Montauban, after the storm…

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On a beautiful Saturday a few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the medieval fortress city of Carcassonne, which is about an hour south of Toulouse by train. Carcassonne is in the Languedoc region of south-western France.  It is famous for the role it played in the Cathar Wars.

The Cathars were a religious group that did not have the same beliefs as the Catholic church.  They believed in two principles, a good creator god and his evil adversary (much like God and Satan of mainstream Christianity). Cathars called themselves Christians; their neighbours distinguished them as “Good Christians”. The Catholic Church called them Albigenses, or less frequently Cathars.  During the 12th-13th Century the religion was becoming more and more popular in the region.

In open debates with leading Catholic theologians, Cathars seem to have come out on top. This was embarrassing for the Roman Church, not least because they had fielded the best professional preachers in Europe against what they saw as a collection of uneducated weavers and other manual workers. Worse still, a number of Catholic priests had become Cathar adherents (Catharism was a religion that seems to have appealed especially to the theologically literate. Whole Cathedral chapters are known to have defected, as they did for example at Orleans).  Worst yet, Cathars refused to pay tithes to the Catholic Church.  The Catholics accused Cathars of heresy and said they belonged to the “Synagogue of Satan”. The Catholic side created some striking propaganda. When the propaganda proved only partly successful, there was only one option left – a crusade.  It became known as the Albigensian Crusade, was declared by the Pope Innocent III, and backed by the Roman Church with promises of remission of sins and a guaranteed place in heaven.  The crusade lasted from 1208 – 1244, and during the later part, the French king became its leader, making it a “Royal Crusade”.  The counts of the cities of Foix, Montségur, Albi, Toulouse and Carcassonne (to name a few) were all defeated and their lands seized by northern Frenchmen (the Languedoc region did not consider themselves as French, and saw the French as invaders).  The region’s language of Occitan was largely wiped out, and the last vestiges of Cathars were eradicated by the first Inquisitions.  Today the Cathars are seen as martyrs and Occitan has seen a revival and is even taught in some schools.

So now that you’ve completed today’s little history lesson, enjoys the pics!

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Riding the rails home from work this past Friday…

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Grève, grève, grève… that’s been the word of the week, and it will continue to be so until the end of the month at least. Oh joy.

So what does that mean?

grève = strike!

The whole country more or less went on strike this past Tuesday, one of my schools was closed, there were demo’s, funny songs about Sarkozy, chanting, flags, and, oh, serious reductions in trains and transportation!!!  This means that there are only about 4 trains a day that run to Montauban, instead of the usual 15 or so.  Same thing goes for getting home.  Weekends there are even less trains.  As you can imagine, this has wreaked havoc on the non-car owning population, such as myself, as I still need to get to school to teach.

Funny thing is, that if it weren’t for the lack of trains and anti-Sarkozy songs, you’d think the French were throwing a street party.  On Tuesday the scene in Montauban’s central square involved people hanging out, singing, and eating a lovely lunch of mussels, frites, white wine, and fruit.  No striking in snowy, sub-zero temperatures and warming yourself over a garbage drum fire here, mais non!

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I have so much more to tell and pictures to post, but I must start lesson planning for tomorrow, sigh…

UPDATE – I just found out that there will be another school grève on Tuesday, here we go again!  The train grève is permanent until the end of October at least.  Btw, in case you’re not up to date on your world politics, France is striking because Sarkozy (their president) is raising the retirement age from 60 to 62.

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Some pictures of Montauban, the town where I teach…

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Soooo, it’s been a while…

… but life has been crazy!  I started teaching full-time this past week. Well, by full time I mean my 12 hrs physically in the classroom.  I know you’re thinking, “That really doesn’t sound like a lot Steph”, BUT consider this:

  1. I am at 4 different schools in total throughout the week in the town of Montauban, which is approx. 30-40 mins by train north of Toulouse.  I live in Toulouse.
  2. I am at 3 different schools throughout the course of each day
  3. I teach 4 days/week (There is no school on Wednesdays – not for the teachers, nor the students – yes, you heard right!  Sounds like a sweet deal, but primary teachers do not get prep time in France, so Wednesdays are their prep days/professional development days)
  4. I walk 20 mins – 1/2 hour in between each school, the train station and my apartment in Toulouse (whilst carting my teaching supplies around).  That makes for a total of approx. 2.5 hrs of walking a day = I can pretty much eat allllll the chocolate, cheese and baguettes I want, and I’m currently still losing weight!!!  Yessssss!!!!!!!!!
  5. Grades have different names here:

  • CP = Gr. 1
  • CE1 = Gr. 2
  • CE2 = Gr. 3
  • CM1 = Gr. 4
  • CM2 = Gr. 5
  1. Each of my teaching periods is 45 mins long
  2. Lunch is 2 hrs long, and kids either go home to eat or eat in the school’s cantine (They told me the food isn’t that great, but I should have realized that meant by French standards!!!  LOL.  Friday I had my first “cantine” food, which consisted of nice, golden yellow potatoes (Mom, just like the kind you always talk of back in Germany and can’t seem to find in Canada.  They were relatively small and firm, none of that crumbling stuff here!), then salmon, shrimp and mussels in a white Bechemel-type sauce, cooked carrots, a huge chunk of cheese, and a chunk of baguette.  WE WERE IN HEAVEN!!!!  It was so nice to have a “home-cooked” meal!  I think I will be frequenting these “cantines” more often now, lol.  Apparently the meal was not such a hit with the kids though, because of the seafood.  This week was a “try new foods” week at the school cantines in Montauban.  They chose a different colour for each day, and then prepared foods of that colour.  Needless to say, the “Green” day didn’t go over too well.  French kids don’t like their spinach salad either!
  3. I have 8 different classes/groups, each of which I see for 45 mins, twice a week
  4. Two of those classes are actually “split” classes, where I teach more than one grade level – eek!
  5. I teach:
  • 2 classes of CE2
  • 1 class of CE1 + CE2
  • 1 class of CM1
  • 1 class of CM1 + CM2
  • 3 classes of CM2

Here’s the thing though – even though by name I may be teaching the same grade, the kids are all at vaaaaaastly different levels of English knowledge, so I need to plan separate lessons for almost each of the 8 classes.  There isn’t really a very clearly defined English curriculum, and students in past years have also had Language Assistants like me, who may or may not have taught them various things (After the first time I saw them, I decided to give the CM1 and CM2 classes a little quiz, to see what they know and figure out where they are at).  Some of my classes are as small as 12 students, others have about 28 students, but in total I have approx. 150 students!  Aye!  That’s a lot of French names to learn!

So, now that you have the basic details, a little more about the first days of teaching.  I’d say overall, it’s been pretty good.  One thing’s for sure – they love camp songs!  “I said a Boom-Chicka-Boom” and “Brown Squirrel” were both big hits.  I also tried to explain the relative size of Ontario and Canada in relation to France, which pretty much blew their little minds. I showed them one of those big fold-out maps of Ontario, and they were all amazed when I turned the map over and explained that the first side was just southern Ontario, and that northern Ontario was on the other side.  They were quite impressed!  They then introduced themselves (Hello, my name is _____), and with one advanced CM2 class I was even able to play the game where everyone stands in a circle, they say “My name is ____.  I like ____.  This is ____. She/he likes ____.  That is ____. She/he likes ____. and so on.  My fellow Group F’ers will know what game I mean.  It’s kind of hard to explain.

Some of the classes are well behaved, but I have 2 classes who just won’t stop talking.  Also, the classrooms are very different here.  They aren’t all decorated like back home, in lots bright colours, pictures, posters etc., but are mostly plain; there are a few maps, historical timelines and maybe a poster or two.  All my classes have traditional chalkboards (though I was told that a few schools do have a Smartboard).  Also, grammar is actually taught, they know what a direct object and indirect object are, they still have dictées (spelling tests), students generally write with classic ink pens, they have gorgeous cursive writing (no printing allowed), they underline all titles with a ruler, and everything is very neat and orderly and for lack of a better word, very “old-school”.  I was saying to my parents the other night over Skype that now I have a pretty good idea of what school was like for them 40 years ago in Germany!  It’s a bit like stepping back in time.

Also, let me mention school supplies.  They are completely different!  They don’t write on regular lined paper, but write on either graphing paper (The kind we use on rare occasions in Math class for graphing activities), or on other strange lined paper that has 3 lines in between each set of normal lines.  I was desperately trying to find normal lined paper the other day, and had to go to 4 different stores until I found some.  Also, their paper is longer and narrower (called A4), I have not yet been able to find construction paper (luckily I brought some with me), they don’t have thick markers (only thin), their binders have either 4 rings or 2 rings, there is no such thing as a “duotang” binder, and they have these strange folder things which close with two elastics that wrap over each corner.  They DO, however, have great teacher notebooks for lesson plans and recording marks, no photocopied daily lesson plan pages here!!!  I was so excited when I bought mine, it’s like I’m a real teacher now!  lol

My French roomie, Anais (more about her later), showed me that the multi-lined paper is because in their cursive writing, and different letters have different heights. Oye-vey!  One thing’s for sure – no chicken scratch writing here!!!  Also, I had the CM2’s write down the date in English in their notebooks on the second day.  That took about 3 – 5 mins as it was done sooo carefully. On the prior-knowledge quiz I gave them, I asked them to colour in the images in the appropriate colour and name the colour in English.  Bad idea – they colour even moooore carefully, so I had to scrap the colouring part for the next group, as it took too long.  Even the teachers are very neat and organized in their notes and how they write on the board (all is neatly arranged, or properly underlined).  Compared to French teachers and students, I no longer consider myself “neat” in any way!  Though come to think of it, I’ve never been overly neat (I can hear my parents laughing already. I blame my creative side.), but I can be very organized when necessary (though you wouldn’t know it by looking at my room at the moment!).

This has been a long post, so I’ll leave you with some pictures of the aforementioned school stationary items!

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Toulouse by night

So, essentially I feel like posting some pics, because I’ve been a busy girl with my cameras…

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Click through the gallery to take a look!

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