I SPEAK American, but I TEACH English.

When I moved to Paris sixteen months ago, I had what I thought was a pretty good plan: 20 hours a week as a French student and 20 hours a week as an English teacher. After all, I had always been attracted to the idea of teaching, even though I had never pursued it as a career. “Why not try it now?” I thought. “This is the perfect time, and this is the perfect place to start.” I had been assured that teaching English was the “easiest field to get into here” and, as an overeducated former lawyer, I thought I had a pretty impressive résumé.

As it turns out, it wasn’t going to be that easy. The truth of the matter is that native English speakers are a dime a dozen in this city, and most good teaching positions require a certification that I don’t have. The disappointment of discovering that I wasn’t a ready-made English teacher plus the demands of my own French classes ended up putting my plan on the back burner … that is, until I recently looked at my bank account and decided that it was high time to turn the heat up again.

I started researching my options. What certification would I need? TEFL? CELTA? It was all Greek to me, so I sought out the counsel of a friend with lots of experience teaching English as a second language. He recommended CELTA. The “Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults” (apparently a.k.a. “Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages”) is an initial teaching certification earned through a four-week course accredited by the University of Cambridge. It’s designed to take candidates with little or no teaching experience (that would be me) and prepare them to start teaching English upon graduation (that would be what I want to do). Needless to say, getting a novice ready to start teaching in just four weeks means the course is intensive. I was warned that I would live and breathe “English teaching” during those four weeks, and my family should be warned that I might become … well, more “difficult” … than usual. Oh, poor Michel. Poor, poor Michel.

Because the course needs to have students who are really engaged, admission is competitive. I couldn’t just pay tuition and enroll; I had to submit an application and be interviewed to see if I had the motivation and the “right stuff” to do this. I spent all of Tuesday evening completing an application full of grammar exercises and questions about my theory of teaching. The next day, I got a call scheduling an interview for Friday afternoon.

It was unlike any other interview I’d ever had. Sure, we talked about my professional background and why a former big-firm lawyer would suddenly want to start teaching English, but at least an hour of our time was spent walking through the grammar exercises in my application and role-playing my explanations:

  • I practiced explaining the word “borrow” to a beginner-level English student …
  • I demonstrated “Would you like a coffee?” without using any words at all …
  • I used stick figure drawings on a timeline to teach the meaning of the sentence “When I got to the station, I realised I had left the tickets at home.”
Okay, so I’ll need to brush up a little on my drawing skills! © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

By the time the interview was finished, I was a little intimidated but very excited. I really wanted this course … and I got it! The interviewer offered me a slot in the March 2012 course, so it’s now official: come March 5, I’ll be on my way to a new career!

So, yes, the title of this post is misleading. I don’t teach English yet, but I will be sooner than I had expected. Starting on Day 2 of the course, I’ll be spending my afternoons teaching English to a class of real, live non-native speakers as part of my training! I’m already nervous.

Now it’s off to shop for my own Christmas presents: Leech, Cruickshank & Ivanič’s An A-Z of English Grammar & Usage and Jeremy Harmer’s How to Teach English … and maybe a sketch pad so I can practice my stick figures.

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

© 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

9 thoughts on “I SPEAK American, but I TEACH English.

  1. since i favor blog replies to FB, i’ll say here: CONGRATS!! i can see you excelling. and i completely sympathize w/ the “so why aren’t you practicing” issue….though i use the “people do silly things at 21. some follow a band or move in with a slacker friend and lose their deposit. i went to law school” (then the whole attempt to say how i learned skills that will totally help…).

    in this case, you survived law school, the bar, and Big Firm life and stayed human so i think michel is safe!!

  2. All the best in your Celta course. My husband received his across the big blue ocean where I stay in the US and he did his in London so I didn’t have to see his “bad moods”. He teaches English to adults now in Paris. I went for my TEFL certificate in October, and got very ill 3 days before it ended. I may finish the last exam, I may not. It was NOT my cup of tea and I wish I had known more about the course, and especially the intensiveness of it before I had even started, because then, I doubt I would have taken it. Obviously it lead to my getting very sick before the end. I worked non-stop from the day I arrived. The best part was the actual teaching and did my best work here. But towards the 3rd week the work escalated and by the 4th week, – I was sick and I was done! I do not recommend it for everyone. You have to want to do this more than anything, which I can see that you do.
    Besides, you passed the bar……..it can’t be that bad. ?

    1. Thanks Marti. It’s good to hear this kind of thing in advance. It’s one thing to hear that it’s intensive and will dominate my life completely; it’s another to hear a real-life story. I wish you the best of luck with finishing it if you if you decide to! As for the bar, I hope you’re right!

      1. I have no doubt, Michael, that you will pass with flying colors and be an excellent English teacher as your blog alone is an inspiration and I’ve certainly learned a lot already by reading it. You have the sense of humor you need for it as well. Be prepared for only a couple days of teaching when starting out, because no one seems to get many hours, let alone full time for a while. My class that graduated are getting bits here and there,(in Paris), so not very sustainable. BUT with your law background, you should be in much demand, I would certainly expect. My husband had a banking background so he’s needed for Business English, albeit part time.

  3. By the way I’m the same person as “Marti” above – was too intimidated the first time to write you using my wordpress account because yours is just so awesome, but hey, what the heck!!! 😉

    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement and the compliment, Marti! I took at a look your blog as well and I love it. I especially liked your post about ditching the Christmas market in favor of doing the laundry (sounds like my life) … and then the horsemeat moment! I laughed out loud, partly because my husband LOVES horse. I’m a vegetarian, though, so we never have much meat in the fridge and he hasn’t had horsemeat in the apartment since my arrival (at least that’s what he’s told me!). I look forward to following you!

      All my best!

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