Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Encore à la scène!

Okay, un peu de réussit! I'm climbing back up the ladder of french again. I've had several job interviews and even landed two small part-time jobs dans un milieu francophone! I'm un accompagnateur in an after-school homework help program. Along with about 15 other people, I pick up 3 2nd graders from an elementary school and walk them to a church across the street. In the basement there, I help them with their homework, play games, talk and try to keep them from fighting and climbing all over the tables.

From that job, I came to the attention of the school itself, who needed a temporary replacement for their lunchtime monitor (moniteur à service de diner). I went in today for the first day and a bit of training. Wow! I know you're thinking lunch time monitor, what, you just stand around in the cafeteria and keep an eye on the kids. That's basically it, but this is an amazingly well-run school. There's a whole, tightly-organized system.

The kids come out of their class, go to the bathroom where they was their hands. Their lunches have already been wheeled in on these wooden carts where they deposited them when they came in in the morning. They get their lunch and go to their assigned seats in the gym, where tables have been set up. They are divided by age and there is one monitor for 4 tables. The kids are not allowed to leave their seats and they have to speak quietly. When they need something, they raise their hands. When they have finished their lunch, there are games (mainly cards and Uno) they can play. They are not allowed to eat any chips, candy or soda.

After 45 minutes, the lights are turned off and the kids are supposed to stop talking. When all the tables are quiet, the tables are let out one by one to go get their jackets, gloves, toques, et al. and come back. Then they are led to the bathroom one more time. Finally, we release them into the yard and they go nuts.

It's cold here and there are large patches of ice which they love to slide on. Because a bunch of kids got hurt yesterday, the teachers designated one area with cones where the kids could slide. On the rest of the ice, they weren't allowed to stand up. So you had all these kids wrestling, sliding on their knees, or just lying on their stomachs wriggling around or being dragged by their friends. They get about a half an hour outside, unless the weather is really bad (raining hard in the muddy spring or below -30!) of "unstructured play."

I share this detail with you because it was totally unfamiliar to me. I was really impressed. I taught for four years in the New York City public school system and most schools don't even have an outside, let alone this kind of supervised lunch hour. The school I worked at today is a public school in one of the lower income sections of the city. A majority of the children are immigrants. I came away feeling that this is a society that cares about its children. Equipment, time, structure, attention and lots of people are there for the kids of this school. I don't know if this is the same across the province, but if this is at all indicative of the state of primary education here, I am heartened. No wonder young french-canadians are feeling bullish again about an independent Québec!

An interesting aside, during the training the woman in charge of the service de diner said to me that as an anglophone--and here I thought she was going to say that I might have trouble communicating with the children--I might be tempted to speak english with some of the students. But I must not. If they speak to me in english, I must respond in french. They are only allowed to speak french in the school, except during english class.

I think a lot of Americans would bristle at that idea and the one about what kind of food they are allowed to eat. Personally, I prefer the kind of freedom that comes from giving all children an opportunity to learn. They don't have much of that in the U.S. anymore


Olivier said...

I wonder up to wich point that whole thing about food is enforced troughout the province. It's a very good idea tough.

Do you know how this way of doing things came to be? Was it always more or less like that (the schools I went at in Québec city were never that organized, but Ic certainly recognize the general pattern)? Maybe some of your co-workers know about it?

Oh, and glad to see you post; Happy new year!

Anonymous said...

I've come to really believe that the public school system of NYC is in such a state of disrepair, the only thing that will save it is to move out. Thank goodness I didn't go to school here -- Rono

Mustapha Mond said...

Why do you hate freedom?