Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mary Johnson and Jean Nicaise in Room 202 at D-B

Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

A New World … of school (continued)

          The teachers also had a schedule of five classes a day, with a free period expected to be spent at school. This twenty-five hour week was indeed a considerable enough load for a native. For the exchange teacher it came as a shock at the beginning, made worse by having to be there for the six or seven half-days generated by twenty or twenty-two periods of fifty minutes each, meaning effectively seventeen or eighteen hours at both ends of the day; not to mention, obviously, the hours for research, preparation, and grading at home. Every teacher also had to expect numerous out-of-class activities: leading a debate, cooking, drama, or photography "club;" putting out the school newspaper, Indian Tribune; editing the school annual; sponsoring the cheer leaders, the Future Business Leaders of America club, the Amateur Radio club, etc. During the forty minute lunch break some teachers could be seen sitting sandwich in hand having a lively discussion with a group of their students.
          I was in charge of the French club. I showed my movies and my slides. Since the school had several pianos, I sang and led the singing of not only "A la claire Fontaine," [By the Clear Fountain, a traditional French song] but also -- why not? -- "Douce France" [Sweet France] and "Boum, quand notre coeur fait boum" [Boom, when our heart goes boom] by the incomparable Charles Trenet [French singer-songwriter, 1913-2001, nicknamed "The Singing Fool."]
          [Here a picture shows two female students looking at a pull-down map of France. Its caption reads, "it's understandable that hearts would go boom at the sight of such attractive club members."]
          In Europe there is an excessive number of holidays. At Dobyns Bennett, in the first trimester we had a sum total of two days at Thanksgiving! In the second, after two weeks for Christmas, not a single "break" until Easter, for which the so-called "vacation" went from Good Friday to Monday, that is, two days in addition to the usual weekend. In the third trimester there was not a single day, neither Ascension, nor Pentecost, nor May First [International Workers' Day], nor May Eighth [VE Day]. Here you celebrated Workers' Day by working and did the same by way of commemorating the great Christian, civic, and military events.
          The night school would like to have added to my heavy duties that of French teacher for adults. I refused. I just was unable to add anything to my principal assignment. [In a footnote Nicaise says, "The Indian Tribune, a monthly with photos and advertising to pay for it, and published like a real newspaper by a student club with a lot of help from a teacher, featured me in its October issue: 'Teaching French and Latin (and deciphering our slang) keeps Mr. Nicaise busy.'"] My refusal was not appreciated.
          Every teacher obviously had, all week long, the same students at the same times in the same room. Thus it was Room 202 that I decorated with French maps and posters and where I am with Mary [Johnson] in this picture. [Photo follows.]
          I had to face the same Latin class every day for last period, a pooped teacher facing pooped and excitable students. On Friday, fatigue and excitability reached the breaking point. Fifteen minutes before the end of the last class, the loud-speaker installed in every room called musicians in the school Band out of the room to rehearse the school song. Also leaving were the cheer leaders so that they could practice the routines whose purpose was to guide the cheers of the supporters of the school football team, the only one in town.
          A panel of teachers chose fourteen girls from among twenty-five candidates. They had to be good students with a good reputation and, obviously, the ability to do the routines with sufficient spirit and grace. Their fellow students then chose seven from the fourteen selected by the teachers.
          What was I supposed to do with a class shorn of five or six students? The ones who remained  were as if they were on starting blocks, ready to dash for the door at the first sound of the bell for the end of the class and the end of the week. As it was, the bell at the end of every period served as a blade that cut me off mid-sentence and as a spring that launched the boys and girls toward the exit, whereas my little Belgians knew that they should wait for a signal from me before running out to recess.
          One day a student in the last period Friday class, less in a hurry than the others, came up to me and said:
          - You've had a tough day, Mr. Nicaise …
          What a good kid!
          Such gestures of friendship and even of familiarity weren't rare and sometimes, I have to say, were quite unexpected. One student, Judy Noel, while leaving the classroom tugged my tie with no malice at all. I was likable to her, that's all, and she let me know in her own way. One evening, Renée and I went to a basketball game, because we wanted to join in a maximum number of school activities. From the bleacher just above, in this magnificent and huge gym, one of my students tousled my hair:
          - Hi, Mr. Nicaise! Hello M'am!
          It was one of my best French students, Jo Royall, and I knew she was very interested in the class.

[Translated from the French by Jud Barry]


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