Archives For junior high

Parlez-vous français?

January 31, 2014 — 2 Comments

francais2I mentioned last time that I was disappointed to arrive as a new student at a school with grades K-8 and miss out on junior high. I didn’t mention that there were redeeming aspects to this new school, one being that I would be able to study French.

Foreign language instruction typically begins in high school, but this school was piloting an enrichment program, and I slid right in on the deal. They enlisted a native speaker to teach the language au naturel: no textbooks or written materials of any kind for the first two years. This would theoretically result in a good ear for the way French should be pronounced. And that is how I ended up in Madame Medley’s classroom.

She was originally from Marseilles and was what many would consider the classic French woman: stylish, attractive, sophisticated, enigmatic, cool, and polite — but frank. Her silk stockings may have rustled softly as she strode past one’s desk, but make no mistake: Mme. Medley was definitely in control of the class.

She made use of cartoon characters on film strips projected onto a screen and reel to reel audio tapes to teach us. Week by week and month by month, we’d progress from one film strip to the next as we mastered the vocabulary introduced on each one. The main character, “Lynne”, and an adult with whom she interacted became familiar friends.

“Bonjour, Lynne.”

“Bonjour, Monsieur.”

“Comment ça va?”

“Très bien, Monsieur.”

Lynne and Monsieur walked us through numbers, colors, foods, articles of clothing, furnishings of a home, and myriad other categories, gradually incorporating verb tenses, articles, conjunctions, syntax and other components of the language into the lessons. On occasion, Mme. Medley would show us a film about France to educate us about the culture. And we were in hog heaven the day she played a 45 of the Beatles’ new release “Michelle”, with Paul McCartney singing en français!

At this point I should mention that in order to get to the French classroom, we would exit our homeroom on the second floor, march down two flights of stairs, pass the lunchroom, the gym, and the boiler room to arrive at a very long, narrow room that could in no way have ever been intended to function as a classroom, with its small windows near the ceiling and scant natural light. But this very feature made it easily darkened and ideal for viewing film strips and movies.

Then one morning, the exceptionally dark classroom played a key role in an awkward development.

We had been doing the standard drill for much of the class period: repetition of new phrases aloud as Mme. Medley advanced the film strip in step with the tape recording. As the hour came to a close and the lights came back on, giggles erupted in her otherwise very contained classroom. In moments, all eyes were on one of my classmates.

Throughout much of the lesson this student had been mindlessly fiddling with her ball point pen, in the same way that a girl might twirl a lock of her hair while reading a book or watching TV. So what’s the problem, you ask? She had inadvertently clicked the ball point pen open, and the dozens and dozens of lazy circles she traced around her mouth left a thick dark blue ring — an inky mustache and beard. No one had noticed before it was too late because we’d been… sitting in the dark.

Mon Dieu, c’est très drôle.

Instant in her intervention on behalf of the mortified lass, Mme. Medley, with a mere facial expression, a few gestures, and only a sentence or two, made it known to all that expressions of amusement at this girl’s expense were to cease immediately. The student was excused ahead of the class to scrub off the unwanted doodle in the Girls’ Room. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t come completely off right then — and nobody expected that it would — but, being a generally good-natured person, she took things in stride and chose not to let the gaffe spoil her day.

Sometimes I wonder whether there are grandchildren who surround her dining table nowadays who have heard tell of the day the lights went out in French class and Grandma debuted as the star of the…

“Bic Van Dyke Show.”


 (Heh heh.)

rose fanning bigger

Rose Fanning Elementary School

Actually, I didn’t learn a single thing in junior high because…

I didn’t go to junior high.

We moved the year before I would have gone and the new school had kindergarten through eighth grade under one roof. I was bummed about missing out on this rite of passage.

During the years I would have been in junior high, though, I did learn a few things, to wit:

  • Landscape designers can and do err.

See those leaves framing the photo above? When I was attending that school, those trees were gingko trees, which had been planted around the entire block. For three seasons of the year, these trees seemed innocuous enough — lovely components of the overall landscape design, by all appearances.

Then in the fall, things got funky. While the leaves were turning a warm, golden color, the fruit of the female ginkgo trees were releasing their odor. Tree experts might tout that “the few weeks of unpleasant aromas are worth it for the beauty the trees add the rest of the year”, but I beg to differ.

You simply can’t justify planting gingkos near an elementary school when there exists a plethora of trees that don’t drop Stink Fruit! I could at this point describe the stench the small cherry-sized fruit released when squished underfoot by students pouring out of the school at 3:30, but it’d be pretty gross. And to make matters worse, boys sometimes thought to throw the nasty berries at each other, rendering the sidewalks a war zone, and me a scurrying refugee. So, NO GINGKO TREES NEAR SCHOOLS. PLEASE.

  • 1960’s girl’s PE uniforms were an amazing equalizer: they made everybody look bad. Everybody.gym uniform

Perhaps the worst fashion statement ever. They hit “homely” right out of the park. Only saving grace? Everyone was in the same boat.

  • By the time you get to seventh grade, there just aren’t many boys who can sing soprano any more.

The last holdout was this guy who was really smart, was a pitcher on city leagues for years, and who all the girls thought was cute. (In addition, he had very good penmanship — and you regular readers know how I respect excellence in the handwriting department). He was that kid who sort of defines “cool” in your peer group. And I’m thinking the other boys might have relished this irony.

  • Having a teacher for a parent doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll move to the head of the class.

I would have figured a kid could just know lots of stuff by osmosis if he or she lived with a real live teacher. But the classmate whose mom taught at a nearby school was just a middle-of-the-road, ordinary student. Color me surprised.

  • If you challenge the boys in your class to broad jump contests on the playground and proceed to jump further than all of them, you will get noticed, but not in the way you wanted.

(Don’t ask me why I expected it to turn out differently…)Milk-Milk-Straws

  • If you blew it with just right amount of force, you could get your straw wrapper to stick to the air intake vents on the lunchroom ceiling.

You just didn’t want to get caught in the act.

  • If you miss nearly two weeks during the first month of your eighth grade year, you might not totally figure out what’s going on in algebra the rest of the year.

Sigh. I really needed a tutor.

  • The prickly eighth grade teacher, who seemingly enjoyed intimidating students, was ill-advised to have taken issue with my reasons for being gone for nearly two weeks at the beginning of the year.

She apparently deemed travel to another region of the U.S. to attend an annual religious gathering with the family a poor excuse for my absence and hassled me about it. I mentioned this at dinner, and the very next day, my dad was at the school going head to head with her in the small unoccupied instruction room next to our classroom. (That he took off work to come to school during the day was a really big deal to me.)  I couldn’t hear the exact words spoken during their very animated discussion, but he had my back. The woman treated me right the remainder of the school year.

Praise the Lord and pass the 3-D grapher.