What am I doing in Montpellier when I am not in class? Well, every Monday afternoon and Thursday morning, I take the tram (the public transportation here) to a little town right outside of Montpellier to get to a small private school where I am interning. I had no clue what I was walking into the first week I went because I was not told what I would be doing just where and when to show up (in typical French fashion). The first day, I was introduced to some of the teachers (or maîtresses in French) and I visited three different classes where I introduced myself as an American student and let the students ask me questions about the United States or the English language. I was at the school for about 3 hours and before I left for the day, I was told to prepare a small activity or lesson for the students that would teach them a little English. How hard could that be right?
Well, I was wrong. Here’s a story about how crazy this internship really is. Last Monday when I went to the school, one of the teachers told me I would be with the 5 year old class because their teacher was sick. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when she told me that, but it definitely wasn’t what I walked into. As I walked in the classroom, I noticed that there was not another teacher there. Shortly after I realized that the other teacher I had spoken to had told me that I would be the only teacher for the 5 year old class for the rest of the day. Now it was only 2:00pm and their school did not end until 5:00. As the door shut behind me and 14 french children looked up at me expectingly, I knew I was in for a rough time. I had only prepared one activity for the class because I was used to only being with different classes for about an hour each and here I was expected to occupy the kids and try to teach them English for three hours without any materials left for me to use. Definitely not the ideal day.
The first part of the afternoon, when I actually had an activity planned to do with the students, wasn’t too bad. The only problem was that the children eventually got bored of the activity I was doing and all of the kids decided they had to go to the bathroom/get water/ or get out of their seats around the same time. Trying to tell 5 year olds to sit down or wait their turns is not easy in English let alone when the children couldn’t understand what I was saying because of my not so great French accent. At one point in the day I was so flustered that I started saying “sit down, por favor”. I am still not sure why I started saying some words in Spanish considering I have never taken Spanish before and have been in France for the past month?? Anyway, I eventually found some puzzles in the room which occupied them for a little while so that I could find something else to teach. By the end of the day, I was relieved when the other teacher came back into the classroom to tell me it was time for dismissal.
As I think back to that afternoon, I am grateful for all of my years as a camp counselor having to come up with activities on the spot. I am also a little confused as to how this French school thought that I (an American student with no real teaching experience) was qualified to teach a classroom of 14 five-year olds for three hours who only speak French. On the bright side though, I definitely got to practice my French speaking and comprehension skills as there was no one to help me understand what the kids were saying. Thankfully, that was the only day where I was the substitute teacher and I have been back to the regular schedule of going to a few different classes each time I am at the school. After that experience though, I always have extra activities and lessons in my back pocket incase I am thrown into another classroom for the day.
My internship is without a doubt an interesting way to get to know the French education system and the French language even better… even if it comes with some difficult days. I am excited to spend more time at the school and get to know the teachers and students even better. The last time I was there I was even given the typical French greeting of kissing cheeks (faire la bise) by one of the teachers at the school when I got there! I felt very French in that moment. For now though, I am glad that I have the next two weeks off from my internship as the school is closed for the French vacation. I took advantage of this spare time by traveling to Paris this past weekend. Stay tuned for another post in the next few days about my adventures in Paris! Au revoir for now!