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Get off our Lawn

Charlottesville, Virginia is one of my favorite places in the world. It was my home for four years while I attended the University of Virginia, and there’s still a part of me would be willing to move back in a heartbeat. Lots of people are emotionally attached to their university towns, but Charlottesville is truly special. A little blue dot in a sea of rural right-wingers, this little town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains is progressive, artistic, quirky, and utterly charming.

Today, and for the past few months, Charlottesville has become the epicenter for a kind of bigotry and hatred that the country hasn’t seen in decades, and I’m pretty conflicted about it.

My home state of Virginia is home to a violent and oppressive history. Thomas Jefferson’s university was built by slaves. There is a confederate graveyard in the middle of its grounds. Construction of a new academic building halted when they uncovered a slave cemetery. “Tradition” is honored above all, often to the detriment of progressive change. In short, UVA is full of rich white frat bros who would probably be hard to distinguish from some of the Nazis protesting today. Some of them ARE the Nazis protesting today: Richard Spencer is an alumnus of the university.

But people in the Charlottesville and the University communities have worked very hard to shine a light and tell stories of the oppression of people of color. To tell the truth about the city’s historic relationship with race. That slave cemetery that was uncovered while digging the foundation for the new building? The building was moved to a different plot of land and the site is now part of the Virginia Landmarks Register.

The white supremacy rally that was held yesterday was partly in response to the removal of a statue of confederate general Robert E Lee from a public park. My friend Adam explains perfectly:

Charlottesville is just at the beginning of a journey reconciling her history of racism.

Lee Park and Jackson Park were built in the 1920s on the edges of black neighborhoods. They remind us that white residents of Charlottesville refused to see black residents as their neighbors. They tell our children that these men deserve our respect because they were “good men” even though they fought in service of a crime against humanity.

Today they are called Emancipation Park and Justice Park, and the statues are coming down.

Charlottesville has just started to do what every city in the south needs to do: examine her monuments to a racist ideology, and reject that ideology resoundingly. And today she is under attack by neo-Nazis.

The people of Charlottesville were made targets not because they accept or support white supremacy, but exactly because they have been progressively working hard to expose its symbols and influence.

This week, I read March, a series of graphic novels by congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis. They were extraordinarily moving accounts of his experiences participating in lunch counter sit-ins, getting arrested countless times as one of the first Freedom Riders, making a keynote speech at the March on Washington, and getting brutally injured on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

I learned a lot about the philosophy and organization of the civil rights movement that I wasn’t fully aware of from what I’d learned in school. I hadn’t realized how insistent the movement’s organizers were on the idea of peaceful protesting and meeting hatred and violence with love and peace. I didn’t know that “nonviolence” is not just a description but a philosophy that requires training and heroic amounts of discipline and restraint. They needed to practice looking their aggressors in the eye, connecting with their humanity, and loving them. Always protesting out of love.

I am afraid, because I don’t think this philosophy of nonviolent action is as significant or rigorous a part of what is going on right now in Charlottesville and all around the country. It’s easy to say “let’s have a peaceful protest” but not as easy to practice. John Lewis taught me how directly non-violence was responsible for the success of the civil rights movement. I’m afraid because it seems like there is just as much hate on the left as there is on the right. And as valid as the anger may be, hatred will never be a productive solution. Hatred is violence.

I don’t have any answers. I understand that Charlottesville is not a miracle safe-haven. It has flaws like any other place. But I am proud to have called it my home. It is a city that considers its history one of its biggest strengths, and is doing the hard work of confronting and undoing its darkest past. It’s a city that won’t be intimidated by tiki torches and bigoted chants. And it’s a place I know to be full of extreme beauty and love.

Visit Charlottesville! Eat the best bagels outside of New York. Walk the serpentine paths constructed by Jefferson at one of the country’s best and most beautiful public universities. Visit the locally owned bookstores, coffee shops, markets, and ice cream parlors. Hike the Monticello trail, or swim at Blue Hole or climb Old Rag mountain. Fall in love.❂

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Anne’s Essential Marseille : 5 walks

Over the past few months, I’ve had the great fortune of hosting friends and family in Marseille! During these visits, I developed a route that would take us through all of the “essentials” of the city: tourism sites, local culture, boats, beaches, etc. I decided to put all my favorites on a Google map, so you too can experience my personal Marseille tour in five walks. If you want to see everything on the map, you’ll need two or three days — unless you wake up at the crack of dawn and power walk your way through everything. But I don’t really recommend that…

Walk I: Le Cours Julien to the Vieux Port

This is always the first walk I take my guests on because I live near the very cool, bohemian neighborhood of Cours Julien, hence it’s always our de facto starting point. Here, the alleys are filled with local boutiques, restaurants and bars, and the walls are covered with ever-changing street art. I also love to take my guests through the Marché de Noailles, a daily food market in a busy and colorful North African quarter in the heart of central Marseille.

Click for full walking directions


Head up rue des Trois Mages towards Place Jean Jaurès. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, spend some time wandering the huge Marché de la Plaine open air market that sells all manner of things from produce to trinkets to clothes, mattresses, cookware and more. Turn right onto rue Andre Piogglioli and then take a right at rue des Trois Rois. While ogling the street art, take a left on any one of the perpendicular streets; my favorite is rue Pastoret because of its colorful decorations and whimsical boutiques. This will lead you to the main square of Cours Julien. Stop for a coffee or ice cream at Ego, or head across the square to the Cours Julien Staircase. After a photo or two, head down the stairs and across the footpath, and take a right onto rue d’Aubagne. Turn right on rue Rudolph Pollack to walk through the main produce section of the Marché de Noailles. Once you’ve wandered through the stalls, turn left on rue Longue des Capucins. Notice all the small butchers, bakers, and grocers selling inexpensive food. Take a peek inside Saladin’s — a gem of Noailles, this spice market sells just about every kind of spice imaginable and smells heavenly! Take a right back onto rue d’Aubagne and then turn left at the St Louis Hotel. Cross the street and continue straight ahead to the Vieux Port!

Walk II: The Vieux Port to Vallon des Auffes

From the Vieux Port, there are many options depending on how much time you have, and what you’re interested in visiting. I love showing my guests the very beginning of the area of coastline known as La Corniche. This 40 (or so) minute walk takes you along Marseille’s coast, up to a Le Pharo park perched high above the port, and past one of its sand beaches to a picturesque little fishing port. I love bringing a picnic and some beers to the beach and taking in the colors and sounds of the Mediterranean. Bus 82 departing from the Vieux Port takes roughly the same route, if you need a break from walking.

Click for full walking directions

From the center of the Vieux Port, walk along the left side, Quai de Rive Neuve. You’ll pass a bunch of bustling bars and pubs which are great for a pastis or other apéro in the afternoon sun. You might recognize the interior of Bar de la Marine from the scene in Love Actually where Colin Firth awkwardly proposes in Portuguese. Continue past Fort Saint Nicolas on your left and up the hill. You’ll eventually arrive at the entrance to Parc Émile Duclaux on the right-hand side of the street, and I highly recommend taking a quick detour inside the park to get an incredible view over the harbor—but beware, this hill is often very windy! The park is also known as Le Pharo because of the Palais du Pharo planted in the center. Built in 1858 by the Emperor Napoleon III for his wife Eugénie, this grand palace is now a convention hall and also houses some offices of the Aix-Marseile University. After exiting the park, continue to the right on Boulevard Charles Livon. You’ll basically stay straight on this road for the rest of the walk. After the road curves to the left, you’ll come across Plage des Catalans. This beach is admittedly not Marseille’s very best, but its accessibility makes it a really popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Take a slight right onto Corniche President John F. Kennedy (no joke- there’s also a Cours Franklin Roosevelt elsewhere in the city!) and soak in the gorgeous glittering blues of the Mediterranean. You’ll eventually reach the stately Monument aux Armées d’Afrique, a memorial to soldiers who fought in the Algerian war. Cross the street from the monument and head down the stairs, Escalier du Vallon des Auffes to arrive in the small fishing port.

Walk III: The Vieux Port to Le Panier/MuCEM

This walk takes you to the opposite side of the Vieux Port into Marseille’s oldest neighborhood, Le Panier. I love spending hours wandering all of the tiny winding streets, and then usually head over to one of my favorite sites in Marseille: MuCEM and the Fort Saint-Jean. The Fort is another great place to bring a picnic to enjoy Marseille’s history and famous sunshine.

Click for full walking directions

Head to the right side of the Vieux Port, Quai du Port. Turn right at the fancy Hotel de Ville onto rue de la Mairie. Go through the big plaza towards the impressive Intercontinental Hotel, housed in a former hospital, and turn left on rue Caisserie. Continue around rue Caisserie and take a slight right onto Place de Lenche, a square with a killer view surrounded by cafés and often buzzing with activity. You’ll pass by a biscuiterie, Les Navettes des Accoules, which has been making traditional navette cookies for years. I am super obsessed with these slightly chewy cookies lightly flavored with orange blossom, and always pick up a bag when I’m in the neighborhood. From Place de Lenche, I highly recommend wandering through the winding alleyways of Le Panier; you are sure to stumble across something interesting, be it a wacky boutique or some surprising street art. To continue on the itinerary on the map, head straight onto rue de l’Évêché and then right toward rue Sainte-Françoise. Take a minute to pop into the Undartground boutique where local street artists sell some of their work, or stop in Bar des 13 Coins for a café in a very local atmosphere. Turning left on rue du Panier, you’ll pass several quaint shops and narrow streets. Continue until you find the staircase on rue des Moulins. This will lead you to Place des Moulins, where three windmills that used to power the city once stood. Continue down the hill on rue des Moulins and take a right on Montée des Accoules. If you continue straight ahead, you’ll end up back at the top of Place de Lenche!

From there, let’s head toward the impressive Cathédrale La Major. Make your way back to rue de l’Évêché and turn left this time at rue Four du Chapitre. Continuing onto Place de la Major, you can’t miss the massive cathedral on your right, nor will you be able to resist the beautiful blue of the sea beyond it. From the parvis of the cathedral, head down the stairs towards Esplanade J4 and Marseille’s newest museum, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilization or MuCEM opening in 2013. This museum has an eclectic interdisciplinary permanent collection, and regularly hosts really interesting temporary exhibitions on all manner of subjects that reflect the cultural melting pot of Marseille and Mediterranean cultures. Once inside the museum, feel free to pay for entry into the exhibits, or follow signs to the top floor terrace (entry here is free) where you will be able to cross the pedestrian footpath into Fort Saint Jean. Explore the many levels and lookouts from the fort which has been recently renovated and now has tons of seating areas for a picnic or just a little rest. This fort was built in 1660 by King Louis XIV. With its position at the mouth of the city’s port, one would naturally assume that it was an important protection against invading forces. In fact, the fort was built in response to a rebel uprising “in order to subdue the spirit of independence of the city of Marseille” as Wikipedia puts it – the canons pointed toward the town, not out to sea. When you’ve finished exploring the different levels, take one of the exits out of the fort back to Le Panier or the Vieux Port.

Walk IV: The Vieux Port to La Bonne Mère

All visitors to Marseille should make a point to visit Notre Dame de la Garde, or La Bonne Mère as it is known by the marseillais. Besides being an iconic symbol of Marseille and offering an unbeatable vantage point over the city, the church itself is quite remarkable and one of the reasons I originally fell in love with Marseille, to be honest. There are many ways up, some probably more scenic than the route I usually take, but I like to be direct, especially since it’s a pretty steep climb. If you’re not feeling like a 30 minute walk straight up the hill, I highly recommend the Tourist Train which departs from Quai du Port, loops around La Corniche and then climbs up to La Bonne Mère. Otherwise, bus 60 departing from the Vieux Port will take you there for around 2 euro a ride.

Click for full walking directions

From the top of the Vieux Port, head to the left towards Quai de Rive Neuve. Walk about halfway down and turn left on rue Fort Notre Dame and continue straight until the roundabout. Take the second exit to the right, turning onto rue des Brusques. Continue straight ahead and you will see the leafy Parc Pierre Puget. You could continue the climb through this hidden gem of a park, or turn right and then left to stay on Cours Pierre Puget. Turn right onto Boulevard André Aune and walk up the giant hill…… don’t forget to turn around and see the view of the Vieux Port as you ascend! Take the stairs at the top of the hill and turn right onto Montée de la Bonne Mère. Follow the stairs (yes, more stairs) until you arrive at the church. Enjoy the spectacular 360° views!

Walk V: Les Réformés to Palais Longchamp

This final part of the tour isn’t as essential, but if you’ve got the time, Palais Longchamp is worth a wander! This “palais d’eau” was erected in the late 19th century to celebrate the arrival of water in Marseille! Aside from the monumental fountain and sprawling park, it now also houses the Museum of Natural History and Museum of Fine Arts.

Click for full walking directions

From our original starting point (my apartment!) near Cours Julien, cross the street towards rue de la Bibliothèque. Turn left and descend rue Curiol. This street is always interesting because of all the prostitutes that hang out in the doorways! They probably won’t bother you, but if you’d prefer to avoid them, you can take one of the parallel streets instead 🙂 Once you reach the bottom of rue Curiol, you will have arrived at La Canebière, Marseille’s famous artery, often called the Champs-Elysées of Marseille, so well-known there’s even a song about it! The Square Léon Blum in this upper part of the Canebière is quite nice; I especially like the two huge giraffe statues that house little free libraries. Turn right on the Canebière, towards the Réformés church and follow the tram tracks through Square Stalingrad to Boulevard de la Libération. Feel free to hop on the tram (you’ll need to buy a ticket for 1,60 euro), or take the 20 minute walk up the pleasant boulevard all the way to the monument.

 Which area of Marseille would you most like to explore?!

When in Provence…

In April, one of my best friends came to visit me in Marseille all the way from Chicago! Laura and I spent a couple of days chilling at the beach in Marseille, and then departed on a 3-day road trip through the beautiful villages of Provence along with two other friends. We were a little early for one of the main attractions – the famous lavender fields were not quite in bloom – but we completely enjoyed ourselves and the Provençal landscapes all the same!

I will admit that, for some reason, the prospect of planning a road trip thoroughly intimidated me! Maybe it’s because I had no idea what would be do-able in a given day, because I don’t actually even know how to drive, or because we had no particular destination and there is SO MUCH to see in the region. Luckily, our fellow travelers were super low-maintenance, so coming up with an itinerary, though intimidating, boiled down to choosing a few “Must-Sees” and then filling in the gaps.

CAR RENTAL

We decided to base ourselves out of Avignon for the 3 days A) because driving in Marseille seemed like a TERRIBLE idea and B) because it’s about an hour closer to most of the places we wanted to visit. I discovered the website Drivy, which is sort of like Airbnb for cars: individuals who don’t regularly use their cars can rent them out on a day-to-day basis. As long as you conform to a few basic requirements, the site handles insurance for you, and you can avoid the ridiculous fees rental agencies often have for under 25-year-old drivers. The car rental for 3 days and around 500km of mileage cost us just over 100 euro! Split between the 4 of us, it was a downright steal!

DAY ONE

Marseille – Pont du Gard – Uzès – Nîmes – Avignon

After picking up the car in the morning, we left Marseille around 9:30am and made our way towards our first destination: the Port du Gard! The Port du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge, spanning the Gardon river. At 160m tall, it is the highest elevated aqueduct of the Roman World and is today very well-preserved. For an entry fee of €8,50 (€6 reduced rate), we had access to the park surrounding the bridge, the bridge itself, and the very interesting and well designed Port du Gard museum. In all, we spent almost 4 hours wandering the grounds and checking out the museum. I learned a lot about the importance of water in Roman societies and why the Post du Gard was such an important achievement for the city of Nîmes, where the water carried on this route was eventually delivered. It was such a beautiful day; I wish we would have thought ahead and packed a picnic to eat along the banks of the river, but the museum food court was an acceptable alternative. People were also swimming and kayaking, which would have been really fun as well, had we known about it before coming!

From the Port du Gard, we made out way northwest to the village of Uzès. Incidentally, Uzès is the location of the water source that fed the very same aqueduct we had just departed! Quite a charming village, we spent about an hour wandering the small streets and enjoying amazing ice cream sundaes in the central square.

I would have loved to go out to see the spring, which is a big attraction in the town, but we still had two more stops planned for our day, so we hopped back in the car and headed to Nîmes. It was pretty cool to see the whole route from Uzès to Port du Gard to Nîmes in one day, albeit out-of-order. By the time we got to Nîmes (and knowing that we still had to carry on to Avignon where we’d reserved an Airbnb) we were pretty tired, monuments and shops were closing, and so we didn’t spend much time there. It seemed like a cool place though, with lots to see, so I would totally go back again one day! After a little tour around the famous Arènes de Nîmes and some charming streets, we hopped back in the car to our final destination for the night: Avignon.

DAY TWO

Avignon – Gordes – Roussillon – L’Isle sur la Sorgue – Avignon

Day 2 of our trip was, without a doubt, my favorite! We had a lazy morning in Avignon, walked around the Palais des Papes and visited the Rocher des Doms park for some breathtaking views. We could have spent more time in Avignon if we’d wanted to tour the palace, but we decided against it and instead left around noon for the famous “perched villages” of the Luberon park.

The first village, Gordes, came highly recommended to us by a friend and the French government: it’s been officially classed as one of France’s top 5 beautiful villages. Following signs for the town, we noticed cars pulling over at a small lookout point and decided to take a look for ourselves. The view was anything but disappointing!

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The city itself was adorable and charming and sunny, but there wasn’t much to do beyond wandering the winding streets. So after eating lunch and buying a few souvenirs (a theme of the trip), we moved onto the next item in the itinerary.

Roussillon was probably my favorite stop, due to its main attraction, the Ochre Trail. The village is perched on top of a series of cliffs that have been mined for ochre since the 18th century, and one of the former quarries has been turned into a hiking loop. The trails were hardly rugged, but they offered up landscapes that were completely surreal and beautiful! After taking the hour-long trail, we meandered into the village, which was just as colorful as the ochre cliffs themselves!

When we’d just about had our fill of picture perfect doors and flower boxes, we convened to figure out what to do next. Looking at the map, we were not far from a handful of other villages, and we ultimately decided – completely randomly – on L’Isle sur la Sorgue. 40 minutes later, we’d arrived in this village, famous for its antique stores and water wheels, just in time to grab a map at the tourism office. After getting lost while trying to follow the tourism route, we decided instead to relax on a café terrace with a cold glass of rosé instead. When in Provence… ! The city itself was cute but kind of unremarkable. Around 7pm we headed back to Avignon for dinner.

DAY THREE

Avignon – Arles – Saintes Maries sur la Mer – Marseille

The third day, we left our Airbnb and headed towards Arles. We had to have the car back to Marseille by 7pm, so we opted to visit some towns in that direction. I had already been to Arles and found it to be absolutely lovely, if a little touristy. The small city is famous for its collection of Roman ruins and for being the home of Vincent Van Gogh for over a year. Some of his most famous works, including Bedroom in Arles and Café Terrace at Night were painted there. No one was really interested in paying to enter the many Roman sites, but our traveling companions, former art majors, really wanted to visit the Fondation Van Gogh. Not in a museum-y mood, Laura and I left them at the exhibits, while we went in search of some souvenirs and another cold glass of wine, because what better way to spend a sunny day in a classic French village?

At the tourism office, we inquired about our final stop on the way back to Marseille: La Camargue, the marshy wetland to the south known for its salt mines and interesting wildlife including white ponies and pink flamingoes. She suggested driving down to the town of Saintes Maries sur la Mer. Sadly, by the time we got there, we only had about half an hour to explore before hitting the road for Marseille. After taking a stroll along a long, beautiful beach, we headed back to the car. A return trip to this area to hike, rent bikes or just relax on the beach is very high on my list!

CONCLUSION

Our Provence road trip was not meticulously planned, nor flawlessly executed. But it was three days of perfect weather, good company and stunning views. In retrospect, I personally might do some things differently — stay in Nîmes for longer, maybe go somewhere like Bonnieux or Les Baux de Provence instead of l’Isle sur la Sorgue, skip Arles to spend more time in the Camargue — but ultimately, we had an amazing time on a very small budget! If you plan to come to Provence, definitely look into a driving tour. Many of the places we went are difficult to reach by public transport, but they absolutely shouldn’t be missed! ❂

Starting a Pen Pal Exchange

In my two years of language assistant-ing one of my favorite activities has been establishing pen pal correspondences between my classes and American students. Having worked for a year in an American elementary school, I had pretty easy access to teachers interested in participating, and this past year, I managed to hook up no less than six of my classes up with a U.S. counterpart! In primary schools, the concern is often that the students don’t know enough English to truly exchange with a native speaker, but I want to assure you against this idea completely! It’s not always simple, but my students have managed to communicate a lot to their pen pals, and I have never seen them SO excited to read new English words as when they received letters back.

That being said, you do have to be strategic about the kinds of correspondence you propose in order to maximize success for all of your students! Luckily, basic things like telling your name and age and describing your family and physical appearance are right in the wheelhouse of 4th and 5th grade English! Here’s my How To on setting up a correspondence, and ideas for what you can send to your new pen pals!

GETTING STARTED:

1) Early in the year, or even before you leave home, you should reach out to anyone you know working in a school to gauge their interest in participating. My mom is a teacher, and I worked in a school, so I had plenty of contacts already, but if you don’t know many teachers, consider reaching out to family/friends with school age children: see if they will  reach out to their child’s teachers on your behalf. Write the principal of your old elementary school, write to your old fifth grade teacher, hit up the colleagues of friends who work in schools, etc. Trust me, everyone will be THRILLED to hear that you will soon be teaching in France.

2) Once you’ve arrived in France, pitch the idea to your colleagues. A few weeks into my contract, I sent the following email to all of my colleagues:

Bonjour les collègues !

Comme vous le savez peut-être déjà, je suis en relation avec plusieurs écoles aux USA (principalement à Washington et Massachusetts). Je voudrais donc vous proposer la possibilité de lancer un correspondance (Pen Pals or Pen Friends) avec vos classes en anglais. Je serais heureuse de vous relier avec un instituteur américain, et vous aider à gérer le projet. Je connais déjà plusieurs instits (y compris ma mère!) qui sont très enthousiastes à l’idée. Je connais aussi une professeur de français des sixièmes/cinquièmes et quelques instits à une école d’immersion en français si vous préférez corresponder plutôt en français. N’hésitez pas à me recontacter si cela vous intéresse pour qu’on puisse en discuter davantage! 

Passez une bonne journée!

3) Once I knew how many of my colleagues were interested, I began to pair them off with the American teachers I had signed on. I tried to match grade level as much as possible — pairing 3rd grade classes with CE2, 4th with CM1 and 5th with CM2 — so the kids would be writing to students around the same age as them. I also wanted to prepare the American classes a little and let them know a bit about my students in France before launching directly into letter writing. I sent each American teacher the following email:

Hi [teacher],

Thanks so much for agreeing to be pen pals with my students in Marseille, France !!!

I have paired your class with [teacher’s name], a [grade level] teacher at the school [name of school]. She is really motivated to do pen pals, and we started today writing holiday cards for your class! So far, the cards are not specific to any one student. Later, I think it would be great to pair off the students and have them write to a specific pen pal. I can try to get you a class list to facilitate this.

We can discuss snail mail vs email, but know that technology at this school is fairly limited. They are working on installing video projectors in the classrooms, so that may be a possibility later in the year, but otherwise it’s a very low-tech, blackboard and chalk environment.

Just so you know, these are students in their first or second year of English classes, and they only receive about 90 mins of instruction per week, so their knowledge is fairly limited…they are probably capable of speaking as much English as your class can speak Spanish (i.e. very simple basics)

I’ve included a list of things they will probably be able to understand, to help guide your class when writing back!

Introducing Oneself:

  • My name is…
  • I’m (age)
  • I live in…
  • My favorite (color, animal, sport, pokemon, etc.) is…
  • My nationality is…
  • My birthday is…

Family: 

  • We haven’t done this really in depth yet, but they will probably recognize things like, “do you have brothers and sisters?” or “My sister’s name is Bridgit.”
  • Same for pets.

Basics: 

  • Weather
  • Date
  • Feelings (how are you? I’m fine/happy/sad/etc)

We’ve also worked on vocabulary relating to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

One thing your students will definitely notice is the kids’ handwriting! You might want to share with them that French children start learning cursive in first grade, and almost always only write in cursive at school! I’ve also attached a photo of the school for you to show them if you’d like, and the address is [school address] which may be fun to check out in Google Maps!

Thanks again! Let me know if you have any questions. I’ll see if I can get you a class list ASAP.

I sent a similar email to my French colleagues to let them know which class they were paired with and the address of the school.

Concernant la correspondance avec une classe américaine, je t’ai jumelé avec une classe de 4th grade (CM1) dans l’école ou j’ai travaillé l’année dernière. La maîtresse s’appelle […], et elle a [##] élèves. Je mets en fichier joint la liste d’élèves.

Laisse-moi savoir si tu veux commencer à rédiger les premières letters (peut-être en forme de “Christmas Card”) en classe cette semaine. Sinon, on peut commencer après les vacances!

L’adresse de l’école est suivant:

By the time this process finished up, we were pretty close to the December vacation, so I started en vigueur with most classes in January.

Then, it was time to start writing!!!

WRITING IDEAS:

Some of my colleagues were more enthusiastic about preparing pen pal activities than others, and so I had to do a little more active organizing in some classes, while others I was more of a facilitator/contact person. Overall, most classes managed to exchange 2 or 3 letters, and while I’d have loved to do more, it is time consuming and there are only so many hours in the day :\ Here are some of the types of letters we exchanged:

Basic Introductory letters with questions

This was the way we opened our correspondence in nearly every single class. It’s the perfect way to practice and reinforce basic statements and questions like “My name is…” “I am … years old.” “I live in…” “I like….” which we’d been practicing since the beginning of the school year. It can be fun to encourage your kids to decorate their letters, send a photo or other small item, etc. You’ll be surprised at how much work they’ll put into. One of my lowest classes wrote absolutely incredible pen pal letters because they were so excited!

 

An alternative to this that I did with my younger classes (CE2), was to fill out a carte d’identité or an “All About Me” graphic organizer.

Holiday Cards

Writing holiday cards is a great way to share culture and civilization alongside practicing English! You can explain the Anglo-Saxon tradition of Christmas card giving to your French students, or share the Gallic New Year card sending tradition with your American counter parts! Valentine’s Day is a great time to practice constructions with “I like…” and “I love…” and cards for May Day decorated with lilies of the valley and wishes for happiness is a fun French tradition that will probably be new to American students.

Guess Who Game

This idea was originally proposed by one of my colleagues and I in turn did it with almost all of my classes! The idea is to create a sort of Guess Who game using physical descriptions and clothing vocabulary.

Each student writes a description of themselves based on a class photo or drawing of themselves. (“I am tall. I’ve got long, curly, brown hair. I’ve got brown eyes. I’ve got a red t-shirt and a brown sweater and black jeans.”) Some schools have strict rules about sending photos of students, so make sure to get permission, or have the kids simply draw pictures of themselves instead. Then, number the photos and send them with the descriptions, along with an answer key. Your pen pals will have to read and match the description to the pictures! You can even play the game in class before sending it. I sent scans of the descriptions/pictures via email which was quick and cost effective.

 

One of our American classes sent back a similar game where each student was also holding something. So their descriptions were along the lines of “I have blonde hair. I am holding a Rubik’s Cube.” “I have short black hair and glasses. I have a blue pencil.” which was a really awesome way to introduce new vocabulary in context.

Family Photos

Send pictures (or drawings) of your family along with a description. Great practice for “His/her name is… He/she is … years old.” which is difficult for kids to master.

Plus sometimes they go a little above and beyond with their translations…. (this is from my friend who taught collège)

asshole

Vocabulary Drawings

This is something I asked my American contacts to do before I left for France. I was able to give a really short presentation about where I was going in France and what I would be doing to the classes and then asked them to draw some pictures and label them with the English words. I explained that my students would be learning similar things in English that they learn in their Spanish class: colors, days of the week, animals, weather, feelings, American holidays etc. I got back some really awesome drawings that I could then share with my French classes when I arrived and hung up in some of the classrooms. My students liked it so much that some of them made their own French versions for their pen pals!!!

 

Slideshow of Photos

One of our Pen Pal classes sent a slideshow of photos that the teacher made for Back to School Night. It showed the kids working, at recess, doing all kinds of different activities around the school and my students had TONS of questions about it! I wanted to make a similar one to send back, but never had the time. Maybe next year…

Postcards

Another thing I would really like to do, but haven’t yet, is send postcards. Either use actual postcards from Marseille, or have the kids draw their own. I know I love collecting postcards, so I can only imagine that a postcard from your pen pal in France or the USA would be a treasured item for many years!

What have you sent to your pen pals?! Happy writing! ❂

Is TAPIF a “real job” ?

For the past few years, April has been a grab bag of various bittersweet emotions…

In 2014, I was about a month away from graduation, in the midst of several intense theatre projects, and then was accepted to my first year of teaching English in France!
Bitter: leaving school, my friends, my family, my country. Sweet: Uhhh…France?!

In 2015, I was on the last legs of that first contract, pretty sure I wanted to stay in France, but desperately waiting for news of a contract renewal.
Bitter: saying goodbye to Chambéry, unsure about returning. Sweet: staying hopeful…

In 2016, after a year of hustling 3 part-time jobs at home, April saw yet another acceptance to TAPIF!!
Bitter: again leaving behind friends, and a taste of the “real world” Sweet: do I really need to say it?

Which brings us to 2017. After 7 amazing months working in three schools with great, supportive colleagues and funny, sweet students, I am once again preparing to say goodbye. But this time, only for a few months. Against all assumed odds, my request to renew my contract and remain for another 7 month period in the same schools has been officially accepted! I’m relieved to be returning to a job I have grown to love in a city I am still constantly surprised by and with friends I won’t live halfway around the world from!

The very first question I asked almost immediately after getting the news of renewal was: Is it embarrassing to be a language assistant three times?!

I wonder, because this job can sometimes be so laughably easy in comparison to a full teaching position that is doesn’t always feel like a “real” job. I have 12 hours of classes per week, for a 7 month contract, 8 weeks of which is paid school vacation. I am not responsible for evaluating or grading students, don’t have to deal with parents or report cards or any of the millions of other little tyrannies full-time teachers are tasked with. In some of my classes, I don’t even have to prepare anything… I literally just show up and speak English with my perfect American accent.

That being said, I worked very hard this year to be more independent – to propose activities I wanted to do and to be an active member of the schools as much as possible, rather than passively waiting for my colleagues to tell me what to do.

While I always describe myself (I think accurately) as an English teacher, my work contract and credentials still identify me only as a language assistant, a post which requires next-to-no qualifications or previous experience beyond being a native speaker, So while I definitely think I excel in my role and have used it as a learning opportunity, I’m still seen as “not a real teacher” by diploma and certification-obsessed France (And the straightforward French have had no problem telling me this either…).

So when I ask if it’s embarrassing to be an assistant three times, I think I’m really asking whether I’m wasting my time on yet another contract with very limited room for growth and advancement (in terms of career prospects) instead of seeking something with a bit more stability and potential. Whether it’s nothing but a means of putting off for yet another year “the real world”.

But then I remember that it also means another year in France, and for the first time –EVER– continuity. In my adult life, never have I ever worked in the same place for more than one school year. Never have I ever lived at the same address for more than a year. Never have I ever had the opportunity to expand on a base of work I’ve already begun with the same network of co-workers who helped me begin it.

So this April, I prepare to say goodbye to friends, colleagues and students but only for four short months. Before I know it, I’ll be back in Marseille — the perfect amount of time to enjoy home, work a little and refresh, more ready than ever to turn my “Fake” job into my own “Real” world!
Bitter?? Maybe a little, but from where I stand today, I think I’ve got a pretty Sweet deal! ❂

27 mars – clues

Today I had a lot of different slices in my head, but I can’t seem to get any of them out today because I’m excited about something else.

Three of my fifth grade classes have been working on rooms in the house, hobbies, and family. vocabulary in English. These classes are really motivated and their classroom teachers do a lot of reinforcement of my activities on days when I’m not there, so their level is really high. I decided to try an activity that is a bit more difficult than our standard fare of flashcard games and charades.

Tomorrow we are playing CLUE! It was always one of my favorite board games growing up, enamored of Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown as I was. I always wanted to play be Professor Plum. My sister was usually Madam Scarlet, and if I remember correctly, I believe my dad often played as Colonel Mustard.

Tomorrow, we won’t have the same colorful characters. I’ve modified the game to include the vocabulary we’ve been working on all year long. Instead of wondering if Mrs. White killed Mr. Body in the Ballroom with the Lead Pipe, we will ask if Grandmother is dancing in the living room or if Brother is playing football in the bedroom.

I’m really looking forward to trying out this more complex game tomorrow. My students worked hard the past few weeks to learn more grammar than I thought they’d be capable of in elementary school. My goal for this quarter has been to work towards longer term projects rather than simply teaching vocab, playing hangman and telephone, and then moving on to the next subject. This game definitely fits the bill. As simple as it is, it’s stretched both me and my students. I’ve created my own game board, my own cards, everything! All that’s left is to print and laminate tomorrow morning, and then PLAY!!!

If you’d like to play too, check out my materials here!  ❂

SOL

 

Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.