19 Things I’ve Learned as a Teaching Assistant in France (Part 2)

[Here is Part 2! I’m taking advantage of my temporary wifi connection …]

8. You will need to use your French at work …

You only need intermediate French to become a teaching assistant in France, but I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for me if my French hadn’t already been very good when I got here. Yes, I speak English when I am teaching, but to speak to school administrators, teachers who don’t teach English, and anyone outside of the school, it really helps to have a good grasp of French. Even though I make an effort to stick to English in front of the students, sometimes when you’ve explained an activity five times and the students still don’t get it, it’s better just to explain it in French to avoid utter chaos. Even the English teachers for whom English is their second language prefer to speak to me in French outside of class, which kind of surprised me! 

9. … but you will need to make an effort if you really want to improve your language skills.

The truth is that while I do live in France and speak French everyday, it’s hard to improve your French if you don’t make an extra effort. Whenever I’ve lived in France before, I’ve always taken language courses on grammar, comprehension, and expression, so my French has always improved a lot during my time abroad. This time I haven’t really noticed any improvement, probably because it is so easy to come home after work and read English books, watch English movies, send messages to English-speaking friends, and read English articles on the internet. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll need to make a conscious effort to read and write in French more often if I really want to make the best out of this year.

10. You will get really good at improvisation.

One of the most difficult things about teaching is time management. Half the time I plan an activity that should take 25 minutes, and it takes twice as long because the students don’t understand what’s going on and I have to explain multiple times. The other half of the time, I count on my activity taking up the whole 55 minutes and this class will understand it much better than the others, so I’m left with an extra 20 minutes at the end with nothing planned. This is where improvisation comes in! I’ve found it helpful to prepare an extra handout or game just in case, and if I don’t have anything like that up my sleeve, sometimes I’ll just ask the class if they can think of any words related to the current topic that I haven’t taught them, and we’ll go over those. This works particularly well with the younger kids, who are eager to learn new words and love to tell you which words they already know.

11. Learning names is so hard, but it’s worth it!

I started my teaching contract with noble intentions, planning to learn the names of every one of my students, but my god it is hard! I work with 12 different classes every week, which means roughly 360 names to learn, and remembering names has always been tricky for me. What’s more, there isn’t much variety in terms of names; there seems to be at least one Killian and Océane in every class, and other popular names include Margaux, Manon, Adaline, Mathilde,  Léo, and Clément, Clémentine … in theory this should make it easier for me, but in practice it makes it kind of tricky, because even when I suspect that a particular student has one of these popular names, I can’t always remember which one it is! There are quite a few names that I’ve never heard before and are super tricky to pronounce or spell, too. Nevertheless, learning names is definitely worth the effort, because “Hey Killian, stop talking and pay attention!” works so much better than “Hey you over there!”

He's not Fred

12. You should absolutely take advantage of the cantine.

French students and teachers tend to complain a lot about the school cafeteria, or cantine, but I honestly can’t see why. Maybe because they haven’t experienced North American school cafeterias, where offerings are usually limited to pizza, burgers, fries, cookies, and other sodium- and sugar-filled options, so they don’t know just how good they have it here! At the lycée’s cantine, the food is healthy, varied, and also cheap. You join the line and help yourself to a salad, a main course (usually some type of meat or fish with your choice of lentils, potatoes, or some other vegetable as a side), a hunk of cheese (usually camembert), a slice of baguette, a yogurt, a fruit, and a dessert (usually some kind of pudding, with or without fruit on top). The food is always really good, and the best part is that the directeur (principal) of the school said that I can eat at the cantine for free! Even if I had to pay, I would definitely eat there anyway because a meal ticket costs about three euros, an absolute steal. Oh, and I forgot to mention that a lot of the food is local (which makes sense, considering how much farmland there is around here). When it comes to school cafeterias, the French are doing it right!*

*Except when the main course of the day is liver, or any other organ meat. Because that is just gross.

13. You will likely have opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities and field trips, even if they have nothing to do with English. Take them!

At the lycée, the theatre professor has invited me to come along on two field trips so far, and of course I said yes! Each one was to Vire, a town about an hour’s drive away, to see a play. On the first trip, we got to take a tour of the theatre before seeing the play, Cupidon est malade, and then we got to meet the director and the playwright! The second trip was to see Arlequin poli par l’amour, which was written in the 18th century. I had a great time, got to learn a bit about French theatre, and escaped Domfront for a few hours for free, so there was nothing not to like!

14. You will most likely be mistaken for a student at one point or another.

On the second aforementioned field trip, the students on the bus thought I was an English-speaking exchange student until I told them I was the teaching assistant! I have also been stopped by people conducting a survey outside of the school and asked whether I was in première (grade 11) or terminale (grade 12), and when I went to the movies, the cashier thought that I qualified for the 18 years and under price …

I could literally say this to people here and I would get the same reaction as when I tell them I’m 23 …

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