School started again on August 25th.
In Mayotte, the teaching profession has one of the highest turnovers I've ever seen. This year, only three new colleagues joined the English-teaching ranks in my school. Two had been teaching in various lycées before this year, and were still recoiling from the shock of collège. The kids are small... energetic... very noisy... don't understand this... aren't mature enough for that... and the new colleagues weren't quite sure what to make of them. The third new colleague is a 21-year-old girl fresh out of her BTS, which is a two-year technical course after the Baccalauréat. She'd never taught before and was very motivated, though rather unsure of how to go about the whole business. I'm the next best thing to head of English this year, same as last year, so it was my job to get these three ladies up and running with the rest of us.
I started off by inviting them to come to my lessons whenever they wanted to. I offered to show them all sorts of classes: the wonderful class where I get told off if I don't speak in English, the average half-French and half-English class where we read texts and do exercises, and the uncontrollable class where I can't get a word in edgeways. I didn't know which of my classes would be which, but I've always had all three in the past, so this year should be no exception.
One colleague decided to come on the very first day of lessons. What she really wanted to see, more than any particular class or teaching style, was how to manage the technical installation part of things. She knew I had a videoprojector, and she wanted to see me arrive in the classroom and set it up in front of the students to see how much time it would take and what the students would do while I would be plugging the cables in. As it was the first day, it was my first time in a room I'd never been to before: didn't know where the power outlets or even the light switches would be, didn't know if we would be dealing with fans, A/C or nothing at all, didn't know the classroom layout, didn't have the key (borrowed a colleague's at the last minute), didn't even know if we would have enough chairs and tables (not always the case). She wanted technical mess. I could deliver technical mess. When we arrived in the room with the students, they finally stopped their initial frenzy and stood quietly behind the tables. I explained that we would be starting by moving the tables around, drew the layout I wanted on the board and immediately started pushing tables - and students - where I wanted them to go. Got them started moving house, then found a socket, plugged in my extension lead and started unpacking computer, projector and cables. Meanwhile, they had moved the tables roughly the way they were supposed to be and were waiting again (good class! good class!) so I said good morning, sat them all down and started chattering about how to introduce oneself in English, all the time booting up the computer and plugging in cables as quickly as possible. By the time we had established how to give one's name and age, I had the projector up and running and we could proceed as normal. When we finished the lesson, my colleague said that she hadn't even seen me set up my clutter as she had been absorbed in the running commentary and general patter. She had been afraid that the students would be sitting waiting for ages while she set up her computer and whatnot, but as long as you keep talking, they don't even notice.
The second had been given 21 hours a week instead of the minimum of 18, which meant an extra class. She had a three-year-old son at home and was having problems finding someone to pick him up and look after him because of her heavy workload, so she was looking for someone upon whom to shunt off the extra class. We compared timetables and found that I could take them. I don't have anyone waiting for me at home, and my timetable has loads of gaps. As well as that, I could use the extra money, as I found out this summer that paying for a holiday doesn't stop after the plane ticket somehow. There are loads of extra costs that I hadn’t really factored in, from food and hotels to car and bike rentals, tour guide fees, various entry fees to this house or that park, and motorbike repairs on Sunday afternoons. This particular extra class, by pure chance, just happens to contain the three students I ousted from my European class last year because they had stolen some art supplies and tried to sell them to other students. They don’t seem too bloodthirsty for revenge, though.
The third – the youngest – hadn’t been seen all day on the first day of lessons. She breezed into my room just as I finished for the day, all smiles, chattering gaily about her wonderful students, the fact that they hadn’t given her any stick for being so young (hadn’t noticed and didn’t care, an adult’s an adult when you’re eleven years old) and how pleased she was with this wonderful new job. Ten minutes later, she looked around her and asked: “This is Room G04, right?” Nope, that’s next door. Out she rushed. That was the end of her.
I have a very civilized classroom this year. There is a whiteboard instead of a blackboard (not too bothered about that, but a lot of colleagues complain loudly about having to write with chalk), the room is actually huge, so no kids cramped around the walls this year, and I even have a cupboard. No key yet, though. There aren’t any holes in the floor, which makes a big change. All the tables are the same colour, all the chairs are the same colour, and there is even air-conditioning, even though it doesn’t seem to work without a control and there are no controls on the horizon. I can even project onto the whiteboard, rather than having the blackboard at one end of the room and the white screen diametrically opposite, which made my lessons look rather like a slow tennis match as the kids’ eyes pivoted between board and screen, quickly looking both ways whenever I said “Look at the board” as they never knew at which board they were meant to look. It took me three lessons to finally find a practical configuration for the tables. Now, I just hope the teachers I’m sharing the room with won’t move it all around again. Last year, I shared the room with several other teachers who kept moving my carefully-placed tables all over the place. Hmmm, OCD tendencies. Lovely.
A couple of photos from the end of last year, when they dressed me up in an African boubou.
My 4ème Euro class, smiles and light and happiness.