Thursday, February 10, 2011

French Supply Work

I get asked to supply teach French more often than I would prefer.   For instance, so far this week, three of my five days booked are au francais.  As I mentioned, in a past blog, I am about as uni-lingual as is humanly possible.  But Canpage (our supply booking system) obviously has picked up a misconception some where along the way, that Monsieur  H. is comfortable in French.
 But  I wasn't the only person in the school Tuesday, misidentified as a French teacher.  Another brand new Science/Math teacher came to me, wondering if I could help her find her materials.  "I'm not French and don't speak it.  I can't find the quiz that I have to give period five."

So I suggested finding a good English book, reading it aloud, doing some drama, or passing out fun worksheets for the kids.  You could tell she was rather green, because each of these suggestions seemed like a good idea (to me, at least) , but I wasn't seeing any lights flashing on, above her head.  Then I suggested we go and make a last check of her cart, just to be sure the quiz wasn't there, but hidden.  Wonder of wonders, there it lay, the mysterious quiz paper, in plain view, just like the day plan suggested.  I have to wonder how this teacher will navigate the first day plan, she gets, where nothing is where the teacher says it is!

The second thing I dislike about teaching French is the nomadic life you usually lead. Few schools have a French-dedicated room.  The French teacher tends to be itinerant, roaming from classroom to classroom, pushing the wheeled cart, hoping and praying they haven't forgotten anything of value, back in the cubbyhole they lovingly refer to as 'moi maison'.

Thirdly, because you are entering another teacher's domain, they are in all likelihood on their prep period.  The big issue here is that they are often marking or preparing for the next class, so they don't necessarily exit.  They just kind of lurk and hover in the background.  If my French was impeccable, I'd probably find this disconcerting.  So when you consider how woefully far, I fall short of fluency, try to imagine the panic that ensues.
I have found that it is best to come clean before the class immediately and admit you are not a French teacher and do not speak French fluently.  Then you grovel and ask for the students' help. "Maybe you can teach Mr. H. something."  Usually there is at least one little keener who is willing to read books aloud for you.  That in itself can get you out of a tight spot.  Then you can repeat back, the easy sentences, hoping that their pronunciation is somewhat accurate.  I've also found I can kill quite a few minutes reviewing colours, numbers, days of the week, months of the year etc.

And then there was yesterday.  A desperate call at 7:30 came from Canpage.  "We need a teacher for Core French, morning, and French Immersion in the afternoon. How do you feel about that?"

Let me see how do I feel?  If I turn it down, I don't teach today, there will be no bread on the table, and the wolf's big toe will be firmly wedged in the front doorway.  So I guess, how I feel is .......trapped.

The morning had its ups and downs.  First class was 6/7, the usual rudeness ("can I call you, Mr. Ho?", for example) but it was just worksheets and I demanded they be handed in at the end of the period.  Same for the 5/6's in period two.  One charming girl, at least 200 pounds plus (I know I should not discriminate, but this child knew the system and will no doubt abuse our welfare system to the end of her days), sat swilling cinnamon hearts the entire period, disrupting those around her, and refusing to do a lick of work.  Then there was the grade 8, non French immersion group - nice kids, but not a Rhode's scholar among them AND the teacher forget to leave any work for this particular group.  We spent 40 minutes discussing which high school they should attend next year.

The afternoon 7/8 French Immersion group was quite pleasant, but I have to worry about the efficacy of our French Immersion teaching program.  The teacher had left a Geography handout - three pages from a French textbook.  Obviously the teacher assumed he would have a French fluent replacement.  Apparently he usually just reads the pages aloud, translates paragraph by paragraph, as he goes.   Immediately we are beyond the realm of capability of Mr. H.  Fortunately I had several willing readers, who each did a paragraph. 

Now this is where my curiosity piques.  I would ask them to translate into English what they had just read.  None of them could do it, this from student with 8-10 years of intensive French instruction.  I found I was actually able to understand far more of the words than they could.  Fortunately I did have two boys in the class who were French, first language.  However, neither was particularly good at following along. When I'd ask if we had missed any key ideas, they'd both be stuttering and stammering, trying to find what paragraph I was referring to.  

The last half of the afternoon was simple French grammar, and they did seem to have a pretty fair grasp of this work.  So did I do okay?  Well I don't think I damaged anyone irreparably.

And that is all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

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