19 Things I’ve Learned as a Teaching Assistant in France (Part 3)

15. You will be a sort of local celebrity, especially if you’ve been placed in a small town.

In a town of only 3770, people generally know who I am right away. This can be a good thing – some people around town, such as the librarian, are chatty and always ask me how it’s going at work – but it can also be a bit weird. My students, especially the younger ones, are always eager to report a “Julia sighting” when they see me in class … “Madame, I saw you yesterday in front of the school/at the library/at the grocery store/at the cinema!” It’s especially awkward when I realize that I saw the student in question there too, but didn’t recognize them from class and didn’t say hi! 

"Amour" Premiere - 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival
Basically me when I leave the apartment.

16. You will gain new insight into the Secret World of Teachers (including the fact that teachers do gossip about their students behind their backs).

Yet another one of my strange ideas about schools was that what happens in class stays in class, and that teachers don’t discuss their students in the staffroom. Oh how wrong I was! Gossip is pretty much the lifeblood of the staffroom. It makes sense, really – why would teachers not talk about the things (and the people) they have in common? I don’t know where the whole classroom equals glass bubble idea came from. I guess it’s one of those weird notions kids have about their school and their teachers, sort of like the idea that teachers have no lives outside of teaching and live in the school (oh wait …).

17. You will quickly discover that yes, teachers do have favourite students.

It makes me kind of sad to admit this, but it’s true! There are definitely some students that you warm to more than others. When students make an effort to speak English, participate in class, show enthusiasm for the subject matter and are well-behaved and polite, it’s very easy to like them. For others, the ones who goof around in class, refuse to speak English, treat your class like a joke, and are disrespectful … well, it’s not so easy! That being said, I believe that I treat all of my students equally, and I hope that I can get better at engaging the more reluctant learners as the year progresses.

Hermione Hand Raise
Show this much enthusiasm in my class and I will love you forever.

18. You will have some days that make you want to go home and cry …

Let’s face it, being a teacher is SO HARD. I have so much more respect for all of the teachers I’ve ever had in my life, and this after just weeks of teaching! I have no idea how teachers stay in the profession without going crazy! A lot of the time, you pour your heart and soul into a classroom activity that you hope the kids will enjoy, and then they’re just not into it and it’s crushing. Other times, they are rowdy or unresponsive or even disrespectful, and for a first-time teacher, dealing with that sort of behaviour is really hard; I find it difficult not to take it personally.

I’ve had a few incidents that I have found particularly challenging to deal with. The most notable one was when I realized that a group of kids in one of my classes were using the N-word to describe their classmate. Of course I was shocked and asked them not to use the word as it was inappropriate, but they completely ignored me and continued to say it throughout the class. Afterwards, I talked to the teacher about it, and her point of view was that the student in question seemed ok with them using it, so there wasn’t really much we could do. I was still uncomfortable and I wasn’t sure exactly what course of action I should take. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I think if it comes up again I will explain to them how that word is very offensive in North America, and say that while I can’t stop them from using it, it is not acceptable in my classroom. I feel better knowing that I have a plan now, but that day really shook me and I went home feeling like a failure.

19. … but you will also experience moments in the classroom that are rewarding, encouraging, or just downright hilarious.

It can be so discouraging when things don’t go as planned, but when I prepare an activity or a game that the students seem to really like, I get such a sense of accomplishment! My students are also really funny sometimes, and say the sweetest and/or most hilarious things! One day, one of my students told me that she liked my accent, and another day, a boy told his teacher (in response to the question “How are you today?”) that he was happy because “Julia is here” (awwww!). I also get the funniest questions and comments regarding Canada, about which French students seem to know next to nothing. When I asked a class of 14-year-olds if they knew what the capital of Canada was, suggestions included New York City, Washington, and Sydney (and they weren’t even joking)! And as hard as I try to explain to them that Canada is NOT part of the USA and doesn’t have a president (I even put a picture of Obama’s face with a big X through it in my powerpoint presentation), all I managed to do was convince them that Canada has a president but it isn’t Obama. Oh well, I tried! My 11-year-old sixièmes in particular are really sweet, and I look forward to teaching them every week.

At this point in my teaching contract, would I say that I can see myself going into teaching in the long term? I think that’s quite unlikely – I don’t know if I could deal with all the pressure! But for the time being, I am mostly enjoying the experience, despite the challenges and occasional bad days. And I wonder what other things I will have learned by the end of April!

Bisous et à bientôt (j’espère),

Julia

3 thoughts on “19 Things I’ve Learned as a Teaching Assistant in France (Part 3)

  1. Hello, I’m doing tapif right now in Millau! I can definitely relate to having your students be rowdy and disrespectful when you think a lesson might go well, so I’ve been reading up on other tapif blogs to see how other people handle it. Just saying hi.

    Like

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