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Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology ("MAC")
4. Spring at the Univ. of Rouen
Here I am in front of the building where I taught (the Faculté de Psychologie, Sociologie et Sciences de l'Education). Inside, the building we found a mass of smoking students with a thick cloud hanging below the ceilings. We also found that the restrooms were mixed-sex. We were not ready for that! The news was that I wouldn't teach any semester-long classes — the Dept. Head had not done any arranging and advertising for that. Instead, I was to teach one or two short-run (one to three day) workshops. I was also expected to attend a series of seminar by visiting researchers. The topic of the first was (are you ready?): "Noses of Newborns" (or more exactly: "Development and Determinants of Olfactory Preferences in Prenatal and Neonatal Infants"). These seminars were actually quite interesting and I could usually follow the French, although it was always an exhausting two-hour workout to do so.
Meanwhile, the boys were getting started at their own school, the nearby Collège Irène Joliot-Curie. Instead of having five or six regular subjects, as in the US, the students have 12 or 13 subjects. The boys ended up enrolled in Technology, Music, French Literature, History/Geography, Algebra, Biology, etc. — everything in French, of course. Both Braden and David immediately became the object of much curiosity among the French students. The students would encircle them during P.E. and between classes and fight to be able to sit next to them in school. The classes were difficult for them, of course, but neither of them had the attitude of "we can’t do it, so why try?" And the teachers were wonderful. Far from finding the indifferent, incompetent teachers we had heard about, we found them to be dedicated, caring, and willing to do extra kinds of things to help the boys in their subjects or in French in general.
One day in February, I took the whole family with me to Rouen. Before going up to the University, we visited the huge 13th century Tour de Joan of Arc where the Maid of Orléans was held prisoner awaiting her trial. We also took the boys through the "old village market" (where they burned her at the Stake). Most of the ancient buildings in this area leaned in impossible angles over the narrow streets of cobble stones below. It was another world! This photo is of the Rue du Gros Horloge with the old clock above our heads.
In February, I received a phone call from one of the professors. "Would you come and speak at my two classes on the differences between the American family and the French family?" "Well, sure... er.... When would it be for? "Yes, well, I'm a little embarrassed about that. It's for tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM. Can you make it?" "Oh! Well, yea, ...sure. Um... How many students will there be?" "Oh, about 110 to 120 in each class. You'll teach in the large amphitheater." Well, that was overwhelming, to say the least. To teach two large sections with one day's preparation would be difficult under any circumstances; this was to all be in French! I telephoned Norma Shelan, back at St. Martin's. "Norma! You've got to bail me out of a jam! Can you send me a fax with tables and graphs showing divorce, marriage, pregnancy rates; that sort of thing?" Well, she came through with flying colors. Six pages from various social problems texts arrived by fax that night.
Actually, the lecture went very well. No one walked out shouting "American, go home!" No-one yelled, "Learn to speak French!" I talked about U.S. family types, divorce rates, adolescent sexuality, single parent households, and so on - illustrated with Norma's charts and tables. I also spoke about family violence and gave a couple of examples from my own cases. I even managed to throw in a joke or two. Here's the left side of the amphitheatre I taught ( there's another whole section on the right). It was crowded with a lot of energy in the air and I found it very difficult to get the courage to call for attention and spit out my first few sentences in French! However, the professor came back near the end of the class and asked the students if they wanted a follow-up session to answer further questions about the American family. A whole sea of hands shot in the air. That felt great! We gave out cards so that they could ask their questions and I could spend the next week preparing to address them. I got questions that ranged from the absurd ("Has the library in New York re-opened yet?") to the profound (“What have been the effects of governmental aid for education in the impoverished inner cities?") I had my work cut out for me!
The next week, I taught the same "American Family" lecture to the professor’s other Monday sociology class – apparently they had "heard the word" from their friends and requested that I be invited to their class, too. Also, the Dean of Social Sciences told me he had heard that I had been "insanely successful" with the students and that felt good. Then I taught the follow-up to the first two classes based on their written questions given to me the previous week. Two young women were so interested that they kept me talking out in the hall after class for 45 minutes with all their questions.
Finally, another professor invited me to teach an on-going course to master's students every other Thursday. The problem was that the class was scheduled for the exact hours as Professor Mellier's seminars. It seemed only courtesy to let Mellier make the decision about how I would spend that time. “Tell her you can't teach it. I want you in the seminars," he said. That was disappointing. There were over 50 graduate students waiting for the class to begin. “So,” she said to the students, "He isn't going to share his resources. He's going to keep Dr. Ellis all to himself. Well, that's a little greedy! Oh, well, maybe Dr. Ellis will talk to you for an hour or so, and then the class will be canceled. I'm leaving; I've got to take the train to Paris." And, with that, she was out the door.
For almost two hours, I talked about a family system's perspective and presented several interesting cases I had worked with over the years. It was actually a lot of fun trying to get the ideas that I had taught so many times in English across to students in French. Unfortunately, the class was not to be. I thanked the students for their patience with my stumbling French and dismissed them all.
"Boy, it's too bad," said one out loud to her neighbor. "This would have been great!" And that was reward enough.