– Paper, papier. Pen, crayon. Table, table. Chair, chaise. Blackboard, tableau. Notebook, cah.…
I wish John would shut up. But you see, John is so enthusiastic about his French training that he has to mumble vocabulary on his way to class. For now, I’m trying to open the bloody classroom door. Stuck, as usual. Or… do I have the right set of keys?
– Keys, clés.
John added a new word to his vocabulary. He’s already pulling his electronic translator out of his briefcase to check the translation. John is fifty-something. He’s an executive. His employees dread his well-known outbursts — he’s your basic workaholic. The guy is a bit short-tempered, indeed. But here, John is Jean and he learns French. No choice: his position was recently changed to bilingual imperative.
The door finally opens and I let John in. The class won’t start before another 30 minutes and I just have the time to eat my sandwich. Another day at work. I pull a brown paper bag out of my bag and grab a newspaper. Hopefully, John will get the message. I’m just coming from a three hours class at the City Hall and the last thing I want to do right now is small talk. This is my sanity time. Before another three hours class.
Thirty minutes later, people are gathering in the hallway. If I don’t open the door wide, they won’t come in. Despite the fact that the room has a huge glass door and they can see me sitting at the far end of the big meeting table. I wonder how long they would wait but I don’t feel like experimenting today. I get up and go open the door.
Students come in, chatting. A couple of them are still hooked up to their Blackberry and all of them place their cellphone on the table in front of them.
– Carla won’t come today, she’s sick. Mike will be thirty minutes late. Greg won’t be here.
I sometimes wish I could require a note from their parents. Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely my students will do it. After all, they are all between 30 and 60. I’m the baby of the class but they take me seriously. They’d better. I’m the teacher.
I let them chat for a couple of minutes while I pull out my folders and my pens. I then raise my voice:
– Ça va bien aujourd’hui ?
I carry about thirty photocopies with me. Time to lighten my bag: I distribute them and try to bribe my students in taking the absentees’ copy. No way I’m bringing them back next week, only to find out more people didn’t show up.
Alright, time to correct the assignments. I asked them to write a letter, let’s see what they came up with. I love correcting papers. Armed with my slightly leaking red pen, I read aloud and scribble notes in the margins. I dissect. I explain. Clearing up a specific grammar point makes me happy. It’s like untangling a knot. I can tell whether my students understand just by looking at them. So far so good—they even take notes today. Such attentiveness isn’t common: the classroom is a place for drama, a place to vent a bit, to forget the hierarchy. I often compare the Canadian government to the “1984″ novel: some words don’t make any sense (“accountability”, “person-month”…) nor do some politics.
This is a writing class. Students have a pretty good French level but they need to practice their writing because they all hold bilingual positions. Each class, I give them assignment: usually writing a short letter, an email, minutes of a meeting etc. Problem is, when they print out their paper at the office, a few of them reported it was mistakenly sent to translation. Indeed, English speakers are required to have anything they write translated by the translation bureau. No matter how good their French is. What’s the point of this class, then? Well, in theory, they have to be able to write in French. But it will never happen. So, when they print out their assignment, my students have to specify it’s for their French classes, otherwise, it’s corrected and translated automatically. Stupid politics, I said…
One of the students looks like she’s on the verge of tears. This is typically a case of “I failed the competition for a new position”. What adds to her misery is the fact that mumbling John was sitting at the panel—I’ll learn that at the end of the class. Ouch. There’s more drama in my classroom than in the OC.
Take the woman sitting at the far left. She’s obviously pregnant. Very pregnant as a matter of fact. But she didn’t mention it, probably because she can’t: her manager is sitting in front of her and she didn’t officially tell him. So we all have to pretend she’s not pregnant. Office policy: she will tell him when she’s sure she can take her maternity leave and meanwhile, we avoid looking at her nice rounded belly.
By the end of the class, I have usually finished my big bottle of water and I have red ink all over my hands. I let them go ten minutes earlier—so that they get a chance to linger a bit. I provided three hours of freedom. Teaching 101: stay away from office politics.