Seven Weeks in a Few Lines


Our first secular vacation is round the corner; we are getting a ten-day break as from Friday. All in all it has been a very pleasant period: a successful exchange, a meaningful Yom Kippur followed by an unexpected meal in a Sukkah and lots of sunny and dry weather.

The most surprising feature of these seven weeks however has been my students. Those who read my blog regularly may remember that I have complained at lengths about the pupils’ behavior in my school and the administration’s passivity.

This year things seem quite different. Most of my students are quite agreeable and teaching them is much more pleasant than last year.

My favorite group is a class of 27 ninth-graders. They are full of enthusiasm. They arrive in the classroom and greet me and each other in English. The oral participation is dynamic, relevant and they like to use the vocabulary they learned in previous lessons. Even the weaker ones seem to enjoy the lessons and are eager to show they can say something, even if it is not much.

I am grateful that I have such satisfying students and savor every minute of it. This blissful atmosphere reminds me of why I wanted to go into teaching and makes me feel useful again.

Have Fun


Being quite busy with the usual back-to-stuff work and the preparations for our departure for Sweden, I have little time for proper blogging. Instead I suggest you test yourself and try to answer the quiz about the USA my 12th graders will have to answer in teams this morning.

1. Who abolished slavery in 1865?
2. Who discovered America in 1492?
3. What is the Ivy League?
4. What characters did Mark Twain create?
5. What is the name of the president on the $1 banknote?
6. What is the capital city of the USA?
7. How many states are there?
8. What are the two states that are not on the mainland?
9. Who said “I want you” for the army?
10. Where were the first European immigrants disembarked before entering New York City?
11. What is the name of the war that took place between 1861 and 1865?
12. What is the most expensive shopping street in New York City?
13. What is the name of the most famous stock exchange?
14. What is the other name of San Francisco?
15. What is the most famous bridge on the West coast?
16. What holiday is celebrated every fourth Thursday of November?
17. On what boat did the Pilgrim Fathers sail to the USA in 1620?
18. What is the name of the flag?
19. What is celebrated every year on July 4th?
20. Who wrote “Of Mice and Men”?
21. Who created the first basketball shoe in 1917?
22. What animal symbolizes the USA?
23. What was destroyed by the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001?
24. How many stripes are there on the American flag?
25. What is the highest building in New York?
26. Who said “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” in 1968?
27. Who is the King?
28. Who wrote “The Old Man and the Sea”?
29. What is the name of the space center in Florida?
30. When was J. F. Kennedy assassinated?
31. Who said the “I have a dream” speech in 1963?
32. Who refused to let her seat to a white passenger in 1955?
33. What did the USA buy from France in 1803?
34. Located in the Southern part of the San Francisco Bay area, what is the name of the place that is home to many of the world’s largest technology corporations?
35. Who said “Yes, we can.”?
36. What are the main two political parties?
37. Who directed “Whatever works”, “Match Point” and “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona”?
38. When did the Wall Street crash take place in the early 20th century?
39. Who created the New Deal, a range of policies increasing government intervention in the economy in 1932?
40. What does the controversial National Rifle Association promote?
41. What is the name of the most popular championship game of the National American Football league?
42. Who created Microsoft in 1975 at the age of 20?
43. What did Mark Zuckerberg create in 2004?
44. 44. Who directed “E.T”, “Saving Private Ryan”, Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List”?
45. What city was badly damaged by hurricane Katrina in 2005?
46. What is the ceremony that is held in February or March every year on Hollywood Boulevard?
47. What is the name of the most popular soft drink that was introduced in 1886?
48. Who created the most famous clothing company in 1869 with denim overalls?
49. Who introduced the “Speedee Service System” in 1948, the first fast-food restaurant in 1948?
50. What is the name of the city in Los Angeles County that is home to Hollywood celebrities and numerous wealthy people?

Planning, Planning


At this time of year we more or less know what groups we’ll teach next year. I’ll still teach my two business classes as well as a group of 10th graders (the first year of high school in France) and one group of 12th graders.

While I am supervising exams I am also trying to plan a few units for that group. Their textbook is a bit old-fashioned so I need to read other books, visit websites and collect ideas for next year.

Here is what I have come up with so far:

– One unit on recent black history through articles, memoirs and an NPR recording. I have chosen to focus on the following issues. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, The Little Rock Nine, the painting The problem we all live with by Norman Rockwell and Rosa Parks. Maybe we’ll read an extract fom The Help.

– A few stories taken from True Tales of American Life. The selection is divided into various sections – animals, objects, families, slapstick, strangers, war, love, death, dreams and meditation. The idea is to get the student to read a couple of stories from the object section and then to get them to write their own about an object that is dear to them.

– An episode from The Wire, season four, an article about the series and one blog post by Rabbi Fink

I’d also like to work on the Jews who emigrated to the USA after WW2 through personal stories and/or fiction. Can anyone recommend books I could read and where I could find excerpts to share with my students?

Philosophy: the 2011 Edition


For the third consecutive year I am sharing the philosophy essay questions that French students had to discuss today for the baccalauréat so that you can wonder what you would have written on these topics.

Philosophy is a compulsory subject for all French students at the end of the high school years unless they are preparing a vocational degree. The students have four hours and have to write about one question out of a choice of three – two in the form of a question and one text.

Is art a means to reach truth?
Does law define what is fair?
Can liberty be threatened by equality?
Is art less necessary than science?
Can a scientific hypothesis be proved?
Can one be right against facts?
Is man condemned to delude himself?
Does culture adulterate nature?
An excerpt from The Gay Science by Nietszsche
An excerpt from De Beneficiis by Seneca
An excerpt from Pensées by Pascal
An excerpt from a text by Henri Bergson

Not Less Weary


Those of you who read this blog regularly know that this year has been particularly difficult in our school. The seeds had been planted for troubles and we were not disappointed; troubles we got.

We tried to overcome some of them by creating a committee, we got rid of a few students (which is not as easy in real life as it may look in writing) and we had a useless meeting with the chief school administrator. Finally last week one of his collaborators came to see how the school works and advise us on “how to do better with less”. I won’t go into this much as it was both frustrating and a total mockery of what our job is. To put it in a nutshell we were told that teaching is all about running a group and never about sharing knowledge. I ended up feeling even more disillusioned and helpless.

The last straw came on Friday evening. We had some friends over for Shabbat: the mother is a retired teacher and her daughter teaches French, History and Geography in a vocational school. Her school has an annual show run by the students with drama, songs and dances. It is a rather small school by French standards with only 300 students, a hundred of which are boarders. This year forty students were taking part but only six parents turned up, the audience consisted mainly of teachers and boarders.

Her story just made me sad about the society we have created. People who do not hesitate to call the school whenever we say something that their children do not like, people who often threaten and verbally abuse the teachers and administration but cannot drive a few kilometers when their kids are on stage.

I do no think that I can really analyze this incident but I know that I find it depressing. At a point in the school year when we are usually looking forward to the following year and trying to come up with wonderful ideas that we hope will inspire our students to learn more, I am not sure I even want to teach for the rest of my working life.

Unusual Parisian School





This small school is located in The Pletzl, the Jewish quarter in the fourth arrondissement of Paris. It was founded in 1844 by the city of Paris when it became clear that it was necessary to set up a secular school to cater for the numerous Jewish children who lived in the district.

The École élémentaire des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais had several unusual features:
– although it was a secular school, it received some funds from the Central Consistory, the institution set up by Napoleon I to administer Jewish worship in France, but religious education was forbidden within the building.
– unlike other French schools, it was closed on Saturdays and Sundays, instead of Thursdays and Sundays, as was the case in all other French state schools.
– it used the Monitorial System of education
– the school was organized for Jewish children but not all students were Jewish.




Tonight I am feeling a little dejected. The meeting with the chief school administrator was not successful. The whole set up was meant to impress us and show who was in charge: five men in three-piece suits and one woman who were sitting on one side of an oval table, people who believe they are so important they feel they can check their Iphones all the time – apparently the concept of a secretary who steps in when some kind of director is needed urgently is now alien to the local school board.

The chief school administrator had said that he would see no more than five people therefore there were three teachers from my school, a parent and a union member. We had rehearsed beforehand and each of us had arguments to put forward depending on what we would be told.

We had figures as well as more humane arguments. The chief school administrator and his advisors refuted some points, agreed on others but basically we were repeatedly told that, even if they understood and shared our worries, they did not have the budget to keep three deans.

I am not sure what I had expected but I hoped things would be more open: I was probably too naive. Now I clearly need time to digest the failure and am glad we are going to Paris tomorrow.

Busy Busy



I would have liked to post more in the past few days, including one post on what it is like to teach about Jews in Medieval England, but this has proved to be impossible owing to recent developments on the work front.

At present our school has three deans – people who are in charge of student discipline. Two of them work full time and the other one works part time. There are 1,200 students in our high school and we have some boarders.

Due to cuts in education, we are losing one dean. We got the news only a few days ago and immediately decided to send a petition to the local school authorities. As this did not work, we were on strike on Monday, contacted the parents’ representatives for support and the press for publicity.

We got a few articles in the local newspapers and there was a short announcement in a radio bulletin. We have the full support of the parents who have sent letters to the school board explaining why it would be fatal for the school to lose a dean.

The chief school administrator has accepted to receive a small delegation this afternoon to hear what we have to say and I have been asked to be part of the group. This is both an honor and a daunting responsibility: the running of the school and a job are at stake. We need to find powerful arguments while showing that we are responsible and reliable educators who are acting for the benefits of the school.

On Thursday we we are going to Paris to the Jewish museum (the MAHJ) and the Shoah Memorial. This is part of our project on Jews in Medieval Europe in France, Germany and England. In the morning we will walk round the old Jewish district and visit a synagogue. In the afternoon, one group will visit the Jewish museum with an emphasis on the Middle-Ages while the other group will have a workshop on blood libels in Medieval France.

Some posts will probably follow on both topics.