This week is my last week as an English Teaching Assistant here in France. Yes, my contract has come to a close. So, if you will, raise a glass (preferably champagne), for a toast to this past year:
To the 16-year old girls tottering around in their sky-high heels on skinny French legs clad in skinny jeans, looking like baby giraffes
To the mispronunciation of most words, making “fit” sound like “feet” or conversely “seat” sound like “sit”
To the French speech impediment which causes most students to fink zis iz ze way you pronounce ze “th”
To being confused for a student at least once a week, by both students and faculty – including the time I was told to get to class because I was late
To having a student ask me why I didn’t use the word “nigger” during a video exercise involving Martin Luther King, Jr.
To being completely unprepared to explain the complicated and hateful cultural and historical connotations of a word that French teens associate just with Kanye West, gold chains, or pimps&hos
To having an Afghani student tell me the only time he’d shot a gun was when he had his “dick cut off” (after picking my jaw up off of the floor, I gently told him the polite term was “circumcision”)
To holding court over an empty classroom at least once a week because the students (a) weren’t told to come, (b) forgot to come, (c) or did not want to come
To each awkward nod-smile-bonjour in the teacher’s lounge
To those few teachers who made attempts to be friendly, striking up conversations and suffering through my broken French – I appreciated it more than you realize
To nearly breaking the printer about four different times
To not knowing I had a locker in the teacher’s lounge until March
To the students who don’t realize that I understand every word they’re saying in French, and who are subsequently mortified when I accurately respond to them
To having an entire class of students nod and smile through my introduction to the activity, but when I tell them to begin, their smiles turn to looks of fear and confusion
To hearing the phrase, “Ah, putain! C’est chaud!” every time I give them something remotely educational to do
To French students being the World’s Best Whisperers
To never once being evaluated in the span of 8 months
To instructing students to use the phrase “piece of paper” instead of “sheet of paper” because, damn if it doesn’t sound like “shit of paper” every time
To the kids who haven’t yet gotten the hang of basic hygiene and force me to open a window at 8:30am on a December morning
To the kids who have just discovered the magic of cologne/aftershave/perfume and force me to open a window at 8:30am on a December morning
To classes of students who said a total of 5 English words in the span of an hour
To classes of students who, despite grammatical difficulties or pronunciation stumbles, happily debated the pros/cons of US gun control or fiercely competed at Scattergories, and had me smiling from ear to ear the rest of the day
To being hit on by 16-year old boys
To the girls who come into my classes looking like Zara models, bringing me to the realization that having your shit together doesn’t necessarily come with age
To that one time I got caught in the mosh pit of students smoking during the 10:30am break
To vowing I would never let it happen again
To the group of English teachers who were never anything but totally kind, if at times a bit unorganized
To learning how to build relationships with others in ways I’ve never had to before, based on age, cultural, or professional differences
And most of all: To gaining complete empathy and respect for every teacher I’ve ever had.
This year is one I would never regret and will absolutely never forget. Working with lycéens has been a much greater culture shock than I perhaps would have imagined many months ago, but a shock that has made me much more in tune with France. You want to know what makes a country tick? Go hang out with its youth for a few months; not only will you know what’s hip, but you will quickly learn why the adults of the country behave as they do. This position not only brought me better understanding, but made me a more understanding and patient person. I’ve grown in ways I didn’t expect to, and have been taught by this experience as much as I myself have taught others.
…what a long, strange trip it’s been. Santé!