Bilbo – the English Hobbit

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For the second year, French pupils who follow the most literary of the three streams of the French General Baccalauréat are now specifically taught literature in a foreign language, often English.

The idea is to instill knowledge and love of literature in English rather than specialise in technical terms, even though my pupils seemed to have fun with the rhyming scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet last week.

In December we did some work on The Hobbit, focusing on the poster above for Peter Jackson’s film, the 1938 New York Times book review and the first pages of the novel.

During the holiday, the pupils were asked to write several paragraphs to answer the following questions:
– Is Bilbo adventurous?
– To what extent can we say that Bilbo is typically English?

I found their answers to the latter both interesting and amusing so I thought I’d share a selection from different essays with you. Their ideas of what English people are supposed to be like are quite sweet.

His home:

We can say that Bilbo is typically English because he has got a very comfortable, cosy and warm house.

His house is a definition of what English houses look like.

His clothes:

Bilbo also likes wearing bright colours.

He also wears bright colours which match the image of the English who wear colourful and original clothes.

His habits:

Bilbo smokes a pipe like English characters such as Sherlock Holmes.

We can say that Bilbo is typically English because he smokes a pipe. Indeed the most popular character who smoked a pipe was Sherlock Holmes, an English fictional character.

He is very fond of flowers and gardens like British people.

Tea:

What is typically English is the fact that he has tea during the afternoon with visitors.

Bilbo invites Gandalf to come to tea which is a very typical thing in Britain. Tea time is at five in the afternoon and to invite someone to tea in Britain is typical.

His manners:

Bilbo Baggins looks typically English because of his way of talking. In fact he uses the words ‘dear sir’ many times to talk to Gandalf, which is a British, especially English, expression which shows a mark of respect.

Bilbo is also English because he doesn’t speak much.

Bilbo, even if he doesn’t want any adventures, is and remains polite. He uses very good and clear language, like a gentleman; something which is typically English.

One of the important things is that Bilbo is very polite. He says: ‘Good morning’ many times to Gandalf. In France people are known to be a little rude whereas English people are always polite, even to strangers.

Moreover some stereotypes say that English people are reserved concerning conversations. For instance, they rarely ask questions to the person they are talking with. That’s what we see with Bilbo and Gandalf. Indeed, the hobbit didn’t ask for Gandalf’s name; he only said ‘Good morning’.

Bilbo is a discreet character who is well educated, this is the idea we have of English people.

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When Clothes Make the Man

For a couple of weeks, a pupil in my school has been wearing distinctly skinhead clothes: high-laced black boots, tight jeans that are tucked into the afore mentioned boots and a black Pitbull bomber jacket on top of a white or black tee-shirt. He has also shaved his head. In other words, he looks just about as charming as a character out of This is England or if he had just attended a National Front meeting.

He has been summoned by the administration and questioned about his clothing. Apparently he explained that he is perfectly aware of the significance of his clothes but that the economic crisis has made him realise that ‘the white race is threatened’. He has agreed to remove the white laces on his boots but has kept the other items of his unsavoury garb. It would seem that since he has ‘promised’ he does not believe in violence (but would anyone be dumb enough not to), he can dress as he chooses.

In French schools, the law concerning religious and political beliefs is that ‘ostentatious signs’ are prohibited – in other words you can wear a star of David but not a kippa, a hand of Fatima but not a headscarf. The same applies to political signs. Besides any kind of proselytizing – whether it is religious or political is forbidden.

As a Jew, a Democrat, a European, a woman and a teacher, I feel offended. I find it very unpleasant and disturbing to see him in such attire on the school premises, knowing that it is tolerated by our administration. Other than go and see the head, is there anything else you would do?

IT in the Classroom: Looking Backward and Forward

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Four years ago I discussed the IT forthcoming innovations in our school and expressed my worries about some of these changes. In hindsight it is interesting that I was mainly wrong on the issue.

The school has tried different digital work environments but the ‘perfect’ tool is yet to be found and we do not use the one we have as much as we should have done when the new scheme was announced.

On the positive side, we fill in online term reports for each student, can read what colleagues have written and I now have a computer in my room.

Yet the digital school attendance system does not work, which is a shame since I could now do it at the beginning of each period from the classroom computer.

I have created and provided the dreaded email address. Contrary to what I had anticipated, I have received no email from angry parents – and none from ecstatic ones I am sorry to add! However a pupil sent a Thank You email after the latest Swedish exchange.

What I had not foreseen is that for my pupils email is the new snail mail; in other words, some of them have no email addresses and use their parents’ to write to me. Others have an email address but hardly use it, which means that if I write back the email is not read.

However what I had feared concerning constant connectivity is still a problem. Even if I use a different email address for work, it is difficult not to have a look at what fills this email inbox during my free time.

I now ask the pupils to record themselves and send me oral homework (or task) – the latest was an oral presentation where the year 11s were supposed to convince an audience that they were the best candidate for the TV show of their choice.

The next challenge is to make myself understood when I explain the technical side of the task. In other words, I need them to remember that mp3 is the only format that I can easily listen to on any of the device I use. This may sound pretty simple to you but, believe me, it is not that straightforward for all teenagers; only this morning I received an audio file in 3ga!

So if you have any tip, please share and you will make my day!

Finding and Settings Limits

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These past few weeks I have been very busy and stressed as a result. I am not quite sure what burn out exactly implies but I think I was nearing the danger zone.

School and the way we teach have evolved. There are lots of bright and positive aspects to the situation but also some more frightening and negatives ones.

Because my students do not work enough on their own, I have multiplied group work but also feel that everything that is produced needs marking. This means that for some classes I spend at least 50% more time grading papers and projects.

I am also available 24/7 via emails even if I do not check them on Saturdays. For instance at present, some of my students are away doing internships but they still send me work and reports to read and correct.

Thus although I have been on holiday since Friday I have marked about 100 papers in five or six days. I have also been busy writing school reports online. Today I decided to stop for a few days and step back but this is not as easy as it may sound and I keep thinking of all the things that I should/could/can do for work.

I find it very hard to set myself limits and stick to them. I do not want to appear lazy but this often means that I end up working too much for my own good. Dear readers, how do you set yourself limits and does it work?

This Year’s Heroes

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If you enjoyed last year’s post about my students’ heroes, you may wish to see who their heroes are this year.

– Coluche, he was a French comedian and actor. He is remembered for the Restos du Cœur – the charitable organisation he created – whose main activity is to distribute food packages and hot meals to the needy. (5 students)
– Martin Luther King Jr (4 students)
– Christopher Columbus
– Albert Einstein
– Michael Jackson
– Kelly Slater
– Two soccer players: Zinedine Zidane and Lionel Messi
– Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
– Barack Obama
– Neil Armstrong
– Frederik de Klerk
– Winston Churchill
– Nelson Mandela
– Charlie Chaplin
– Lady Diana
– Rosa Parks
– Emmeline Pankhurst

Seven Weeks in a Few Lines

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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.

Quick Update

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I am finally back from Sweden and back to the Blogosphere (at least for now) after 10 wonderful days with our students who were extremely well-behaved. They were polite, punctual, interested, appreciative and curious. What more could we dream of?

They also took the time to express their gratefulness: some of them thanked us profusely before leaving the coach and one sent me an email via Facebook.

Our colleagues in Sweden were extremely helpful and welcoming. In fact they were both new to the exchange as one former colleague is now retired and the other one no longer wished to take part because of the work involved. Obviously there was apprehension on both sides as a minimum of common understanding and goals is necessary for such an exchange to go smoothly but it worked out really well.

One teacher is a woman from Argentina whose family comes from Spain and Italy who is married to another Argentinian of both French and German descent. She teaches both French and Spanish when she is not raising her five children. We were welcomed to their homes on a couple of occasions and were most happy to share their daughter’s cakes after a cold and wet outing at the weekend.

The other teacher is a divorced mother of two who teaches French, Swedish and Swedish for foreigners. She enjoys reading and going to the movie, which means she and I had long conversations on favorite books and films, as well as school politics, teaching and religion.

Both women are very different but complementary and we shared lovely moments with them with or without the students.

It is now time to catch up with work and High Holiday preparations. I still have not decided whether I want to bake a honey or an apple cake but salmon will definitely be on the menu.

Shabbat Shalom!

Have Fun

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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?

Online Data vs Online Presence

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I believed that the numerous stories and articles about being cautious about the information one shares online had led young people to be more careful, it seems they are not.

I first noticed this a few weeks ago with my students when I created a FB profile for our language exchange. When I set up the profile I sent an email to all the students involved to let them know but also warned them that they could choose what information they could share with the profile (aka me). Only one made sure I could send her messages but not see what her friends were writing on her wall.

Yesterday I got a letter about our future English assistant. As the French administration had apparently not asked the would-be assistants to provide an email, I googled his name and here is what I got:

– his date of birth
– several photos
– the name of his high school
– the name of his college
– the description of his current university program
– the names of both his parents
– some personal articles about trips abroad
– his twitter alias
– some particulars about hobbies and interests
– one email address
– his FB profile (which revealed even more, including his girlfriend’s name and photo)

all within a few seconds.

Do you believe that this is too much or just fine? How would you feel if anyone could find as many details about your own child even if – as in GL’s case – none of it is incriminating?

Planning, Planning

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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?