School, Digoin, and Nuits-Saint-Georges

“The difference in winning and losing is most often not quitting.” –Walt Disney

So I’ve now been back from vacation for two and a half weeks.  At first, it was difficult to get back into the routine of teaching, but I think I’ve picked up better than I left off.  I’ve begun using some of the techniques and activities I learned in my education classes such as jigsaw discussions and formulating debates, and it’s made me feel more like I’m actually doing something here.  One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that the students are SO dependent on their teachers and most don’t know how to work on their own.  Or maybe they do, but they show no motivation or drive to work to better themselves in school.  I’ve discussed this with a teacher at my school, and we think it is a variety of issues, including the BAC, creativity, and group work.

With the BAC, the big end of high school test, teachers and students feel pressure and focus on learning facts instead of ideas.  It seems like the attitude is, “here, I’ll give you the answer,” rather than “figure it out yourself.”  Similarly, many teachers in the U.S. feel this same pressure when it comes to standardized testing, however creative and different teachers in France seem to be looked down on rather than praised and encouraged.  This pressurizes them to stick to the curriculum, and the students to stay dependent on it.  Because the French education system and class curriculum is so rigid, there is not much room for creativity and group work.  As a result, students, especially students who do not fit well in the academic structure, struggle to keep up and are not in the least bit motivated.  A system which punishes failures rather than rewards success does not help.  Lack of motivation causes a lack of self-sufficiency, and thus many students remain dependent on their teachers to provide them with facts.  Because school is so standardized, many students do not think it should be any other way.  When I introduced group work (and interestingly enough, technology in the classroom), students met the idea with resistance, as if I wasn’t actually teaching them.  It is something they are not accustomed to, so naturally they are uncomfortable, but it definitely showed me how much they struggled working on their own.  I can only hope that I can add another perspective to their concept of education.

Our first weekend back, Doug, Kate, Jaclyn, and I headed to Digoin, a small town on the edge of Burgundy, to visit Laura.  Unfortunately, it is very complicated to get to.  We took a bus from Chalon to Montceau-les-Mines, which was a lot more pleasant in the midday sun than in early morning fog, took a stroll around the market, and then took another bus to Digoin.  It dropped us off at Laura’s apartment, which is quite large for one person.  It was a beautiful sunny day, so we set off for a stroll along the canal, which actually crosses over the river.  It was very picturesque.  We walked through the small town, stopping for some pastries, and then explored the pottery shop.  Digoin is known for it’s pottery and dishes, and is definitely someplace I will return to when I want to furnish my lavish French house… We went grocery shopping and then headed home to make an American dinner of mac n cheese, [American] biscuits, salad, and red velvet cake for dessert.  With some American music and dancing, it was hereby dubbed “ ‘Murica Night” and was a blast.  The next morning we relaxed before taking our complicated route back, via train this time (Digoin-Paray le Monial-Montchanin-Chalon).

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This past weekend I accomplished one of my New Years resolutions and did something I NEVER thought I would do: I ran a half-marathon.  This crazy idea burst forth in December, a “pourquoi pas?” moment when Kate and I decided to go buy new running shoes.  Once I decided I was going to try, I was motivated to run even in the rain and snow.  Originally I was only going to do the 10k, but as my running got better and my distances got longer, the idea of the half-marathon crept into my head and bounced around for a while.  I put off officially signing up, however, because I still had my doubts.  After a 12-mile run last week, however, I was feeling good.  One thing people who don’t challenge themselves don’t realize is that achieving something new not only feels good, but is addicting and self-empowering.  Because I had run that far against my own expectations, I had proven to myself that it was possible.  Suddenly, the half-marathon seemed attainable.  With a slight feeling of recklessness, I signed up.

I started to immediately regret it, worrying about the distance and the time and how I would look, but now I had no choice.  The feeling lasted right to the starting line.  Rudi was running it with me, and Kate, Alex, Doug, Laura, and Jaclyn were all there cheering us on.  There were people running in silly costumes, excited kids, flowers.  The excitement, similar to the excitement before putting on a big show, hit me, and got me easily through the first half.  It helped that it was a beautiful day in the French countryside and I was running through vineyards with the hills in the background.  Once the 10k ended and I realized I was only halfway finished, I began to struggle.  I pushed through, however, and finished in 2 hours and 12 minutes, which is about a ten-minute mile.  I accomplished both of my goals: finishing and not being last!  With the end came the feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, and the thirst for a new challenge.  I don’t know if I will run another half-marathon, but this was a great first one, and I am looking forward to new challenges I can overcome in the future!

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We were supposed to go to a wine tasting in Nuits-Saint-Georges after, but it unfortunately closed.  Still, I got a free bottle of wine, as well as a free bottle of mustard, for running the race.  You can tell we’re in Burgundy! In the end, we headed back to mine for some wine and Pocahontas.  Three days later my legs are still sore, but it was a fun weekend!

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I am quickly coming down to my last leg in France (as I will probably be reminding you of in the next few posts) and am realizing how much I don’t want to leave.  I have my own apartment, my own job, my own life.  I’ve got French friends and my own Chalon family.  As much as I miss life at home, I have made a place for myself here, and as the end approaches I am increasingly realizing how comfortable I am.  I don’t know if this is a result of knowing the end is near, but whatever happens, I will have to move on.  The world keeps turning, and I have discovered that stagnation, while comfortable, would cause me to miss great opportunities.  So here’s to an awesome end of the year and a start of new adventures!

Here is a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, about your inner genius.  It is a new outlook on art and intelligence: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

French word of the day: s’inscrire-to sign up for.  It’s so much easier to say in French…

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