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.

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.

Dear Students


Unlike what you seem to imply, I don’t particularly like to be angry/mad at you. What’s more, I’d appreciate if you could learn the meaning of “deadline” and understand why I am not terribly delighted when you hand in an essay four days late.

Things would be so much easier between you and me if you could realize that some people plan their work in adavance. When I intend to mark essays on Monday afternoons – especially when I know more are coming from a different class the following days- I’d like to do it then, not a week later.

Besides try and get out of your young heads that people who are trying to teach you a few basics about target dates, consideration and politeness are not monsters who hate you but human beings who might even care about your future.

Finally it isn’t pleasant to start the weekend in a foul mood because of your nasty remarks. You are 17 or even 18, please grow up.

Goodbye My Friend


How do you say goodbye to a collegue who was more than just a workmate?

I changed schools 16 years ago. After 7 years in a a junior high school I applied for a job in a nearby high school and got it. I was lucky to find a great team of English teachers.

My colleague also taught English and had been working in this lycée for quite some time. She was a respected and demanding teacher and her students knew they were in good hands. She was a keen linguist and was always striving for the most accurate word.

She fell ill about four years ago and left teaching one year early because of an operation and the chemotherapy treatment that followed. Last September she learnt that she was terminally ill. She died this morning surrounded by two very close friends of hers.

She was frank, sometimes even blunt, but also extremely generous. When I last phoned her, she asked me a lot of sensitive questions and did not wish to dwell on her own condition. A friend I phoned tonight told me she had given her a book for me, which deeply moved me.

Because of her generosity and strong personality she will be missed not only by her closest friends, but also by people like me who are proud and honored to have met her.

Baruch Dayan Emet

Getting out of the Rut?


Be warned; this is a kvetching post.

There are times when I am really fed up with teaching. This is one of these times. I teach six classes; three of them really get on my nerves, two are bearable and one is fine.

There are probably more than one reason for being in this state of mind:
– Teaching is not easy.
– Teaching in a very average public school is quite a strain.
– I have been teaching for 22 years, which is quite some time. Maybe I have just had enough of the whole thing.
– Some kids are really difficult to deal with and we get too little help either from the school administration or the authorities. Parents are voters and voters should not feel angry.
– Far more people reach high school than when I first started and what we ask from the students hasn’t changed much. Unfortunately English has not become easier in the meantime. Sadlly for the students, it has become more necessary to know at least one foreign language. But how do you teach a language to people who don’t know what verbs, nouns and adjectives are?
– It is disappointing and emotionally exhausting to try and find new ideas for people who couldn’t care less.

One of my collegues recently mentioned that she had gone back to college while still teaching. She started about three years ago and is in the last year of a BA in French and comparative literature. For instance last semester she studied The United States through the Eyes of Jewish Authors as part of the curriculum.

It dawned on me that this might be the solution. I should try and find something I’d like to study – this should not be a problem – enroll in one Parisian university and take the train once a week to learn something that would keep my mind busy and stop me from kvetching here and elsewhere.

I Hate it When this Happens



There was an informal gathering of teachers (organized by a union) at my school yesterday. We have been very busy lately with lots of compulsory evening meetings initiated by our administration, more than in previous years. A lot of us worry about this; we fear that piling up meetings upon meetings won’t solve all the problems we face even though they are necessary to a degree.

However I did not attend the union’s casual gathering for two reasons. First it took place during a school hour and I didn’t want to miss a class as I’ll be away for two days next week due to the High Holidays. Then, with years, I have become wary of political response to school internal issues; I feel it often divides more than it unites us.

As I was leaving for lunch, a colleague came up to me and summed up what the people had just been saying, grieving over the fact that they seemed belligerent and in favor of an hostile letter to the administration rather than sending a delegation of our representatives as a first step.

We were in the corridor, next to the room where the other colleagues were discussing and arguing. I was telling him that I could see his point and would not sign something that was aggressive. One colleague overheard the last word and jumped to the conclusion that I was caling them all aggressive, especially the union man (a quiet man in fact). He then opened the door to join his “friends” and vilified what he called my attitude in front of 30 other people, most of whom are honest folks I rather appreciate even if I disagree with them on this particular issue – or rather the means to get to an end.

The conversation in the staff room stopped and everybody stared at me. I obviously felt awful and hurt that my words had been so distorted and there was very little I could do. I tried to defend myself but felt it was rather useless. I now have the feeling that 30 people think I have been insulting them behind their backs.

Is there anything I can do?

First Students



I’ve met my first class. Twenty-four 16-year olds whose main stream is Humanities (see my French High School System post for more information). I am their homeroom teacher.

A few facts about them:
– There are 20 girls and only 4 boys.
– They all study English as their first foreign language, except one who does German.
– The second foreign languages they do are Spanish (the majority), German and Russian (one girl).
– Almost all of them have added otional subjects to the manadatory subjects. Some even do two. They chose: Russian, Spanish, Sports, Latin, Greek and Art (one student).
– At least half of them quoted reading as a hobby.
– There are some musicians in this class; some kids play the piano and one is a violinist.

Stranger facts:
– Some have unusual hobbies for kids that age: gardening, philosophy, looking after a ferret, wolf protection.
– One girl’s only interests are going out and shopping.
– One girl comes from an exclusive all-girls school while one is from Colombia (the country).
– Two girls are brought up by single dads and did not mention a mother. Someting I’ll have to inquire into as homeroom teacher and also so as not to make a blunder.

I’ll be teaching them 3.5 hours a week. The first lesson is on Thursday. After a short presentation of the course and a few questions about what they did in English last year, we’ll start with a short extract from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

First Day



I went back to school today. All in all it went rather smoothly so I am not as apprehensive as I was a few days ago when I wrote about my anxiety.

– My schedule is fine. I don’t work on Thursday afternoons which is fine for the weekly shopping. Nor do I work on Friday afternoons, which is great for Shabbat and its preparations; all the more so as I have time to prepare challah and a dish or two before I go to work on Friday mornings.
– The new English teacher in our department is a very smiling black young man who seems genuinely friendly.
– The new deputy looks like an undertaker but was polite and efficient when I went to ask him for lists of students.

I am meeting my first students tomorrow afternoon. I am the tutor of a class of 24 students, aged 16-17. I believed for an hour or so that I wasn’t tutor at all this year and was a bit disappointed. However it was a mistake. I’ll keep you updated with the details once I have actually met them.

Got them at Last



I’ve now got my school supplies; which is just as well considering I am going back to school on Monday. I went shopping this morning and got these. The big folder is for the students’ papers, the little blue notebook to put marks in and the other one is to note down what we’ve been doing after each lesson. I reckon I don’t need to explain what the red felt-tip pen is for.

The only thing I now have to do is find illustrations to put inside the two blue notebooks; lovely ones to look at every now and again.

Public Apology



In June 2007 I came across a post that caught my attention on Mom in Israel‘s blog. She had been to a baseball game and met Jacob Levy who at the time played for the Tel Aviv Lightning.

In case you haven’t read the post, this is how it ended:
If you are interested in meeting Jacob (I was going to say “playing ball with Jacob” but I didn’t know how that would go over with my readers, or with Jacob, for that matter), email me and I will pass on any messages to him.

The teacher in me immediately emailed MIL who soon answered back giving me his email. The plan was that my students could interview Jacob, and other sportsmen, about their career and what it means to live in a foreign country.

I emailed Jacob and he also answered back pretty quickly, saying how happy he would be to take part in the project. At the end of 2007, four juniors interviewed him via email and then wrote an article about him. Four other groups interviewed different people. It turned out to be an exciting project and the students (3 boys and a girl) were very happy to interview a professional baseball player.

I now realize that, although I thanked the interviewees at the time, I still have not thanked the person whose blog post provided the idea for this successful project and who made it possible by providing Jacob’s email.

MII it is high time for me to say “thank you” and apologize for doing it only now.