Following on from a few heavy 8am Wednesday morning lessons on British occupation in Ireland, the Troubles, and the IRA, I decided I would lighten up my hour with the Terminale ES* by doing a lesson on St. Patrick’s Day. Finally, after a long, dark winter, I can now enter room 2217 on the southern wing of the lycée and not go straight for the light switch, and I think I speak for both myself and the 12 economics/science stream students when I say we all have a bit more energy now that we don’t have to travel to school in the dark. They still huddle to the radiators for the first 20 minutes of class though, for which I don’t blame them.
Trawling through pictures of the overwrought American Paddy’s Day parades from last weekend, I realised that if any of the students were lucky enough to have been taught by an English assistant from Ireland before now, they would surely have seen these images a hundred times over. The parades look completely interchangeable from the pictures (sorry if anyone who has spent months organising a St. Patrick’s Day parade is reading this; I am not discounting your efforts or originality), and, frankly, I was bored of looking at them. Then something caught my eye. In Detroit, a fake Irish pub was opened along the parade route as part of a social experiment: the bouncer on the door refused entry to anyone claiming to be, or just looking Irish, and continued to insult the “lower class” “lazy” immigrant group in question. In true American fashion, every second passerby was Irish and one or two really lost the head at being refused entry (it’s very clearly a set-up which makes their self-righteous exaggerated reactions pretty entertaining but at the same time quite annoying). Anyway, the social experiment is actually really clever and “woke”, especially topical in Trump’s anti-immigrant USA. So, I went about devising my own mini trap for my Terminales; I would show them a picture of a parade, a “KISS ME I’M IRISH” t-shirt, and a sneaky pic of Enda Kenny giving Barack Obama a bowl of shamrocks, throw in a headline from the time Irish soccer fans charmed the whole of France during the 2016 Euros, and then hit them hard with a “No Irish Need Apply” sign and a caricature of Bridget McBruiser, Florence Nightingale’s unsightly, destitute, and decidedly Irish, counterpart. And it worked – they were genuinely shocked, and in some cases, offended. They seemed to have built up a sensitivity and sort of empathy for the native Irish people’s plight since I started teaching them in October. Now, I don’t come into class every fortnight with a violin and recount woeful tales of famine-stricken gaels arriving on Ellis Island with grassy-green-tinted mouths and prompt them to blame the British for orchestrating a genocide on the poor tyrannised Irish natives. But even the rapport that we’ve built between teacher and students is pretty evident, and they now have a basic understanding of the best and worst aspects of our island’s history – or so I like to think. We talked about the notion of hibernophobia, and had a look at some anti-Irish propaganda. They saw a few “HELP WANTED” ads explicitly advising the Irish not to bother applying, and one of the groups read the lyrics from a song entitled “No Irish Need Apply”.
This tale doesn’t have a twist at the end; it’s not a tour-de-force about how a seemingly disastrous Wednesday morning class turned out to be a roaring success. All went well and just as I had planned, and for the first time with this particular class they didn’t all run for the door when the bell rang.
Also, they left the class having learned the word whelping which might be my best pedagogical achievement to date.
*Terminale: In the French second level education system, the Baccalauréat is the equivalent of the Irish Leaving Certificate, studied for over 3 years in a lycée. Students enter the lycée in Seconde, then go on to Première, and their final year is called Terminale.