Monday, October 23, 2006


…and secondly, the work side!
I've now been at school for three and a bit weeks (one observing week and two teaching weeks), and time has flown by. My twelve hours are spread 4 monday, 1 tuesday, 5 thursday, 1 friday, and 1 to stack up and use in the second half of my contract (after january) on specific practice for oral exams. The tuesday and friday hours are both 8.20-9.15, which means a very early start (metro at 7.30, which is always a sardine tin although not a business-man in sight), but also a nice early finish leaving me the rest of the day to get on with other things, or plan my next lessons! The English teachers at school are all lovely in their different ways, although slightly confusing because they all want me to do different sorts of things with their classes, some give me totally free choice, one actually prepares my lesson for me, others like to discuss topics to do with them…some like me to base it on what they're currently doing in class while others want it to be complementary. The classes I have are:
Seconde, Première and Terminale "Euro"–yr 11, yr 12, yr 13 classes doing the European Baccalaureat which means they learn (and take exams in) history and geography *in English*.
Première and Terminale "Renforcé"–yr 12 and yr 13 who have chosen 'further english' as one of their Bac options
Première and Terminale S, L: "Normal" classes of yrs 12 and 13, who are doing sciency bacalaureat or literaryish one.
The classes I have are almost entirely half-classes (and I then get the other half the following week), so between 8-15 students. 15 is quite a big group, 8 much much more easy to work with, although 15 can make for good team games. Although a lot of what I am doing reminds me horrifically of what I used to have to do in assistant lessons, I'm not quite doing just conversation, but lessons about cultural topics with the main emphasis on oral work. It's fun, but it's very strange being the teacher and realising that only four years ago you were in the same position as your class. Especially when you can see things both from the teacher's position and the student's, and you realise how much you never thought of at school…Odd. But satisfying when it works and they are interested and keen.
The Euro classes are the nicest. The renforcé classes, strangely, are the worst. The most annoying thing is that by the time they get into 'première' the kids seem to have got utterly bored and/or have had all imagination drummed out of them, so I actually often find the seconde are nicer to teach. The French system of 'laicité' means that you are constantly treading a thin line as soon as you start talking about politics or culture…which, as an assistant, is exactly what one is asked to do. Also, as a result of never really having been educated about other cultures or viewpoints the students find it really hard to empathise with other groups of people and to imagine themselves into situations.
They are taught, endlessly, about America. They know almost nothing about Britain apart from the usual stereotypes (it always rains and the food is disgusting but the people were quite nice). This too seems rather bizarre to me, and so this year is going to be a British culture intensive course. If you can think of anything particularly fun or quirky do suggest it! To French students, France is the centre of the world (of course) and so I was amused to be asked the other day "why do you have a french name?"
The school system is bizarre in that, in a lycée the size of hills road (well, nearly–over 1000 students) there are no departmental offices or corridor pigeon holes, so no way of contacting teachers outside lessons, nor is there anything like form-time or registration, at which the class might gather and be given general information by their class teacher. What there are are "CPE" (conseiller principal d'education) who are employed full-time to do registration admin (given them on a slip by every teacher from every class) and to deal with disciplinary issues. It's all rather different.
School choir is amusing, as they are putting on dido and aeneas (purcell) in English. But the music teacher's well-meaning english pronunciation is rubbish. I am making friends with the girls who do singing at the conservatoire, and we are laughing about it together (and trying not to gang up *too* much on the poor music teachers).
So far, apart from introducing myself to the classes, I've done lessons on the english school system, Britain's place in the E.U, Gandhism, Hallowe'en, Tongue twisters, W H Auden "Stop all the clocks', Ambitions and dreams, 1920s America, Green Living, English houses, The history of Cambridge (town), and multiculturalism in Wembley. To name but a few.
More news soon: time to think about what to do tomorrow morning!

Fun things

Well it's now a rather long time since I reported any 'news' in my blog, as various of you have been pointing out, so I thought I'd better update you on both halves of my life in the last two or three weeks…firstly, the social side:
Life in 'colocation' continues to go very well indeed, we've now de-cluttered several of the bits of furniture that were clogging our corridors up, built a big double bed in the living room and decorated the sofas with african throws in a blue theme, plus we bought a coconut plant from ikea so it now appears much more settled and homely. We've also cleaned the windows in the kitchen and our bedrooms, so life is much more sparkly and doesn't always look like it's raining! A definite improvement. My curtains are still not quite up (though I have shutters too so it doesn't really matter) as the hook fell off the wall. Oops. But I do have speakers for my laptop, so the film-watching and music potential of my computer has improved manyfold. Washing up is getting a little rarer, not least because I appear to be the only person who ever clears the rack of clean things, but that is only to be expected. Visitor frequency has gone down so the living room has been more available for film watching and game playing and (I'm there at the moment) working, which has been nice and sociable. Meanwhile everyone is settling into their particular weekly routine, full of work, sport and the odd spot of music practice. And at least three parties, in Max's case.
My hunt for a choir finally resolved itself 'lors de' my audition for the Choeur d'Oratorio de Lyon on october 11th. I arrived somewhat out of breath as the place where it was was at the other end of a VERY long road from the metro station I had gone to, and so I had been somewhat in a rush. As a result I didn't sing incredibly well during my two pieces, but I polished my halo by sight reading a piece of ?Debussy?, at any rate something complex and french, in french, in a manner which I thought passable but the choir director, after saying that I'd pronounced all my 'u' too openly, promptly told me it had been superb and that she would therefore have me in her choir. Slightly apprehensive therefore about the level of sight reading I would encounter, I stayed for the rehearsal. It's a 40-50 strong choir, to all intents and purposes the partner choir of the Orchestre National de Lyon, so well-publicised and reasonably well-known. They can't all sight-read perfectly by any means but most of them can sight-read (which is something), and they all have nice, trained, voices. Plus there are some students there (the average age is probably not much above 35), and I went out for a drink with them after rehearsals last wednesday and they seem lovely. More friends! The choir rehearses most wednesdays, some weekends, and gives about a concert a month, and there are about 4 concert programmes during the year: the first includes fauré requiem (what a surprise), the second will be mahler 3rd symphony (girls only), then later in the year there's a beethoven mass, a programme of spanish polyphony, and the last of the year poulenc stabat mater. Some things I've done before but most that I haven't so I think it will be fun. Also, I went on a 'velo'v' (a city bike) for the first time to get to my rehearsal on Saturday, and although it was a little scary I managed to stay on the right side of the road and use the right brakes, and not get lost!
On Wednesdays I've taken on a babysitting job, playing with a little, very bubbly three year-old called Camille. She is not bothered at all that I talk to her in English sometimes, and not at all phased by me being there despite not being used to babysitters, and apparently usually she will have a nap (otherwise four hours can be quite tiring!). She is also mad about Mary Poppins. Hopefully I will get a photo of her with her favourite toy 'caillou' and her big long-haired cat "Aristote" soon.
Last week I had my 'stage d'accueil' at school which was a pointless waste of time in all ways but one, which was that I did at least get to meet the other english assistants, among them a lovely girl called Claire who is as mad as I am and who has done the Oxbridge yo-yo thing the other way round to me (born in oxford, lived in cambridge, now at Oxford). Bizarre eh. Anyway so Claire, Hattie and I have been discovering Lyon a bit together since and it has been lots of fun. On Friday we three plus max, gareth, olivier, lesley, jean-matthieu, chiara (an italian assistant from perugia), rebecca and victoria went to see Snow Patrol and a couple of bizarre French bands (one good, one definitely less so) play at a place called "le Transbordeur", which has a lot in common with the Junction. €15 and a lot of fun, although it was chucking it down with rain so going and coming home were less pleasant.
Actually, I'm telling all this in the wrong order but never mind. One monday a couple of weeks back was the Old Lyon Pub Crawl. 7 pubs and at the end if your team had all been to all 7 you got a t-shirt. Lots of students, good fun had by all.
Went to see "Le parfum" at the cinema, a veeeeery strange film. Thinking of going to see 'The Queen' sometime soon…the english teachers at school were raving about how good it was today. Anyone agree?
A couple of weekends ago Max, Antonia and I went to the "Ile Barbe" a tiny island in the middle of the Saône, not a lot to see but quite cute all the same and a good place to go to have a barbecue/play cards on the 'beach'.
Saturday before last I went to coffee at one of the english teachers' houses, met her family and her dog "rugby". She has two daughters around my age–one wasn't there, but Eve seemed very nice and hopefully I will get to know them a bit better. Marie-Claude's husband was telling me all about 'Belle du Seigneur' by Cohen which is a huuuuge novel (1968) which I am now dying to read (but first, my year abroad project…).
Tomorrow I have one more lesson before half term, and we are going out to dinner with all the language teachers and all the assistants at my school, which will be lovely. On thursday I have my second singing lesson with Veronique (had my trial lesson and it went very well so I am now subscribed for a year of such…) , then I am going to the musée gallo-romain because it's free on thursdays, then I'm going to the Opera (Lohengrin) with Rebecca, and…on friday…I'm going to Bologna, then to Rome for the weekend!
Hope that is enough to be going on with…will update again soon-and more pics of Lyon coming up!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

France: the strange, the annoying and the utterly illogical

So, I thought it about time that I told you some of the more ridiculous aspects of my life in Lyon. In particular, I'd like to give you all a taste of how absurd French bureaucracy is. So, in a quick summary…
1. To start with, it is no joke to say that arriving in Lyon for the year on september 19th was, in some ways, already too late. As for all those I've met who arrived after that, they didn't stand a chance. Everything that is music, sport or other activities begins 'inscriptions' on september 1st and most of them finish 'inscript'ing people on september 29th. To 'inscrire' you usually need money, and that needs to be a cheque. Cheque books take two weeks to arrive (do not ask why) and so you need to have set up your bank account more than two weeks before you try to do this. Which means, before the middle of september. Thankfully I wasn't too late for *everything* and in some cases if you've missed 'inscription' you can just turn up anyway. But imagine if you came to Lyon for a six month 'stage' that began in, say, January. You would be, quite honestly, stuck. D'oh.
2. There is nothing, not even the helpful country notes from the British Council, that clearly tells you in what order to go about attacking the stacks of paperwork when you arrive, yet there is definitely an order. Bank account comes number 1…but to get that you need an 'attestation de domiciliation' (proof of address)-fine if you are living with someone who can 'atteste' you but not if you're living alone. Then, you need to fill in work contracts and social security forms, house contracts (for which you need endless pointless pieces of paper, including your parents' details even if they can't be your rent guarantor because they're english and even if you have proof of your salary). Only once you have finally got through this (the agency will always tell you a different set of papers on the phone to when you actually arrive there) can you then apply for the 'CAF' which will give you back some of your rent money. A lot of amusement can be gained by discovering whether by claiming you are 'concubiné' with another flatmate you could both get more money…this is, apparently, the only situation where non-married couples receive extra benefits. Don't even start asking why.
3. The bank will eventually send you a letter telling you to collect your bank card from the branch…that is fairly standard, what you don't expect is that you will then pay a further two visits to the bank before they do actually have your card there. Nor that they will then fail to tell you that your cheque book is also there for you to collect. In the meantime, the one thing that will arrive will be your internet banking access codes. Okay, thinks you, I'll pay my rent by online transfer. Ah no, for to do that, you must add the recipient as a 'beneficiaire' and then wait for the bank to *post* you a confirmation code, before you can proceed. In other words, it is 20 times faster just to go to your branch. However, if, like Hattie, your branch is a long way away, you are even more stuck because other branches of the same bank will tell you they can't deal with your account. Helpful.
4. School. It is well crazy. I got "convoqué" for my training course (if you can call it that) last friday. I got three copies of a sheet of paper telling me I had been convoqué, whereas Tom (the other assistant) didn't get one at all. There was no kind of explanation of how to understand the form (there never is, all forms in france are incomprehensible and unexplained), and half of the paper was taken up with a form to fill in for 'remboursement des frais' (travel expenses) despite the fact that the paper clearly stated just lines above, that no expenses were to be reimbursed. Given the general level of french of the assistants (not to be boastful, but those of us who can actually speak well on arrival are in a minority) I would be very surprised if most would have understood the little tiny print saying 'vous etes convoqué pour le stage suivant:' meaning it's your legal duty to attend. And goodness only knows why I needed it three times (and the headmaster bothered to sign all three…).
The students have a form tutor, or "professeur principal" but they have no registration, assembly or form time (each teacher takes a register of their group every lesson). So how the devil do they get information? As far as I can work out they have a form rep who goes and gets stuff in the morning but who knows how the teachers actually communicate with the classes. It's a very complex system. In addition, the kids can never have trouble with their homework as there's no way of finding teachers other than "lurking" around their classroom at the end of a lesson, totally impractical when everyone's rushing to the next class…
For some unknown reason teachers, even 'part-time' ones like me who are not civil servants unlike the others, are not allowed to take another part time job (the social security computer would crash…apparently. Sounds like a rather stupid computer system to me), although apparently we can apply to be allowed to by filling in yet another piece of paper that will go through school headteacher and regional education man, and probably be lost in some black hole of paperwork. As my friendly teachers pointed out the other day, this is absurd because with an assistant's salary you might have time to travel but you certainly don't have a lot of money!
5. Shop assistants and receptionists. Perhaps it's just me, but my impression is that in England people try to sell you things. Here it is totally not the case. There are loads of people on the street shoving leaflets into your hand…but if you go into a shop, the shop assistants are either apathetic or plain unhelpful. If you are looking for something they don't have, they just say sorry no, they will not try to sell you something similar, nor will they suggest where you might find it. If you ask what they have in the way of…they'll show you one, but they won't try to encourage you to get the next most expensive one because it has this or that advantage. If there's some kind of a promotion the chances are you'll have to specifically ask for it, they won't tell you about it…

Time to plan some lessons now so i'll finish this later…thank you to all of you who've sent me letters/postcards recently–replies coming up soon!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A little known fact

There are 130,000 students in Lyon.
That's more than 4 times as many as there are in Cambridge, even if you include APU "Ruskin"…

How do I know? Because the town has put up posters around the place to welcome them. I think maybe the lyonnais aren't very interested in posters, as my class this morning had no idea there were so many…

Incidentally, the first transport strike of my year abroad is on thursday. Yay.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lyon-first photos

Some views of Lyon taken from the top of Fourvière hill…
Firstly, a view to the modern city centre, the big big big square with a statue in it is Bellecour and I live just on the left hand far side of it…

Secondly, La Cathédrale de St Jean…

Thirdly, Sally and a panorama of the Presqu'ile…

Fourthly the Fourvière Basilica, west facade

and finally, the kitchen at our flat soon, hopefully, also to be adorned by six individual photos of all the 'colocs'…


Here are a few pictures from the first two weeks "chez nous"… Lune, playing with my rug…

My bed (the room's been changed round now, but getting a duvet and pillows was a very important stage…)

Mymy, Antonia, Max and Blandine in the living
room the first day I arrived…

…and last but not least, Max with a chicken carcass…