Saturday, July 18, 2009

Revenons à nos moutons

Literally, "Let's come back to our sheep." Colloquially, "Now, where were we?"

So...I have made it through my first week back teaching again. I have survived. No one was damaged, not even me, not even Miss Chef. Well, there's a plastic storage bin sitting just to my left here, which suffered some collateral damage, but y'know...Stuff happens.

Now that I've made it sound like a horrible experience, I have to say, my week went okay. Previous experience with various school administrations led me to watch out for myself, avoiding a couple of potential disasters. Experience in the classroom kept me from completely freaking out in Wednesday's class, when I realized I had left my lesson plan at home (although inside, I felt exactly like the picture above. Exactly). The students were actually a bit more interested than I expected them to be, and definitely more mature than high-school freshmen!

On the other hand, all that experience that buoyed me up was just a little bit further in the past than I had realized. I taught my last class in the spring of 2005, at a private high school in Alabama. Stepping into a classroom at a college-level, tech-savvy school 5 years later resulted in unexpected culture shock. I've gone from photocopied transparencies--saved carefully in my filing cabinet--to computer-linked projectors; from "leave it in my mailbox in the faculty room" to "leave it in the dropoff drive on the system." I had to ask a student to help me find the "Save As..." option on the newest version of Word. I felt like a dinosaur, and I'm not even 40 yet!

Although I'm very glad I got back into this before I completely fossilized, and I'm still optimistic about getting my shit together as I go, I do feel like there are a lot of obstacles in my path. I'm part-time, so don't have the opportunity for developing supportive peer relationships (or, in other words, dropping into conversation, "I finally found my drop-off drive" and gleaning helpful tips and tricks). Coming straight from a full-time office job, I arrive on campus only half an hour before class--assuming no traffic problems--and have to check two mailboxes, real and virtual, make my photocopies, address any administrative issues and hustle to the Other Building to get set up and focused on my lesson...this last of which hasn't really happened yet.

Beyond that, the classroom I'm in is a nightmare for a language teacher. It's long and narrow, and most of the "desk" space for the teacher is taken up by a ginormous computer, projector, and something else I can't figure out the need for. There are two dry-erase boards, but the larger one is blocked by a row of student desks; the smaller one is easy to get to, but mounted a bit high for a 5'2" person to use effectively. There are no windows, and an odd gap in the lighting that leaves one side of my board drearily dark.

It's no picnic for the students, either. Since they are seated in straight rows 5 or 6 deep, they are constantly peering around each other to see me. They have the dinkiest little chair-desks I've ever seen. The equipment on the desk blocks the lower third of the board (remembering I can't reach the top third). And their books still hadn't arrived by Wednesday.

And the book...oh my. If it weren't for copyright laws, I would have told them not to bother buying it, and photocopied all of my high school French 1 textbook for them. It's not a bad book for what it's meant for, but it was not, NOT meant to be a textbook. So between writing a new syllabus in a weekend, making up for the huge gaps in the textbook that none of the students has, and learning to write two-hour lesson plans, the students are not the only ones climbing a steep learning curve!

Oh, and have I mentioned that Miss Chef's Chef is planning on attending my class on Mondays? He's also an adjunct faculty member there, and teaches on Monday afternoons. His family is French, but he's never really learned the language, and thought this would be a perfect opportunity.

Now, it may sound cool to have a familiar face in the room, but anyone who's done any performance work can attest to the fact that it's much easier to play to a room of strangers. Even in my most dedicated, focused teaching days, when I asked a colleague to sit in on a class, just because I wanted feedback, I was embarrassingly self-conscious having someone else in there.

I think part of it is that you develop a relationship with your class that's unique. You have inside jokes, common experiences, stories you've told on yourselves. You all behave a little differently, especially in a foreign language. My teaching self is not the same as my restaurant / farmer's market self. Like improv, there's a little bit of trust involved--in fact, I flat-out tell my students at the beginning of a course, "We're all going to be making funny noises, and I'm going to be doing some goofy stuff up here" (I do a lot of exaggerated pantomime to supplement sentences I know they're only getting bits of).

So...I hope I can trust you, Chef. Actually, I've seen him do some pretty goofy things, so I guess we're even.

Well, revenons à nos moutons... I'm acutely aware that this sounds like a bitch session. But the truth is, I'm kind of looking forward to meeting this challenge. Monday's class went okay, no better or worse than I had expected. Wednesday's class, after recovering from the missing lesson plan, went a little better, but I stumbled a bit where I had planned to use the book. the students left, I felt that their patience with their distracted, disrupted, discombobulated instructor was beginning to run out.

So, this weekend I have been spending time putting together a much better organized, alternative-laced lesson plan for Monday. I plan to get my copies done pronto, get to the room early, and perhaps even do some rearranging. I will still turn red when Chef Adam shows up, but I'll be ready for it (I think). And, most of important of all, I will take a moment to stop, take a breath and remember: this is my class. I'm in control. And I do know what I'm doing.


  1. Sounds like you are on the right track despite your frustrations. Way to go! It's so exciting to read about your new adventure. And of course, being a sheep person, you used one of my favourite French expressions. Yay!

  2. So it is part-time, and you keeping your full-time job. Sounds like a good opportunity for ya, getting back into teaching. Good luck.

  3. That's not a bitch session, you're just telling it like it is! Tres bienl, ma petite chou-fleur.

  4. "this is my class. I'm in control. And I do know what I'm doing. "

    Just remember to remember it in french!!

  5. I'm excited for you Flar. Enjoy your new teaching domain. You are a real natural and will be wonderful with your class... I just know it.


  6. You go girl!! lol! Your posts are always so entertaining and fun. If you teach in the same way, your students will be content to just soak it all up.

    Hmmm, and now I understand why all the public schools in our area periodically give away their used curriculum and text books to our homeschool community....and why I don't bother with looking at those books or bringing them home anymore. hehe!


  7. If you teach as well as you write your class and students will be fantastic!!!!!

    Hang in there. You ARE in control :-)


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