My Life as an English Teacher in France: The Saga Begins

Hey everybody!
I’m back!

I know what you’re thinking: “Where in the world have you been?!” It’s been almost two months since my last post, and some of you certainly started to wonder what had become of me. Well, you can now rest assured that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I haven’t been deported from France, and I haven’t given up on je parle américain. I’ve just been very busy the last few weeks. More French classes? Writing that historical novel? Well, no … I’ve been working … finally … as an English teacher.

So yeah … three and a half years after moving to France, I’m now gainfully employed. And after that incredibly long hiatus, it all happened so very quickly! After our marriage was recognized here in France last fall and I applied to change my visa status, they gave me full-time work authorization. That’s when I decided it was high time that I got off my bum and started being a productive member of French society. Well, before I could even start canvassing Paris with my résumé, a copy of it got passed to a very reputable language-instruction company here in town. I got a call back, they liked the sound of my voice, I came in for a real interview, and they made me a job offer … all within a week! Pretty impressive, huh? Well … as much as I’d like you to think I’m just that wonderful, I have to come clean: the person who passed my résumé along was actually my husband Michel, and the recipient was the company where he’s been doing graphic design work since last April. But hey … as far as I’m concerned, if you’ve got connections, use ’em! In any case, getting a job is one thing … keeping one is quite another! I’m happy to report that two months into this little adventure, they haven’t fired me yet, so I must be doing something right. That … or Michel’s doing his job so well, they won’t let me go for fear he’ll leave the company in revenge!

So what’s my first real English-teaching experience been like? I’ll admit that it was a bit daunting in the beginning. First off, I’d never really taught before, except for the 10 hours or so I did during my CELTA certification course two years ago. So I walked into my first lesson as a complete novice. On top of that, most of our clients are business people — busy business people with very high expectations and no time to waste! Some of them are CEOs of their companies. So, that can be a little intimidating, right? Sometimes, though, our clients are in a whole other league: kids! Yep … French teenagers who want to get ahead in English during school vacation, or who need to get ready for the English component of Le Bac. Which do you think is more intimidating: the CEO of a major French company, or a group of French teenagers seated around a conference room table? I think you can probably guess. Finally, we use a proprietary instruction method that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and that took some getting used to. But after a couple of weeks on the job and after meeting a few clients (including that infamous group of French teenagers), I was able to get my footing and establish some self-confidence as a teacher. Nowadays, I don’t scare so easily.

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The biggest adjustment so far has been the sporadic nature of my work. With the exception of the occasional intensive course for a small group, I don’t usually teach “classes.” Instead, I teach cours particuliers: one-on-one lessons with clients. Sometimes the lessons are face-to-face (either in our offices or in theirs), sometimes they’re on Skype, and sometimes they’re by phone, if you can believe it. Some clients sign up for as few as 10 hours total, so those clients come and go in just a couple weeks’ time. Others sign up for ten times that many hours. In fact, my very first client has a contract with me for 105 hours. We meet about five or six hours a week, so he’s going to be on my calendar for quite some time to come.

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With contracts ending and new ones beginning all the time, and with my clients’ sometimes unpredictable work schedules, my workweeks can vary rather dramatically. For example, last week was both my busiest and most erratic so far: 32 hours total (not counting lesson planning), with workdays ranging from 12 hours on Tuesday to 3 hours on Wednesday to a “9 to 5” Saturday in the office. One of my friends on Facebook jokingly wondered whether that kind of schedule is even allowed under French law! My shortest week has been a measly 8 hours total. Thankfully, that’s rare. You can’t pay the rent on four workweeks like that! In any case, I’m getting better at managing things. I avoid scheduling days with early-morning and evening classes and big gaps in the middle. Oh .. and since I work Saturday mornings pretty regularly now, I try my best to reserve Mondays for myself so that I still have a two-day “weekend.”

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As far as my clients go, it seems I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve heard stories about difficult, demanding, unpleasant clients, but all of mine have been very nice folks … even if a couple of them haven’t been the most punctual.

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At the end of the day — even at the end of a 12-hour one — I really enjoy what I’m doing. I feel like I’m just “in my element” when I’m teaching the language I love to someone who wants to learn it. Just last week, one of my clients was surprised to discover that I had been a lawyer for almost eight years before coming to France. “Why don’t you work as a lawyer here?” she asked, trying to understand why I’d give up a lawyer’s salary for a teacher’s. I told her that the law just doesn’t make me happy the way teaching does. “Yes …” she said, then pausing for a second and continuing with a smile, “You’re happy. I can see it.”

Maybe I am doing something right?

Stay tuned for more from the chronicles of …

My Life as an English Teacher in France

(June 22, 2014 update: the next chapter!)

P.S. — And sometimes, I make them laugh …

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© 2014 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

11 thoughts on “My Life as an English Teacher in France: The Saga Begins

  1. Hi Michael
    Good to see that you’re back 🙂

    I want to know so much more. What is the level of English of your students? how do they treat you ? do they ask about grammatical points? what surprises you ? what do you like/dislike about teaching in France ? do you speak French to your students or do you speak only English ? are you using a text book ? are your students motivated to learn ? do you have any problems with the translation of certain French words ?

    I have some American friends who want to learn French but they know nothing about grammar, even English grammar, so I have a hard time explaining things to them.

    Bon voila, j’aimerais que tu nous donnes plus de détails sur tes cours d’anglais ou est-ce qu’ils disent des cours d’Americain ? LOL

    Enjoy your week.

    1. Wow! You do want the inside scoop! In a nutshell, my students currently range from complete beginner to upper intermediate. Everyone’s been very nice so far, and many of them definitely want grammatical explanations, even though our method attempts to teach grammar “naturally.” Being a huge grammar nerd, I LOVE it when they ask me grammar questions. As for materials, we have some materials that are proprietary to our company, but I regularly use other books as well to supplement. I am especially fond of Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use series for various levels. As for translation, I try not to translate, even at a lower level, preferring to give examples and even mime. Again, part of our methodology, but when all else fails or when the student “gets it” and says the French word, I translate or confirm. Sometimes, though, as you know, translation is only an approximation for a grammatical structure or an abstract idea.

      We call the courses “English” when it’s American English, but I do often find myself explaining that such and such a word or expression is British as opposed to American, and I’ll give them alternatives. Generally, I find that they’re more interested in knowing how Americans say things than in how Brits say things.

      More to come, I assure you! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the details, Michael. I have a friend who uses the Pimsleur method (tapes) to learn French and I absolutely hate it. Not sure if you’ve heard of it. I am not a good teacher anyway – not patient enough.
    Looking forward to your next chapitre !

  3. Well, congratulations! You’re doing what I should be doing but the work is much harder to find in France profonde. And I’ve been told my French needs to be much better before I can teach in a particular place who said they really wanted me due to my being American and having a business background. I was asked to just start speaking French over the phone so my level could be judged. So embarrassing. Can you imagine needing to know how to speak Mandarin fluently if you hoped to teach English in China, for example? Very pleased to hear you like it so much. I knew you’d be a grammar fiend…well done. As you know, especially with beginners, when the “why” of a grammatical point comes up, it’s sometimes best to tell students “that’s just the way it is”. My French teacher does it all the time!

  4. I’m just glad to hear anything from you. I was beginning to miss your posts. Have a great time teaching, it’s one of the best ways to keep on learning.

  5. Congratulations Michael and thanks for posting again! It seems like I’ve come across your blog at just the right time. I’ve just started teaching English at Wall Street in China and would love to do something similar in France one day. However I know it’s difficult without an EU passport (I have an Australian one). I read your previous post about getting an independent worker’s status as a formateur – do you think that’s still the best way to go? Would I be able to do this on a working holiday visa and how difficult would it be to keep extending one’s contract / change to a multi-year work visa once you’ve gotten an ESL job?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Nikki. I have to admit that I don’t know much at all about the process for getting a work visa in France. When I arrived four years ago, I was on a student visa and maintained that status until I was able to apply for a change to “private and family life,” which gives me the automatic right to stay here and do what I want, working included. As far as being an auto-entrepreneur (independent worker), I haven’t done that yet. I plan to apply this summer once I get my new residency permit in hand. They won’t let me register as an auto-entrepreneur until I have that.

      In a nutshell, I’m unfortunately not the best source for info on how to get a work visa here, but I think if you’ve worked for WSI in China, the best way forward would be to see if WSI in France would hire you and sponsor the work visa before you move here.

      Keep me posted on how this works out, and if you get to Paris, let me know! Bonne chance!

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