So Much More Than a Paperweight

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Chapter 3 of
My Life as an English Teacher in France

A few weeks ago, we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I decided not to write a new article about that momentous day; instead, I shared two earlier articles about the history of the landings and about my first visit to Omaha Beach. Normally, that would have been the end of je parle américain‘s D-Day commemoration, but something subsequently happened at work that I need to share … Continue reading So Much More Than a Paperweight

“Don’t forget your home-work, darling!”

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Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of …

My Life as an English Teacher in France
(Chapter 2)

So, as you know, I’ve been working as an English teacher in Paris for about four months now. In that time, I’ve had some interesting experiences. This week, though, I had the experience to beat all experiences …  Continue reading “Don’t forget your home-work, darling!”

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

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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.

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

Perpetual Student

Ah, Le Bescherelle, mon meilleur ami !

If you know me well, you know that I’ve spent a heck of a lot of time learning things that I haven’t necessarily parlayed into gainful employment. I graduated from a high school specializing in science and math, but I didn’t become a scientist or a mathematician. Then I went off to college to study architecture, but didn’t become an architect. In fact, I changed my major to political science, but I didn’t become a political scientist either — even after following up with a degree in foreign affairs. Instead, I ended up working as the marketing director for — of all things — a professional society of pension actuaries! I guess the only time I’ve actually put all that book-learnin’ to practical use was after law school when I became a lawyer for seven years. Thank goodness for that, too, because my savings from that time in my life helped me move to France without a job and start a new chapter here as … <drumroll> …

a student.

This time, for obvious reasons, I became a student of French. After all, when I moved to France in 2010, I only remembered a smattering of the French I’d studied two decades earlier in high school. Initially, I anticipated a year of French courses and then, of course, I’d be gainfully employed in France doing … something. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, though. I even got certified to teach English back in March, but I’m still looking for what I’ve started to describe as “the ever-elusive teaching gig.” As a non-EU citizen, I need to find an employer who’s willing to sponsor me for a work visa, but no one wants to jump through the hoops of French bureaucracy when a qualified EU citizen can do the job just as well. Another option is to become an independent contractor, but that involves a complicated process that isn’t guaranteed a positive resolution. I’m keeping all options on the table, though. In any case, don’t worry about me too much. I do have a few irons in the fire at the moment, so keep your fingers crossed. Continue reading Perpetual Student

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Hey … remember me?

Yeah, it has been a while. I know that I told you I’d try to post something every now and then while slogging through my CELTA training course, but it really hasn’t been an option, guys. I promise.

Here’s a picture of what my average day has been like for the last three weeks:

I wake up around 5 a.m., practicing the day’s lesson plan in my head and obsessing over the gaps that I couldn’t recall during my anxiety-ridden dreams, I try to go back to sleep, and I succeed in dozing until around 7:15 a.m. (or 6:45 a.m. on days when I have teaching practice). Then it’s up and at ’em … I arrive at school some time between 8:15 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., where I print out lesson plans, exercises and materials, or written assignments.

Our instructional sessions start at 9:15 a.m. That’s where we learn about every conceivable facet of teaching methodology (and a bit of English grammar to boot). Then it’s “teaching practice consolidation” from about 12:30 p.m. until about 1:00 p.m., when we review our lesson plans with the other trainees who will be teaching during the same 2-hour class in the afternoon. (Since we have 40-minute lessons each on the days when we teach, there are always two other trainees with whom we have to coordinate our lessons to ensure that the afternoon is a cohesive and productive experience for the students.) Then comes lunch, but I don’t really eat much, because I’m usually spending that hour or so revising my lesson plan, making last-minute changes to the materials, and nervously anticipating my lesson. Then it’s show time—a two-hour lesson for a class of anywhere from four to ten EFL students!

Continue reading The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Can I sleep now?

Well, everyone, today marks the end of my first week of intensive training to become a teacher of English to speakers of other languages. That’s 5 days down and 21 to go. I don’t have much time to indulge in the leisurely activity of blogging at the moment, so I’ll just share an edited Facebook status I posted this evening when I first got home. I think it sums up the first week pretty nicely.

  • I’m exhausted! In the last two nights, I’ve slept a total of 9 hours. I don’t expect this to get much better any time soon, either. Methodology and language analysis sessions every morning + teaching practice or observation every afternoon + 4 or 5 hours of lesson planning or homework every night = a hard row to hoe.
  • Writing lesson plans is truly an art … and a time-consuming one at that. Thank all the good teachers in your life for putting the effort into making good plans for what they taught you. Most of us have no idea how much thought and work go into that. That’s probably because the best teachers just make it look so easy.
  • My first lesson to a group of real, live students was on Tuesday afternoon. It went really well even though I was nervous enough to feel like throwing up for two hours before it even started. My second lesson on Thursday was personally disappointing. I felt extremely stressed because of last-minute changes to the lesson plan. According to my evaluator, though, it went well. Today’s lesson, on the other hand, was nothing short of a disaster. I tried to accomplish too much, and my instructions weren’t clear enough or adequately reinforced. My evaluator didn’t argue with my self-assessment, but at least I didn’t get raked over the coals. Instead, she pointed out my strengths and was glad to see that I immediately recognized the areas where I overstretched. Maybe it’s a training rule not to crush your spirit at the outset? (By the way, “freer stage” lessons—for anyone who’s familiar with the concept—are not as easy as they seem.) Continue reading Can I sleep now?

I SPEAK American, but I TEACH English.

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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. Continue reading I SPEAK American, but I TEACH English.

What do you mean, I can’t work for myself?

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I’ve been spending my day working on my CV, trying to convert my “lawyer” CV into one that screams:

“I TEACH ENGLISH! HIRE ME!”

I spent almost 8 years of my life working as a lawyer for a big firm in Washington, DC. Many of my clients were big financial institutions from Wall Street and most of my work was for them. When I left that job back in 2009, I decided to pursue a different course, but I wasn’t quite sure which one to take. Continue reading What do you mean, I can’t work for myself?