Teaching English in France: Take 2

29 Jan

Originally, I wanted to write a post about my teaching experience once a week. It’s been difficult, however, to find substantial material to discuss because my work week has been somewhat unpredictable. My schedule is ordinarily sporadic, but, for the first few weeks of November, I was not even able see most of classes. In some cases, the students were taking exams. In others, the professor was out. As a rule, assistants are not to be left in charge of the whole class, so to make up for teaching hours lost, the teachers would gave me alternative tasks to complete, such as acting out and recording a dialogue at home.

I last left off writing about my new-found teacher mentality and my decision to make planning and preparation a priority. Thus, each week, I kept my word and put forth a concerted effort to consult each professor and outline the session beforehand. In a retrospective self-evaluation, I gave myself a 9/10 for preparedness. As it turns out, having a plan was only half the battle.

The English classes I teach in France are organized differently than my French classes were when I was in high school. I remember concentrating on practical units, such as talking about family, travel, transportation, how to order at restaurants, etc. In France, the units are centered on very complex and exhaustive topics that can be difficult for even a native speaker to elaborate. These include street art, the suspense thriller and India. This caused me to overestimate the students’ speaking abilities, resulting in lessons that fell flat.

The primary example is when I brought the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s Thriller to one class of seconds and asked the students to watch the video and choose words that corresponded to “thriller” – words such as darkness, moonlight, scream, scared, etc. They were completely lost. Then I brought video clips containing no dialogue of Alfred Hitchcock scenes – one was the famous Psycho scene and the other was the final attack scene from The Birds. I was very excited about this one! I planned all night, writing discussion questions and researching Alfred Hitchcock, if anything just to open the door to this kind of cinema. I found out that the more excited I am, the more disappointed I will be. They were completely unimpressed.

In addition, my role (I say my role because each assistant I’ve talked to has a different experience from the next one) in the classroom changes with each professor. For the most part, I do just what my job title implies: I assist the teacher.  They either, as with the seconds, ask me to find a specific kind of activity to work on separately with my small group of students, or I go to class with them and do any number of things for them. So far, I have recorded students’ assignments for the teacher to grade at a later time, supervised and helped with group work and just observed the class session. In other words, I haven’t done much teaching, and I haven’t felt very good about it.

The first semester is over which unfortunately means I only have three months left of my contract. It also means, however, that I get the chance at a fresh start with new classes and new teachers, as well as the opportunity to do work I feel better about. I already do feel better, in fact.

Just after the Christmas holiday, I began working on test preparation with one of the BTS real estate classes I talked briefly about in my first observation post. (They were out on internships for the months leading up to Christmas.) The students will be taking an important exam in June that determines future successes in this field. I work with students individually practicing the tasks they will be asked to complete the day of the exam. In this class, which is different from my experience in most of my other classes, I feel … useful. I will also be working with two new professors. I have already met with one and discussed the plans and goals for the upcoming semester. With his class, we will be working on an interdisciplinary project on discrimination. I am very interested to see how this will turn out.

I’ve noticed that these kids apply themselves more when their effort has a direct effect on a grade, a project, an exam, etc. In addition, the classes I will keep from last semester are much more comfortable with me know. They know that I speak French and can help them translate a word or a phrase into English, and sometimes they even have a little bit of fun. I am also more comfortable now. I know the system and am in a better position to make use of the time I have with the students.

I have got the hang of it now, and my goal is not to let myself get so discouraged when things don’t work out exactly as planned.

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One Response to “Teaching English in France: Take 2”

  1. russell February 6, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    J’aime le grand bateau et le chateau.

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