Wednesday, 19 November 2014

State of affaires

Bonjour mes ami(e)s
Yes, I am still here in the south of France. Nothing much has changed since my last post, but here is a short update.
I am now in my third year working part-time at the local college, helping children with behavioral and /or learning difficulties. The future for the French education system looks pretty grim. Cutbacks, followed by promises of more teaching staff, hints of a chance of permanent contracts for people in precarious posts like mine. The latter is extremely unlikely for all but a few. Tomorrow there is to be a big demonstration in Toulouse. It is clear that something has to be done. Teachers are already stretched and proposed changes to their working hours / conditions will only make an unhappy bunch of people even more unhappy.
Even in the few years that I have worked in primary and secondary education over here, there has been a noticeable deterioration in the behavior of the pupils. Classes with 5 or 6 constantly disruptive pupils now seems to be the norm. The parents of these children say that their kids behave the same way at home "Qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire?" they shrug, their children's behaviour is not their (the parent's) problem. I suppose that it is the same in the UK these days, but I don't know.
The teachers spend a lot of their time trying to keep order and actually teaching anything becomes secondary. Teaching staff are now babysitters!
A fair percentage of the pupils have low literacy and maths levels and lack comprehension skills when they arrive in College at about 11 years of age. Their knowledge of the world, current affairs and history is low, and reading a book is not on their agenda. Concentration is not something that they are familiar with, except when it comes to playing computer games, when an 8 hour concentration span is achievable. Of course they arrive at college exhausted. Obviously not the fault of the parents then.
The jobs situation here in this part of France? Well prospects are almost non-existent unless you work for Airbus at Toulouse. There are no job prospects for youngsters or indeed oldsters here, The outlook is bleak, so why should the kids bother to learn anything. The Government appears to have totally lost the plot and we wait for the latest news of the President's complicate love life.
On the other hand I did have most of today off, the sky was blue and the sun was shining...
"Always look on the bright side of life..." (exit stage left en sifflant)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Back to College

Well, hello again. This is an update on my vie en France.
After 5 months of signing on as unemployed, following the end of my 2 year contract as an EVS administratif  in two primary schools (10 hours per week in each school), I was successful in being successful in getting a one year contract as an AVSco. 
I am currently based in a large College in the departement, working in a class of children who, for various reasons need varying degrees of help to progress with their education and with their integration into "normal" school life. Most of their time is spent in a classroom working through a curriculum consisting of various subjects, e.g. maths, French, history, geography, history etc. There are also lessons with the other pupils in classrooms out with the comfort zone of their own classroom. I either assist the children under the direction of  the professional teacher, or I accompany a child in a classroom of their peers, helping them to keep up with the lesson, writing the information down for them, clarifying what they have to do etc. 
It is very interesting and rewarding work, but very poorly paid. Working 21 hours per week, I now take home about 30 Euros less than I was making last year.
The move from an office in a small primary school to a large college with 1,000 pupils was a culture shock. From not having to speak or listen to much French during my working day, I was having to immerse myself in the French language. Listening to lessons, instructions, communicating with pupils and staff, my brain really did hurt for the first week. There was also the self doubt making things even more stressful and difficult. Then of course there was the size of the college itself, all of the new rules, the new systems and procedures.....
My contract started on the 1st of September and I have survived thus far.
Like every other facet of French life, the bureaucracy is a real struggle and communication (not due to language difficulties) is often nonexistent or last minute as an afterthought. I am still trying to get the password that I need to log in to the official system to collect emails etc. Obviously as I want to keep my job, I will not go into further details of school life.
So that is where I am at the moment. Apparently these contract can, in principal be for a period of up to a maximum of 6 years. You can be asked to work in any school, college or lycee in the department and your timetable can be changed at very short notice. However, as I said, I am enjoying my new posting and learning a lot at the same time. I am told that my French language is improving, although I am not noticing much of an improvement myself, except for having to learn vocabulary of the college.

A bientot

Friday, 11 May 2012

Air on a C string

I have been struggling to learn the electric guitar since last August. I have bought books, computer tutorials, DVD's. Apparently this is not enough. Something called "hours of practice" is required, and not just any old practice. Targeted practice.
The only other thing that I haven't tried, and which is strongly recommended, is taking lessons from a professional teacher.
Searching the Internet, I have found a man who lives on the outskirts of town. His web site is complete crap, inaccurate and not up to date. However, he has been a professional musician for over 30 years, so web sites are not his main area of expertise. He can teach many different styles of guitar, types of guitar, and also the drums. For the drums, you have to have your own set, and he will come to you for the lesson. There are lots of photos of him teaching children, but he is willing to teach octogenarians.
What he doesn't say, is how much lessons cost. This always pisses me off. If you are selling a product or service, the customer wants to know how much they will have to pay.
So I continue to procrastinate. The other thing that pisses me off, is that they use the French equivalent of Doh, re, mi etc to name the notes / chords. instead of the sensible C, E, F, G, A, B, C etc

 It is hard enough learning the chord / note names / shapes in English, without having yet another barrier placed in the way. The first lesson is free and lessons will be structured to the needs of the individual student.
Did I mention that 2 weeks ago I bought a Lanikai L21 soprano ukulele from a supplier in Germany?
The You tube prophets say that they are, and I quote one Youtube teacher here "piss easy" to play, having only 4 strings, and, in my case 12 frets instead of the 6 strings and 21 frets on my guitar.
I am trying to learn "king of the road" after struggling with "twinkle, twinkle little star" , "frere jaques" in the free booklet that came with the ukulele.
Us experts refer to them as "Ukes". I thought that this was going to be my musical grail...... I am having problems with my C string, it is in tune, but it just doesn't sound right. I doesn't ringgggg.
There is no Uke club in my departement and no listed Uke teacher. Perhaps I could start a club by leaning on the lamp post and the corner of the street ....  It might look good on my CV.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Health, wealth and and the pursuit of happyness

On the financial front, things are looking up. I have a new tenant that has just moved in to the studio apartment below me, so that will help towards paying my income tax bill in September, and because I meet the criteria, the French government are going to pay me some unemployment benefit. This will be up to 70 percent of what I was earning from my school job. If  I earn any money, I have to send Pole Emploi a copy of my payslip. I presume that they will then deduct that amount from my benefit money.
Since I worked 3 hours teaching English last month, and will be teaching for a final 3 hours later this month, I will have to declare this, when they decide to send me a payslip. This can take months... and with this being the month of public holidays .......
Now that I have received some documents from Pole Emploi, I need to take them along to my health insurance / social security provider MGEN, so that my advisor there can make copies of them, and file them in my dossier.
Things are beginning to move in the right direction. Now if only I could sort out the long spell of bad weather, I could start working on my tan.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

En Forme

Two weeks ago I began my "formation" or training with Pierre, my advisor. I had taken along the bag that I use for cabin luggage, stuffed with a big French / English dictionary, copies of all my pole emploi  documents, my CV and lots of other papers concerning my previous employments here in France and in the UK.
Pierre had been a bit worried about me coming to see him as he doesn't speak English and his only other English client not having spoken any French. They had tried to communicate with her using the dictionary that she had brought along, and with him typing things into Google Translate. This was obviously tedious and not very efficient or accurate.
He had ended up phoning his daughter, who spoke some English, putting his mobile on speakerphone, and his daughter translating for them as best she could as they went along. Lord knows how the client managed with filling in the paperwork.
As usual there is lots of paperwork. I had to sign at least 6 different documents, presumably a contract, agreeing that I understood and agreed to do anything that I am asked to do, or my money (should they give me any) would be stopped.
I had come prepared for a possible full day of training, perhaps in a large room stuffed with computer terminals, but no, it's just me and Pierre in  a room.
Do you know what the training entails? he asked. I replied that apart from CV's, letters of motivation and how to search for a job, I had no idea no idea.
Were you told any other details of the training?
No, I said, and I don't know how long the training lasts....
He explained that I was to come along once a week for up to three months, or until I find a job, whichever comes first. He qualified this by saying that although these meetings would be once a week, some of the meetings would be carried out over the phone. He then gave a sheet with the "training" overview. Sessions would last from 25 minutes up to an hour. After 25 minutes I emerged into the sunlight, 8 pages of questions nestling in my heavy bag, my homework for the next week's meeting.
Last Thursday, I returned to see Pierre with my questionnaire filled in to the best of my ability. I left an hour later, with another 8 pages of questions to fill in. Once this first 4 week phase is completed, Pierre will have all of the information he needs to make a judgement on what firms / jobs to target.
He has told me that only 20 percent of the available jobs are advertised on the open market. We will be targeting the hidden jobs.
Whilst arranging the date and time for our next meeting, Pierre explained that May was the month when the French make "le pont". There are about 4 bank/public holidays in May. If for example the holiday is on a Tuesday, most workers make le pont / the bridge, and don't go to work on the Monday, to enjoy a long weekend. This means that I have until 31 may to do my homework. Vive la France!!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Stand and deliver

Back at chez Rigsby, I logged on to the Internet and filled in an 8 page form which was similar to the paper one that I had just filled in at Pole Emploi.
This generated a choice of three rendezvous dates/times to return to Pole Emploi to meet with an advisor.
On the allotted day, I arrived at Pole Emploi in good time and waited in the queue. I told the lady at the desk that I had arrived and she ticked my name off the list.
I sat and waited. My fashion model advisor kept me waiting at least 15 minutes, but finally she acknowledged my presence, shook my hand and ushered me into interview room 2.
She found me on their computer system, checked details, then started to fill in a form. We were doing splendidly, but I said that form is very like the form that I filled in online, and the paper form that I filled in here last Monday, but which the lady kept.
My advisor left the room, returning 10 minutes later to say that they couldn't find my form and other paperwork that I had left, anywhere, but that they would have a good search for it that afternoon.
I was asked for more paperwork, which wasn't on the original list of things to bring along. I was now subscribed on a course to learn how to write a CV, a lettre of motivation, and how to search for jobs.

So off I went home again.
The next day, my "lost" paperwork arrived in the post.
I returned to the counter with it  more of my evidence. The lady took away my passport to copy it for my growing evidence file. Then she looked at my language teaching contract. She decided that it wouldn't fit the bill, and went off with it to see her boss.
No it wouldn't do. I needed to  contact my employer and get a proper contract,  then return once I had that.
2 weeks later, the required document arrived in the post. Hands shaking with excitement, I opened the envelope and discovered that the last two dates were missing from my contract.
F**** it I thought, and set off with my pile of paperwork to face Pole Emploi. Before I set off however, I riffled through, only to discover that the copy of my passport was missing from my file (a further delaying tactic perhaps?). I therefore copied my passport.
At Pole emploi, the lady barely glanced at my new "contract" but started hunting for my passport copy. What a surprise it was there....
We will now process your dossier, and you will hear from us in about 18 days, she said.
I headed off into the sunset, no hint of a smile of triumph on my face, lest some punishment excercise be handed out.

Monday, 7 May 2012

To begin at the beginning

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
As a newly unemployed person, I was at the door of my local Pole Emploi, just after opening time on the 2nd of April. A young man with a spring in my step eager to embark on the next player level of my "life in France" adventure.
Knowing the love affair that France has with bureaucracy, I was clutching a carrier bag of documentation which might aid me in my quest for unemployment benefit "allocation" and perhaps even a job.
"I've come to sign on"
here's a form, you can sit at the table over there and fill it in.
I filled in as much as I could, then went to the counter again (a tip, early morning is the best time to turn up, otherwise you risk standing in a long queue). I explained that there were some bits on the form that I wasn't sure about. The young man came back over to the table and we  went over the form. Next came checking through the necessary supporting documentation that I had brought "Oh dear" he said looking at my major weapon, my confirmation of the end of my contract. "They haven't filled it in properly"
There was a section which was blank"
"Can't we just fill it in now" I asked. He sucked in a breath through his beard and looked at the form again. There was a pause, then "Non"
So I packed up my forms and headed off across town to the Lycee that had sent out my document.
Reaching the office, I explained my problem. The lady apologised and it transpired that all that was missing, was an X in the box to say that my contract was finished!!! If only I had looked at the form, I could have saved myself the trip.
Back in the Pole emploi queue, I handed over my paperwork again. The lady riffled through the papers. Have you signed on? she asked. I thought, this is a bit odd, but I went along with it. "
"But that's what I'm here for" I said.
Oh no, she said, you have to sign on by telephone or via the Internet. She hung on to my paperwork, and I set off home to sign on.....