This week we have been discovering what life is like living and teaching English in France from Global English graduate Row.
Row works in the mainstream school system in France, and has taught all levels of English, starting out as a language assistant. She’s told us about some of the challenges of working within the French system, and how important it was to try to use English as much as possible in the classroom.
Here’s her advice to anyone considering living and working in France.
Hi Row, where are you in France and what do you do?
I am currently in the Paris area working as a substitute English teacher with the Paris School Board.
I replace teachers who are on long-term leave, usually for a few months but possibly up to the whole academic year. The School Board places me wherever they have a need, so the school I am sent to and the levels I teach change all the time. After working a year at the middle school level, I requested to teach only at the high school (lycée) level.
Tell us about your first teaching role - how did you get it? Can you remember the interview you had?
I started as a Language Assistant through a government program (based on a partnership among various countries) that places native speakers of a language in foreign classrooms. There was an extensive application process, a bit like a university entrance application, including a personal statement, but no in-person interview.
I was chosen and assigned to a small town in the northern part of France, in two elementary (primary) schools working with all the levels (years 2-6/grades 1-5). I was put in contact with an alumnus of the program for general guidance and was given some basic tips and instructions on how to prepare beginner-level sequences based on themes.
I was lucky that the teachers at the schools were friendly and helpful, and I watched and learned from them. The whole experience was an ideal introduction to teaching, which allowed me to see what was involved in the work without having a full load of responsibilities. I decided that I wanted to pursue it further and looked for some proper training options.
What course did you take with Global English and what was the most helpful thing you learned from the course?
I took the Premier 120-hour Level 3 course with Global English. The most helpful thing for me was learning about lesson planning - how to effectively present the material, organize the learning and practice of the students, and solidify their knowledge. I remember the videos of the lessons were particularly informative in demonstrating how to get students engaged and speaking. I continue to use these techniques today, and from what I can tell, they make for more interesting and lively classes.
What are some of the challenges of teaching and living in France?
Despite having worked at pretty much all levels of the school system in France (up to year 13), I still regularly have trouble figuring out when it is appropriate to teach what, i.e. points of grammar, parts of speech, verb tenses, etc. I have textbooks to work off of, but the focus is often on the cultural content and very little on the technical aspects of the language and proper usage. This problem may be specific to France. And so, I often have students who may be able to understand parts of a document but unable to formulate correct sentences to express their thoughts or answer questions.
Basic mistakes occur all the time and then I think that I have to review all the grammar with them, but there is, of course, limited time and I also don't know what is most important to tackle first. Another general challenge in two words: Google Translate.
Do you speak French and if so how essential would you say this was to being successful there?
I do speak French and might be considered fluent, but I feel most comfortable avoiding it in class. I certainly don't feel as confident if I have to use very specific terminology. Early on, a colleague once told me that I shouldn't worry about speaking French to the students and that has worked quite well so far.
At the lycée level, I have been able to keep it all in English in class, which also makes the students communicate with me in English and gives them more practice. I will provide them with the French translation of a word here and there (or ask a student to offer it) if it is a particularly important thing I want them to understand. However, previously, when I worked with lower-level classes and especially with troublesome groups (i.e. rebellious adolescents), French was essential to communicate instructions and explain content.
I have met another language teacher who speaks very limited French and she seems to be able to manage her classes fine, as well as navigate the school system/administration so if one is properly trained in education, perhaps it's not essential.
That's great Row, fantastic to hear how you have made a new life and career for yourself in Paris. Thanks so much for sharing!
À plus tard!
Find other stories of people living and working in France:
Jane in Normandy Normandy >>
David in Southern Brittany Southern Brittany >>
Maggie in Toulouse Toulouse >>
Are you living in France and thinking of teaching English? Or hoping to travel and live their one day? Check out our dedicated teaching English in France page teaching English in France page >>
If you are a Global English grad and you'd like to share your story like Row has done, get in touch today to email@example.com. We'd love to catch up with you!
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