Today, I went down into town for groceries in the middle of the afternoon. On my way down, I heard my name: “Maîtresse, c’est Allison! Regarde, c’est Allison! Coucou, Allison!” 15 CE2 kids were pressed against the chain link fence of the overgrown oval track surrounding the rundown basketball nets, a stadium of sorts that serves for outdoor gym classes. They were so excited to see me, they were practically climbing the fence.
This is the class with the most problem kids. Maybe they were just surprised to see me outside of school, maybe it was the end of the day on Friday, maybe lots of things. But that image sticks in my mind.
Then, I went to my landlords’ place to get a new lightbulb and ended up talking with the women for a while, and it wasn’t long until teaching came up as a subject. The wife has worked in the maternelle (preschool) of my school before, for 15 years starting about 25 years ago. When she started, all the moms of the kids in the projects* dressed “like you and me.” When she left, most of the ones of Arab descent were in headscarves and burkhas. Now, I see a mix. And I hear that some of the girls that I teach, the young girls, wear them at home.** Not that this is a problem, mind you, but it’s the way that the kids are treated by their family. I hear stories, I see how they act, it’s not hard to put two and two together.
I know this isn’t an extreme situation. It’s not a huge problem. And I’m also not going to change these kids’ lives or magically make everything wonderful. But I want to help more than just try to teach them English for 90 minutes each week. I want to help their regular teachers show them what a wide and wonderful world is out there. I want to help them think about where they can go, what they can be. And I want to make enough of an impression in 6 months that it lasts, whether consciously or not.
So how do I do that?
*Yes, there are projects here in rural France. Immigrants, mostly from Northern Africa, some from the Middle East, came in a few decades ago looking for work at the mine. Then the mine closed, and they couldn’t quite leave. Subsidized housing become like what we know as projects. I’ve gotten repeated warnings from many different people to not walk past the HLMs at night.
**France passed a law in 2004 banning headscarves and all other religious symbols from laïque, state-funded public schools. I wouldn’t be able to wear a burkha, a Star of David, or a cross necklace in school. Especially as a teacher.
***I’ve got some ideas of my own, but this is a way to do a little trans-Atlantic brainstorming. Yay interwebs.