First day back…

 

Ah – La Rentrée, a tradition in France that is well explained by this blog post – so much so, that I won’t even try to explain it, but urge you to go across to read the article – but basically, it is the return to school, and also the return to work that takes place in September.

For me, I have had a late rentrée, as my “Arret du Travail” was until the end of September. But yesterday, I started work.

Wednesday is the day that I go to Roanne, and work with (mostly) young people from collège (middle school) and Lycée (6th form college equivalent) I finished with three students last year, as they took their BAC and all did well. Hannah and Inès are now studying medicine in St Etienne, and Emeline is studying Tourism in Lyon. I did, however, pick up one new student – the sister of Inès, and Maelan (who I’m still teaching) – but decided to try to space them out a little better so I had more than 10 minutes (after my drive from one student to another) to eat my lunch!

My timetable is now:

10.15-11.45 Yvalda – an older lady who is an Estate Agent. She wants to improve English as she’s a member of Zonta International, a ladies’ group, originating from the US. The group meetings are held in English.

11.45 – 12.30 Travel & lunch. This longer pause gives me about 25 minutes or so to eat, depending on the traffic between Yvalda’s apartment and the car park where I eat lunch. Much better!

12.30-13.15 Valentin – he’s in Première – the penultimate year of Lycée. He is concentrating on the sciences, but thinking about engineering as a career choice.

I then scurry across the road to…

13.20 – 14.20 I teach Adam, who is in Troisième, the last year of Collège. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw him – in the 9 months since I last taught him he has shot up, and is now definitely a young man! I actually mistook him for his older brother!

14.20-15.20 Yannis is Adam’s older brother, and Hannah (medicine in St Etienne)’s younger brother. He’s also  in Première and  concentrating on the sciences. He, Valentin and Maelan (see below) are all good friends.

I then have 5 minutes to drive to…

15.25 – 16.10 Maelan. Another one who’s in Première and concentrating on the sciences! He is the younger brother of Inès.

16.10 – 16.55 Aya – she is my new student. She’s in CM2, which is the last year of Primary School. She has been desperate to take English lessons with me for the last year, so is very keen and motivated at the moment!

Hop back in the car for a ten minute drive to…

17.05 – 17.50 Clément – he’s the younger brother of Emeline (Tourism in Lyon) and is now the student I’ve been teaching longest. I started teaching Pierre Damien, his older brother, back in about 2010, and gradually started teaching Emeline and then Clément. P-D is now also doing medicine in St Etienne. He’s been there for 3 years, and, I believe, is doing well.

That would be when I finished – an hour earlier than last year – but Valentin’s mum has asked if she can have lessons too, so from next week I will

hop back in the car for a ten minute drive back to…

18.00 – 18.45 Marie-Pierre. I can’t tell you anything about her yet!!

It will take me about 30 minutes to drive home, so I should be back by 19.30. Mr FD will be tasked with preparing dinner, and, I hope, clearing up afterwards. Although we usually have a who-cooks-doesn’t-clear-up rule, the fact that I’ll’ve been out working all day while he’s been at home makes me feel he should do the clearing up too!

Next week I’m also starting with more lessons in Clermont – Tuesday afternoon for three hours, and Thursday afternoon for four. So again, Mr FD will be cooking those days, although I might bring myself to clear up then! It won’t have been such a long day.

Then a fortnight later I’ll have another three hours on Monday morning, so my working week is starting to get a bit fuller. I hope that I’ll be able to pick up some more hours on Tuesday and Thursday morning, but it depends what demands for training come in to ILS. Still, I’ll be working a 20-hour week, which isn’t bad, especially if you factor in the travel – an hour each way to Clermont, and 30 minutes to Roanne.

I’m happy to say I wasn’t too tired when I got back home. I think that I am fully recovered. I saw the Radiographer on Monday, who thinks that everything is doing what it should be. My breast is still sensitive and a little sore, and it’s uncomfortable raising my right arm to its full stretch, but he didn’t seem concerned by either of these things. I need a mammogram before seeing the oncologist in January (but I’m putting that off till December, as my breast is still a bit painful), and I also have to see the surgeon…After which I just have yearly check ups. My homonetherapy is fine – I have a few side effects, but nothing too dire. Some joint pain, a few extra-hot flushes, and some extreme skin dryness in various places: I can cope with this. I haven’t noticed any real psychological effects, such as anxiety, or mood swings, but they may yet arrive!! Of course, Mr FD might say the mood swings have already arrived!!

 

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Happy Retirement, M. Khodri!

I have worked for ILS for 9 years now. I remember my first meeting with M. Khodri, the director – previously I’d been working in St Etienne, at Wall Street Institute, and although I liked the people, it was a long way to travel (taking about 1.5 hours to get from door to door) and I wasn’t very keen on the method of teaching employed by the company. So one day, I took a few CVs and letters of motivation to Clermont Ferrand and decided to trawl round the language schools there. I called in at WSI, and had a slightly bizarre interview with them (they turned me down) and then I called in at ILS. M.Khodri saw me immediately and sat me down in his office for a chat – my French being even worse than it is now, and his English being practically non-existent, it may have been a little awkward at times, but after about half an hour he offered me a job with the company!

I was very happy teaching there – mostly in-company, but sometimes at the offices of ILS – and the majority of the work done was for Michelin, which is one of the biggest employers in Clermont. It was also the golden goose for ILS, with, I’d say, at least 85% of the English teaching work being done in partnership with Michelin. Unfortunately, with money-saving becoming more important, and technology becoming more prevalent, Michelin decided to move over to e-learning, which meant that ILS, who had put all their eggs into the Michelin basket, was a bit stymied.

For a few months, in 2012, it looked as though ILS might be going down the pan, and sadly this meant that 6 or 7 of the English teachers had to be made redundant. I was one of them. I remember that M. Khodri was so distressed at having to make me redundant, that he said to me that anytime I wanted to come into the office to use the resources, or to use one of the rooms for private telephone lessons, or to make photocopies for my private lessons, then I was welcome to do so!He was always very supportive, and so even when I wasn’t working for them, I still popped into the office from time to time.

Happily, the company survived, and I, plus most of the other teachers, were re-employed, but as “auto entrepreneurs” – that is, we are self employed and on a contract basis. It means ILS do not have to pay any of our social charges etc. Not so good for us (no sick pay etc) but better for them. I’m still happy to work for the company, however, as it is a real family company. We know each other, we support each other; the Head of English is a really lovely woman, the staff are friendly, the resources are plentiful. Even though we are not “salariés” – directly employed – we are considered as part of the team, rather than as sub-contractors, so our relationship with M.Khodri, and the other admin staff, is exactly the same. When I’ve got myself in a mess with French admin papers, M. Khodri has always been willing to spend time with me, helping me to complete the forms and calming me down.  And, most importantly, there is quite a lot of work!

Recently, M. Khodri decided to sell the company and retire, together with his wife, who is the accountant for the company. I have only met the new owners very briefly, but Claire, Head of English, assures us that they are dynamic, and forward thinking, and want to move the company onwards and upwards. As you can see from the photo of the offices above, it is looking a tad tired and old fashioned, and Melissa and Thomas want to modernise. I’m a little concerned, as I have to admit that I don’t take to change very well – especially if that change requires me to learn new technology & new ways of doing things that I’ve been perfectly comfortable doing “my” way for a while – but I’m going to try hard to embrace this. After all, I won’t have a lot of choice in the matter!!

So, on Friday, it was Monsieur and Madame Khodri’s retirement do. It was in the restaurant in Le Jardin Lecoq, in Clermont Ferrand, a lovely public garden not too far from the office.

I booked into the Holiday Inn, just across the road from the park, as I didn’t want to drive afterwards, and I didn’t know how tired I would be. I’m happy I did so, as it meant I could have something to drink, and I didn’t need to leave too early.

We gathered at 7.30, and stood around chatting, and at about 8.00, we were led to our tables, all set up outside. There was a four piece jazz band who entertained us

and it was good to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen since Christmas. We started with a glass of fizzies (I had some sirop in mine to sweeten it, so I could enjoy it) and we gave M & Mme Khodri their gifts: a voucher for a dinner in a very good restaurant, and a cave à vins – a temperature controlled cupboard to keep your wine in – plus some starter bottles. Note we didn’t actiually give them the cave à vins: Yacine, their son, who works for the company as well, had set it up in their house so it would be a surprise for them when they got home.

M. Khodri made a little speech and then we got on with the food!

Unwrapping their presents

We started with an amuse-bouche, (a little something to tickle your taste buds) which was a verrine of something – noone was quite sure what it was, but the general consensus was finally a cold pea-and-mint soup; it was okay, but as I’m not a great fan of peas, or cold soup, I couldn’t get too enthusiastic about it. Here’s the empty verrine, as I forgot to take a photo before I ate it! :

Then the starter arrived – a galette with roast vegetables and mozzarella, and salad in a lovely honey vinaigrette dressing

I remembered to take a photo halfway through!

A pause, while the jazz band played on, and then the main course was brought out:

I remembered to take a photo before I started eating!

This was delicious – white fish, chorizo and a scallop in a buttery sauce, served with polenta, roast tomatoes and a giant crisp thing. I’m not sure why the crispy thing was there, as it didn’t really add much to the meal, but it tasted fine! I’m glad I’m not vegetarian though, as their meal was peas-and-asparagus, roast tomatoes and potatoes. Not very inspired – as vegetarian meals in France so often aren’t!

Dessert was profiteroles – I couldn’t finish mine…which is unlike me. I’m thinking that the intake of my stomach has shrunk a little during chemo, as I’ve not been eating the same amounts. Perhaps I need to encourage this!

Claire, Head of English, clapping along to “Ain’t Misbehavin‘ ” We both started singing the lyrics soon afterwards!

M. Khodri boogeying on down with Alyssia, one of the English teachers.

And still the band played on… as it was getting on to 11 o’clock, and I was flagging, I decided to leave. Also, there were others going at that point, and as I didn’t know where the gate was, and didn’t want to be wandering the park in the dark, I tagged along with them.

It was a really good way to say “Goodbye” to a very kind (sometimes slightly incompetent!) employer. Thank you, M. Khodri, for the opportunity to work with ILS, and here’s wishing you a good and happy retirement.

Hooray for me!!

As you might know, French bureaucracy seems to be one of the biggest nightmares for many people living here – including the French themselves!

About this time last year, I was contacted by a (possibly new) organisation called DIRECCTE (Direction Regionale des Entreprises de la concurrence, de la consommation, du travail et de l’emploi ) (No, I don’t know either!!) that informed me that because I was providing training I had to have a “registration number” and in order to get this I had to provide vast swathes of paperwork, including an entire Course Plan (IN FRENCH – so I had to translate my planning for an entire course of 30 hours training into French. A very useful waste of several hours). Thankfully, the very kind Director of ILS, one of the companies I have teaching contracts with, helped me to complete the appropriate forms.

Now, a year in, I have to provide a Bilan Pedagogique et Financier – basically giving information about hours teaching, and money earned in doing said teaching. It needs to be done by the end of April, but I had set myself a reminder for the beginning of March telling me Not To Put It Off (I know myself well!) but to start looking at it and working out what to do. As I know I won’t be working in April, I thought I could get on and do it.

Thanks to some fairly assiduous record keeping (most unlike me!) I think I have completed it correctly – although there’s a couple of sections that I’m unsure about. However M. Khodri (the very kind Director) has said he’d check over it for me on Wednesday. I’ve got to go to Clermont for an opthalmologist appointment, so I can pop into ILS then.

But just the fact I’ve got myself into this almost-finished position, well ahead of time, is very pleasing!!

….Not this time, I’m not!!!

 

On other news: I’ve got an appointment at a wig specialist tomorrow, and Friend Alison is coming to help me choose. I will post a picture.

At the party on Saturday, someone remarked that I still had my hair.

“Yes,” I said, “it is still firmly attached!” And took a handful and pulled to demonstrate. Except, I demonstrated that it wasn’t quite as firmly attached as it had been! I’m beginning to find that it’s starting to come out – not in great swathes, but just the odd few hairs. Hey-ho; I knew it was going to happen, so I’m okay about it at the moment. The time when I have to face a Baldy Dormouse might be a bit difficult, but I know it will grow back (though possibly greyer than it is now!) and I know it’s a sign that the chemo is doing its job, so I hope I won’t get too upset.

 

Summer School Fun

And yes, it was mostly fun!!

The kids were great, although there was one rather spoiled little girl from Spain. She threw a wobbly everytime we asked her to do something she didn’t want to do, or told her she couldn’t do something she wanted to do. She was a bit sly too, blaming others for things she’d done, or telling tales – “Teacher, Kati speak Russian!” (when she herself had been speaking Spanish ten to the dozen with her classmate!)

Mind you, we had a taste of what her parents were like and thus why she might have been as she was, when, in the evening, Isabella (not her real name) was talking to her father, & the phone was on speaker mode. There was the Spanish group leader in her room, and Aoife, the housemother, came & told Isabella to finish her call, and go to bed. When Isa relayed this message to Papa, he replied – not realising the phone was on speaker mode, or there was a Spanish speaker in the room – that basically she could tell the teachers to f— off and he’d finish the call when he was ready to.  I think even the child was a bit embarrassed by this, and she quickly ended the conversation!

Most of the other children were fine, and, while they may not have learned that much English, we at least hope they had fun!

We went to lots of different places, and did lots of different things. We painted plates

(twice!)

We visited the Hawk Conservancy Trust, where we saw Barn Owls

and Bald Eagles

and Ryan, who flew the Bald Eagles

We went to Beale Park, where there were lots of animals, and to Bucklebury Farm Park where we fed the deer

We went to other animal parks, and had two trips to see musicals: The Lion King and Aladdin. I enjoyed both, but I think the children were a bit bored. Even though they knew the stories and the songs, it must be difficult to follow a play in a foreign language. The shows were spectacular, and colourful, but even that failed to completely hold their attention. Still, they enjoyed stopping for Burger King at Heston services on the way back. And the plastic Smurf toys in the Kids’ Meal seemed to give them as much pleasure as the musicals had!

I think the favourite excursion was to the Oracle shopping centre – the children had so much money to spend (one had come away with £500 spending money for 4 weeks. That’s just ridiculous for a 8 year old child!) and quite frankly went a bit mad, buying vast quantities of plastic tat. And sweets. And finger spinners. Boy, did they buy Finger Spinners! One child ended up with about 6 of the things!

We had planned to go to the park in the afternoon, but it piddled down with rain – so we went back to Downe House and let them play with their new acquisitions instead. I think they were just as happy with that!

In class we baked cakes, and made Barn Owls out of coffee cups and paper plates. We painted symmetrical butterflies and made hot air balloons. We spoke and wrote in English, we watched lots of Simon’s Cat (that was my bribe: “Finish your work and we can watch a Simon’s Cat video.” ) If you don’t know Simon’s Cat, here’s one that I used when teaching Prepositions of Place

Where is the cat? Under the box…In the box…etc etc.

All in all, it was a good time.

Because my computer didn’t connect to the Wi-Fi at Downe House (nobody, including the Tech Support Team, could work out why) I ended up being much more sociable. Instead of holing up in my room in the evening, watching Coronation Street and Long Lost Family, I sat in the Common Room and chatted with the other teachers. It meant I could be supportive as they bemoaned the DoS’s most recent demands (while secretly breathing a sigh of relief that my Head of Dept was much less demanding!) and help give some ideas towards their lesson planning. I got to watch some of the Harry Potter movies – some of the younger teachers were die-hard HP fans. They watched the entire series of movies, but they mostly started too late for me to stay up to watch them. There was some insistance to take the Sorting Hat test to discover which House I belong to:  I am, apparently, a Hufflepuff.

Although I’m not into HP I was a tad disappointed to be a Hufflepuff (such a bloody stupid name) but having discovered the house crest is a badger, I’m quite happy. I like badgers. Hufflepuffs are also Very Nice People So that’s okay then.

I’ll tell you about the other things I got up to another time.

 

 

 

Techno Idiot

I do quite a lot of phone lessons – I phone the student (or vice versa), we chat a bit about the last week, we look at a text, discuss some grammar, and finish the call. I send them an email with details of what we talked about and something to read for next lesson. Job done.

However, I am taking over a student, who is used to using WebEx for his lessons. I tried to suggest that he used the phone (“I’m having some trouble setting up WebEx”) but he wasn’t having any of that!

I looked at WebEx. It looks complicated. I hid in the corner whimpering.

Then I got all grumpy and Mr FD calmly asked if it was something he could help with.

“Mmmph-y snotty mphfh WebEx poff technology mmmph not fair” I replied.

So patiently, Mr FD  set me up on WebEx  (well, he talked me through it) and then joined himself. Then we  had a “meeting” which was slightly bizarre as he was up in his study, and I could hear him speaking in Real Life before I heard him over the headphones! This was useful to help me find out about some of the features. (I do have to admit that it looks as though it might be kinda useful too. But it’s new and complicated!)

I will have to practise and play about to find out more…but I didn’t want to do that this weekend. I wanted to play with sequins and make cards to sell when I go to Convention in Munich. And watch Strictly Come Dancing on Catch-Up. Grumpy face.

Still, maybe by the time Monday morning and our first WebEx lesson comes round I will be the Techno Whizz-Kid.

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Or maybe not…

Three Cheers for Mr FD!

Who has found a job!

TBH I’m not sure I totally understand what he’ll be doing but it’s something to do with IT, and websites and computer programmes and Stuff. He had a phone interview on Wednesday, a face to face today, and was told that he would hear on Monday or Tuesday. In fact, he received an email at about half past four, offering him the job!!

He thinks it will be challenging, interesting and – best of all – he’ll be earning money! It’s only a temporary post, through till mid September, but it’s paid, gainful employment.

Huzzah for Mr FD!

I’m sure he’ll be great at it, whatever it is!

Today I have mostly been…

…teaching and filing papers!

Over at Fat Dormouse I was bemoaning the fact that I had a difficult lesson today – catching up with a group for their final 16 hours after a 9 month break. It wasn’t easy, and there was way too much Teacher Talking Time (a no-no in ESL training!) but it wasn’t quite as difficult as anticipated. I hadn’t planned quite enough of the right level of revision work, but I was pleased with my on the hoof fill-the-last-30-minutes exercise.

They’d already worked in pairs to complete a questionnaire entitled “How Healthy Are You?” with questions like “How often do you go to the gym?” (we were practising using adverbs of frequency/ frequency expressions) so I asked them to work in the same pairs to create the questions and marking system for a questionnaire called “How hard do you work?” They managed to come up with some appropriate questions and possible answers (How often do you have a coffee break? How often do you sleep at work? etc) , and by the time they’d asked each other the questions, the last half-hour was finished!! Huzzah!

My other lesson later today will be easier – already planned, with one student. And dinner cooked by Mr FD on my return.

The other complaint at Fat Dormouse was the fact that, having cleared my teaching shelves, I have an awful lot of filing of random worksheets/lesson plans/resources to do. Instead of tackling it all at once (which is very unlikely to happen!) each time I sit at y desk to do some work,I take a small/large handful of papers (depending on how urgent the work is that I’ve got to do) and file them before starting anything else. Gradually, the pile should diminish! Except I didn’t do that before starting this blog post, so I shall do it now!