecta so we took a picture with this pig in her honor

We didn’t have Anne to complete our Plastics trifecta so we took a picture with this pig in her honor

I became a regular at a burrito place

This seems like no big deal, but I was still pretty excited about this. In the throes of my Chipotle withdrawal, I decided to try out all of the burrito places in Leeds and I found one, The Wraps, that was fantastic. I only went there a few times, but the owners were so friendly that by my second visit we were yukking it up with old pals.

Okay to be fair these are Chipotle burritos but I didn't have a picture from the other place

Okay to be fair these are Chipotle burritos but I didn’t have a picture from the other place

Gabriel got his visa

As opposed to the last entry on the list, this was a huge deal. Ten months after starting the application process, Gabriel finally got his America visa!! The whole process was long and complicated, and I’m still not totally sure about all the details. What I do know was that on July 16th, Gabriel and I went down to the American embassy in London so he could have his incredibly anticlimactic visa interview. There’s no men in sunglasses that take you into a room and interrogate you like I pictured—they just ask you some questions at a window that kind of looks like where you place your bets at a racecourse. And then, a week later, he had his US visa in hand and he bought his one-way plane ticket to the United States. This was one of the happiest moments of the whole entire year—probably the second happiest, because nothing could beat that surprise proposal on the mountain, but still, a close second. It made the whole goodbye thing a lot easier, and at the time of this writing, there’s just a little over a month and a half until Gabriel moves over to the United States…for good. I don’t think that when we first met four and a half years ago, either of us would have imagined that he would eventually be immigrating to the USA to marry me, but I’m pretty glad we got here.

Future American in front of his future embassy!

A future American in front of his future embassy!

I came home

The strangest thing about living abroad is that after all the fun and excitement and life-changing experiences, there’s the day when you go back home, and it’s like nothing every happened. This was my third time living abroad, and I was still shocked by how anticlimactic it was to come home—I feel like I’ve changed so much, but somehow there’s still this Hannah-shaped hole back in my USA life that I can slip right back into, despite how profoundly different I feel. If you ever want to truly understand that saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” live abroad for a few months and then move back home. Unlike the last time I came home when I got stuck in Iceland for twenty-four hours, this journey was pretty uneventful—besides the amazing moment when the ticket guy let me on the plane with a 55-pound suitcase and a 74-pound suitcase without charging me any overage fees (true travel magic), and my mom meeting me at the airport in Boston with balloons—one “Welcome home,” one tie-dye, and one American flag. And now I’m back home. I’ve spent hours and hours cleaning out the upstairs of the house and turning the second bedroom into a living room so that it’s all ready for me and Gabriel when he arrives, and I’ve been preparing for my new job as a fifth grade teacher (which is totally exciting, but completely nerve-wracking). I’ve somehow managed to pick up my Chipotle schedule, though I’ve also recommitted to dieting, because I have to wear a wedding dress in less than a year (and those pictures are for life) and I’ve been taking tons of pictures of my dog. And, when I got back to the US, I think I finally retired from my position of the last three years as a TAPIF girl.

IMG_3032This last year was a life-changing experience. Yes, it sounds cliché, but it’s true—I would even go so far to say that it was the best year of my life. I left for France eleven months ago, completely unsure if I was doing the right thing, because it seemed a little over the top to still not have a real job, and have to move back to my parents house the next summer at twenty-five, and say, “Who cares about anything else, I just want another year in France!” I made amazing, life-long friends, and I fell in love with the French Alps all over again. I got to travel to new cities and countries, and I had the most hysterical students, and I don’t think I will ever live in an apartment as lovingly bizarre as Place Porte Reine. I got engaged to the love of my life in the most beautiful spot in the world, and we got to spend a perfect English summer together, Pimm’s and all, and we are finally going to be able to live together. And, to top things all off, I got hired at my dream job. I’d say things worked out pretty well.

TAPIF Lesson Ideas: Here You Go, Future Assistants

It seems like TAPIF placements have gone out this week…and I know because my friends and I have been frantically stalking the exquisitely-crafted spreadsheet sent out by Christian Champendal to see who is taking over our posts in our beloved–or not so beloved–schools. I rarely write “TAPIF” posts anymore; I guess this blog started as a TAPIF blog, but my self-indulgence took over, and it’s really more of a “me” blog. But as the school year came to a close, and I finished up my time as a teaching assistant, I thought to myself, “Hey, I should really write some of these lesson ideas down.” I’ve been a teaching assistant two times in four different middle schools, and I’m returning to the US to be a middle school teacher, so it’s safe to say I have the lesson-planning for middle schoolers as a teaching assistant down. So here is the point where I share that knowledge with you, any future TAPIF readers, who might like a hand with some lesson planning for next year.

First of all, every school uses their teaching assistants different. I’ve had teachers ask me to sit in the back of the class and answer the one pronounciation question that comes up in the lesson, and I’ve had teachers as me to take two or three students out at a time for conversation practice. But the most common thing I’ve had–as well as my other friends who’ve worked as secondary assistants–is for the teacher to give you half of the class in your own classroom for half the period, and then switch halfway through. Sometimes the teacher will tell you to work on something they are doing in class, like future tense verbs, or English charities (both actual things I’ve had to do). But for me, the majority of times teachers said, “Just do whatever you want!” And a lot of times, when I’ve asked for more information on what they’re doing in class so I could plan something that went along with whatever lessons they’re learning, they’ve told me it doesn’t have to align, and I can do anything. Which is a lot of freedom if you’re not really prepared to plan all your own lessons.

So here are some of the things I did every week for two years. All of the lessons were taught in a middle school during a 28ish minute period, unless it says otherwise. Also, I played a lot of competition games with my students, and I occassionally brought in candy for them. I bought the cheapest carambar knock-offs from Carrefour, and gave them to only the winners. no matter how pouty the losers looked. It didn’t cost a lot of money at all, and students were way more engaged as soon as they knew there was the chance to win candy, so I highly recommend this. Happy teaching!

  • Slideshows, slideshows, slideshows! – Seriously, I did a ton of slideshows. It may sound boring, but students loved them. First, make sure your school has a projector that you can access. Some of the computers don’t have internet, so it’s best to bring a flashdrive instead of emailing it to yourself. I used slideshows to teach about major holidays and cultural traditions in the US. I usually did one to two a month, and I could use the same one for all ages. I created slides with simple English sentences, about a paragraph in length, and lots of pictures. I used as my own pictures as possible, which the kids always love–especially baby pictures or anything mildly embarrassing (read: anything from middle to high school years). The slideshows would usually be about ten slides. During class, I would call on students to read the slides outloud, and correct any pronounciation. Then I would pull out some key vocabulary words, and make sure students understood them. If a sentence was difficult to understand, I would ask a student to explain it in French or English. And then I would ask students to describe what they saw in the pictures, or if they had any questions (and in the chattier classes, we could talk about one slide for ages). It sounds silly, but this really is a great way to get kids talking, especially if you’re not afraid to cold call (which I’m certainly not). The more “American” the topic, the better! Students LOVED hearing about weird things, or stuff they thought only happened in movies. Some of the topics I covered like this were American food, Prom, Graduation, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Groundhog’s Day (which is even better when you show a news video too), Valentine’s Day, American Schools, Saint Patrick’s Day, and Halloween.
  • Scattegories – The French students know this as “Le Petit Bac” so tell them you’re playing that, and they’ll get it. Break the students up into teams of three or four, and give them a list of categories (I wrote them on the board, and went through them for comprehension before we started playing). Choose a letter, and tell them that they have three minutes to come up with something for every category on the list. After three minutes, each team shares what they came up with, category by category. If two teams write the same thing, no one gets a point, and students can’t write the same word for more than one category. That’s it. I used the categories English/American name, English-speaking city/state/country, verb, adjective, object, animal, food/drink, seven letter or more word, body part, article of clothing, and free choice. Good letters to use are H (and you can work on pronounciation for this particularly tricky letter), S, L, or M–they always seemed to know a lot of vocab words for those. On another day, you can play a reverse of this game: give students one category at a time, and they have a minute or two to come up with anything that fits the category, no matter what letter it starts with. Categories I used were things like verbs and things that you find in school.
  • Question Bingo – Before class, I printed out a list of twenty-ish simple conversation questions, like what is your name, what is your favorite movie, how old is your dad, etc. At the beginning of class, I asked the students to make a 4×4 bingo board, which was actually the hardest part of the lesson. French students are neat freaks, and so most of them took out rulers and started counting squares on their graph papers to make sure each box was even. To move this process along, you may have to walk up to students and draw the bingo board yourself with messy, uneven squares–or else this part could take all day (it sounds like I’m kidding, but I’m not). Anyways, you direct the students to write the answers to the questions in the boxes in random order–this is important to stress, so that everyone has a different board! So, they would write “13” in a box, in response to the question, “How old are you?” Give them ten or so minutes to do this, and then you start playing bingo. To do this, ask the questions on the list, and have students mark the boxes with the answers. When they have bingo, they have to read off their bingo answers in complete sentences. So, the winning student might recite, “My mom’s name is Aurore, I have got a dog, My favorite food is fondue, My favorite subject is gym.” Repeat until class ends.
  • I’m Looking For… – I knew this game as “Where the wind blows,” but I changed it to I’m looking for, which made more sense to students. This is a good game to pull out at the last minute because it requires no prep; you just have to be able to move the chairs to the side of the room, so you have as much floor as possible. Students stand in a circle, with you in the middle. I usually ask students to take their shoes off, throw one to the side, and use the other to mark their spot. From the middle, I say something like “I’m looking for someone who likes pizza.” Then everyone who likes pizza has to find a new shoe around the circle to stand by, but the teacher in the middle goes and finds a place as well, which means a new student will be left in the middle, So then they say another sentence, and the game continues like that, with students switching places and someone ending up in the middle. This game was sometimes difficult to explain, so I usually had a student who understood the English directions explain in French. I directed them to use the phrases, “I’m looking for someone who has, who is, who likes, or who is wearing. Students loved this game, especially since the French school day is so long and they rarely got to move around during lessons.
  • American Rappers – If your older students are like mine, then they will love American rap music. One of my teachers asked me to prepare a lesson on American rap music, and I didn’t really know what to teach, so I came up with this random lesson and it was hugely successful in getting students to write and talk. I came up with “rapper fact sheets.” Basically, a strip of paper with a picture of a rapper, and eleven or twelve bullet points with incomplete sentences about them. So, thinks like “Married to Jay-Z” or “Popular songs: Single Ladies, Crazy in Love, Drunk in Love” (because I obviously included Beyoncé in this excercise). I broke students into groups of two or three, and directed them to write a paragraph in complete sentences using all of the information on the sheet. Then, when that was done, they had to present their rapper to the class, with each student taking a turn to speak. Basically you’re just having them write a paragraph in English, but because it was about rappers, they were all over it. This usually took two class periods (an hour altogether), and I would play clean rap music for the less rowdy classes while they were working.
  • Pig Personality Tests – In the fall, my roommate Anne told us about a personality test that she was thinking about doing with her kids. A pig personality test. Here’s an example of the test. This turned into a three-class lesson that I used for pretty much all of December, and I also used as an example of a past lesson I’ve done in every job interview I had afterward (including the job I actually got). So, start lesson one by asking students about words they know to describe personality. So if a student says funny, then ask what the opposite of that word is, until someone comes up with serious or boring, etc. Come up with six or seven of these personality pairs (Messy/organized, crazy/calm, talkative/quiet, polite/rude, hardworking/lazy, etc) and write them on the board. Then draw a long spectrum like, and explain that personality is like a spectrum. For example, you can be very funny, a little funny, neither funny nor serious, a little serious, or very serious (note: do not use a little bit instead of a little; most students have very strong accents, so they pronounce bit as bite (beet), which is the French word for dick–you do not want this word inadvertently floating around in a class of middle school students). Tell students to stand up, and arrange themselves on a spectrum from funny to serious. Point to where they should stand if they are very funny, or very serious, etc. Then when all the students are standing, ask each student to describe themselves, using the adjective and a modifier. Repeat this with all of the pairs you came up with. Then, ask students to sit down and tell them you’re going to give them a personality test. Ask them to take out a piece of scrap paper (and have some on hand because French students don’t understand the concept of scrap paper), and draw a pig. At this point, students will think you’re crazy, but will be happy to have the chance to draw in class. After a few minutes, interpret the drawings for them, using the instructions I linked to above, or any that you find on the internet. One that wasn’t listed, but that the students found hysterical, was “If you have a long tail, then you are very intelligent; if you have a short tail, you are very stupid”–a lot of my students frantically drew longer tails at this point! At the end, ask students if the test was correct, and why or why not. This whole lesson should take about 25 minutes. During class period two, ask students to write their own personality tests in groups of three or four. Tell them to choose an animal, and to come up with five characteristics of the animal that has two options; so an example of one characteristic with two options would be, “If the giraffe has three or less spots, then you are athletic, and if the giraffe has for or more spots, then you are lazy.” Tell students to write using if/then statements. This should take the whole class period. On the third day, give the students a few minutes to finish up their tests, and then have each group present to the class. Tell them that they are the teachers, and the other students should be drawing the animals and writing down their personalities. This should take the whole class period. A note on this exercise: definitely collect their work in between the two class periods; you should not rely on the students to bring their personality tests back on the second week! Also, collect the pig drawings because they will absolutely be ridiculous.
  • Pen pals – This was hands down the most rewarding thing I did with my students last year. I was lucky enough to know a few teachers back in the US, including Anne’s mom, and so we matched them up for a pen pal exchange. I did this with my sixièmes, and even though they could barely write in English, they made a huge effort for their pen pals, and came up with amazing letters! The kids in both countries loved the exchanges, and my students would ask if there were any new letters from their pen pals every time they saw me. Some teachers will already have pen pal exchanges set up (usually with a school in the UK rather than the US), but if you have any connections with a school in the US, see if you can make this happen for your kids. The only thing is you will need teacher collaboration for this. I only saw my sixièmes once a week, or every two weeks for thirty minutes, which was not enough time to get the letter written. So you’ll need the teacher to assign it for homework, and make sure the kids are working on it when you aren’t in class. This was my favorite part of the year, and I can’t wait to continute with pen pal letters next year when I’m a teacher in the US!
  • A note on French classrooms: they are very different from American classrooms. There is a lot less respect between the students and teachers, and a lot of classroom exchanges I witnessed involved teachers yelling at the students, and students not caring at all what the teacher said. I tried to shy away from the French classroom management as much as possible, though there are some things that you should do to make your class seem “legitimate,” like make sure the students remain standing after they enter the room until you tell them to sit down. I joked around with my students and made sure to praise their English so they felt comfortable speaking in class, and for the most part, the students responded well in my classes; they spoke a lot, quieted down when I asked, and did the work, even the ones who didn’t like English. The best thing you can do as an assistant is try to develop a rapport with your students as soon as possible, so they think of you as the cool assistant, and can’t wait for your classes. A few times during the year I had to send a student back to the teacher’s class; after that, the rest of the class behaved. And try to speak in as much English as possible. Use short and direct sentences, and talk with your hands as much as possible. My commnication with my students was 45% charades, 45% pictionary, and 10% speaking, but I never spoke a word of French with them.

So, there’s a few lesson ideas. I feel like I have to include the ultimate TAPIF mantra: Every TAPIF experience is different. These are all successful lessons that I did with multiple classes from sixième to troisième in four different collèges; not successful in the sense that I painfully managed to get through thirty minutes without the students tearing down the classrom, but successful like the students had fun, I had fun, and there was a lot of English speaking, listening, and comprehension . You’ll have to get to know your own students to figure out what will work, or what you may have to adjust, but hopefully some of these ideas will help you. If you have any questions, I am happy to answer them, and have fun with your students next year!