ASSIGNMENT: Primary French Immersion-ish
My first official traditional classroom teaching assignment!
I was almost giddy pulling out clothes I hadn’t worn in close to two years, since I assumed yoga pants were not acceptable attire for a classroom teacher.
The automated lady told me I would be doing an afternoon of “Jun-io-r Co-v-er-age” before spitting out a reference number and abruptly ending our call.
“I know you’re here for grade 5, but we need you in French Immersion,” the school secretary said while simultaneously letting in someone from outside, putting a band-aid on a child, answering the phone, handing a folder to the principal and taking a sip of her coffee.
“My French is a little rusty,” I blurted out.
“It’s fine. It’s rare to get a French speaking supply teacher for French Immersion.”
“That’s wild,” I responded.
“Wild is having 7 positions to fill and getting two supply teachers. You not speaking French is nothing.”
Due to a torrential downpour, it was indoor lunch recess and I could swear I saw a child scaling the wall next to the bookshelf as I entered the classroom.
“They’ve had a bunch of supply teachers this week. There are emergency lesson plans on the desk,” said the board consultant who was sitting in for the morning.
“Je m’excuse,” I began, “Maintenant nous allons fait la classe. Je m’appelle Mademoiselle Grates.”
Oh, yeah. I got this.
Except for the Mademoiselle part.
Who was I kidding?
“Madame Grates,” I corrected.
“Can you speak in English,” a grade one student said from the floor, “We don’t understand French.”
There was a cagey feeling in the room. The feeling of an indoor recess where children who have had to distance, mask and sit all day are deprived of movement and fresh air.
“Indoor Covid recess is like the seventh rung of hell,” the teacher across the hall from me said as she came in to grab something off the shelf.
Underneath a full desk of papers, I found a folder that read “EMERGENCY LESSON PLANS”.
EMERGENCY LESSON PLANS
RELIGION: Watch “Beginner Bible Stories” on YouTube.
ART: Watch “How to Draw a Penguin” on YouTube.
No problem! Except for the dead classroom tablet and missing charger.
A beautiful young child named Christian was rolling around on the ground smashing snacks with his elbows. I didn’t see anything about that in the emergency folder. The bell rang. I had no technology and no plan.
I quickly texted my sister the kindergarten teacher and she told me to just adapt.
I wasn’t quite sure where to start considering the dozen plus things around me requiring adaption.
My students were starting to get out of their chairs and scaling the walls again. Christian had painted his fingers with a purple marker and there was no time to waste.
I feel I need to pause here for a moment to share the one sure thing I have come to understand about primary students. There’s one thing that grade one students will ask you more than anything else. A burning question they can barely contain that will come at you repeatedly from multiple directions that is really the epicentre of primary education.
And that question is:
“Can I go to the washroom?”
Or in this class’s case:
“Est que je peu aller au toilet?”
At least they say it in French.
This seems simple enough, but you will quickly come to realize that this request will consume your time with some classroom teachers even having to chart who goes to the washroom when, for how long and how many times.
Seems so silly to have to monitor this, I thought, until every one of my grade one students had asked to go to the washroom more than once within 90 minutes. Clearly every one of these students needed out of their desk. It was literally impossible for these small children to stay seated. They needed to move their bodies. They needed to stand. They needed to breath.
I text messaged my sister the kindergarten teacher to ask what I was supposed to do with no lesson plans, no working technology and a classroom of bladder control issues.
“Read with them, inspire them, work on language arts,” she wrote back, “and don’t forget to check the duty schedule.”
The duty schedule? Le schedule de duty?
Got it! Once I found the duty schedule, I realized I had already missed it. Next time! Moving on.
Out of respect for the regular classroom teacher I wasn’t really sure what the rules were around adapting lesson plans or not following them, but with a lack of both working technology and self-regulation around me it seemed time to bring in my #1 backup plan – Arts Education.
“What’s your favourite bible story,” I asked them from the front of the room.
“Santa and the North Pole,” one shouted.
“Hmmm, I’m not sure Santa was friends with Jesus,” I said.
“Everyone’s friends with Jesus,” Christian responded.
“Fair enough. Can you think of another story you might have heard of?”
“This weekend, I’m going bowling with my family and we’re having chicken and my Grandma has really nice bowling shoes and they’re green and red and I’m getting bowling shoes, too,” little Maddy responded.
“That’s fantastic,” I responded enthusiastically, “I’m looking for a bible story. Who can share a bible story they remember hearing about?”
12 of them raised their hand at once.
“Yes! My friend in the pink!”
“I don’t remember,” she eventually shares.
“That’s ok! You can tell me when you remember.”
“Noah’s Ark,” Christian shouted out backwards from his seat while wiping a glue stick on his eyebrows.
“Yes, Christian! Brilliant! How would you like to bring that story to life right here in the classroom?”
“Hooray!,” they exploded.
It wasn’t on the emergency lesson plan, but Madame Grates needed to adapt.
Fifteen minutes later, the classroom was a world class theatre complete with the physically distanced roars of lions, the swinging trunks of elephants, jumping kangaroos and a four-person dinosaur that one student insisted was on the ark.
Christian was fully engaged. He played the bird that flew around the ark repeatedly not wanting to land and he loved every second of it.
No one asked to go to the washroom.
As my students lined up in twos to go home, they continued their animal noises all the way down the hall to the door where their parents were waiting for pick up.
“Tweet tweet!” Christian yelled excitedly as he waved bye.
“Tweet tweet!” I waved back, watching my ark exit into the heavy rains.
Despite a few bumps and a swift learning curve, it was a fantastic first day. I grabbed my bag and umbrella and made my way home.
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