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school, willing to be drugs and firearms free,
but not "French teachers
remember...numerous afternoons spent singing, dancing and hooraying to encourage
the school's football team...
A sharks grotto
Managed by Mrs. Carmen Ingraham, this Middle School (lower
secondary, from 6th through 8th grade) has the reputation to be so, as well as
many Middle Schools in Louisiana.
To the difference of Boothville-Venice
(before 1993), this school always marked an interest to have two French teachers,
a luxury if we consider the small number of students and their very apparent lack
of interest for Molière's and Zidane's (sic) tongue.
there with Bella (Belgian) in 93-94, with Sophie (Belgian) in 94-95, and with
Daniel (From Quebec) in 95-96 and 96-97 (two classes each).
In August 1993, after a good greeting, I'm trusted into this
1. Recruit two groups of voluntary students,
for two classes each afternoon, and change groups every two month (!)
Keep these students during the whole class time into the "classroom",
which is the science lab, and try not to let or make the lab explode.
I had the volunteers invited, though the speakers that are in all classes and
often interrupt lessons for various announcements, and found myself in the lab
with about 100 exuberant teens...
I selected a first group
of them for each level, and mentally prepared myself for a though year.
Before going in, I emptied my mind. I found myself back
at the exit, on the parking : it was my way of preserving myself from a
: Pierre in hell
I probably cursed (yes, sorry...) that
school 100 times this year, and particularly during the first semester.
I keep memories of stinking bombs, loads of punishments, many useless lessons,
But also of some promising students,
at their level... And of my reaction : it doesn't work ? Let's work
more. Completely crazy.
A memorable experience, but
a very though and exhausting year. Shall I stay this year ? Shall
I continue next year ?
have to work, or to break (me)...
August 1994 : many
colleagues left, but I stayed. This time, I have the advantage of knowing
what I'll get if I come in here like I did last year, and I have no intention
of being a pigeon again.
Mrs. Ingraham gives me much better work conditions : a real classroom, and the
possibility of keeping the students who wish it all year long. Then, I discuss
a new discipline and work plan with her and my American colleagues. Finally,
I approach the candidates to my classes in a very different manner...
said, it was something like : "You are in my French class. If you came
here with the intention of playing and chatting with your friends, you'll have
more trouble than you ever had, so you better get out right away and choose another
class ; no grudge. However, if you came here to learn French, in a fun way
as far as possible, I welcome you in my class. And it's at this point, at
each selection during the next three years, than 60% of the students would leave...
reassured : it was not their usual way to greet me when entering my class ;o)
Among the others, I selected my students following my impressions
and their homeroom teachers recommendations. Quite often I took "risks"
with students having a bad reputation, and that's how I got some of my best students.
Three exciting years
tough years, since a "Middle School" stays a "Middle School",
and this one is in a rural area that does not offer many distractions besides
fishing, hunting, video games, the phone and four-wheelers.
exciting, surprising, motivating... Again, the feeling that a treasure is
hidden behind those American teens masks, that a little teaching tactic can reveal.
I also saw my American colleagues, whom I really misjudged the first year, under
a different light : I had not understood that a "Middle School" (and
this one in particular) is another world, and that I had learn again to teach,
in order to survive and to be really useful.
is one of those places in the US where a Vietnamese community lives. My
first contact with them was through Hung (photo), whom I was asked to take in
my French Class when he arrived, not speaking English (nor French of course).
The idea seemed strange, but I had many other worries and I accepted. So
here's Hung in my class, following me around with a pocket recorder...
became one of my best students, and was rapidly followed by other Vietnamese students
of the school. We realized that for them, my French class was very motivating
: gifted for languages, they could do better here than most American students,
while they had difficulties in the other subjects, taught in English !
the end of the school year, Hung absolutely wanted a picture of his French teacher
to show to his family in Hanoi.
else can be said ?
In 1993, I would have told you "Buras
Middle School is the worst school I know". Ah, human subjectivity...
These four years taught me a lot as a teacher,
as an educator, and as a human being. I'm not saying that I would like to
revive this experience, since it was very tough after all, but I do not have any
Well, actually I have only one : not being in contact
with any of my ex-colleagues and students, to the contrary of Boothville-Venice.
But fortunately I keep the memories and the experience... A treasure...
last little memory ? Every day I had frogs in my classroom (the ground was
marshy)... That also was a sign for Vietnam*...
* "Une Petite Grenouille" ("A
Little Frog") is the manual used in Vietnam in the
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Page créée le 13 juin 1997 - Mise à jour le 14
Pierre Gieling - tous droits réservés