French Expressions: Two times my students were the cutest ever

Most teachers know what it feels like to buried under a pile of marking (or what I call “grading”). Once I spent the entire week of Toussaint vacation grading exams, and it took more time than an actual week of teaching. The only bright spot was finding hilarious mistranslations and other mirth-inducing wranglings of the English language.

Continue reading “French Expressions: Two times my students were the cutest ever”

How to get a visa and teach English in France

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three and a half years. In July 2012, I was working on my TEFL certificate in Chicago. By the end of August, I was living in Paris.

Now I live in Lyon and I’m in my fourth year of teaching English in France. Here’s how I found work and got my visas.

Year 1

Private language schools in Paris

My visa: I had a six-month student visa through a study abroad program. When I got it, six months seemed long, but they went by fast. You need to be enrolled in school full-time to get a student visa, which allows you to work about 20 hours a week. Public universities are inexpensive (a few hundred euros per year). You can also study at a language school. You can find more information on how to get a student visa via your regional French consulate.

My jobs: I was hired by a private language school soon after arriving in Paris. I had emailed my CV and was called in for an interview. Schools often recruit in September because everyone comes back from vacation for la rentrée – back to school, back to work. I worked 15-20 hours a week for the first three months, and then the school gave me fewer and fewer hours because they did not have enough new students. I had to find another job, but I only had a few months left on my visa, so most schools refused to even interview me. “Call us when you sort out your visa,” they said.

Finally, a language school for kids hired me to teach groups of children ages 3-10. I responded to their job posting online and then interviewed in person. I worked for them 10 hours a week until my visa expired, and then I worked for a wealthy bilingual family under the table on a “tourist visa” for a few months. I made more working for them than with language schools, even though I only worked two weeks a month. (I found their job posting at the American Chuch in Paris and sent them an email with my CV.)

The pay: Both language schools paid 18 euros/hour brut (so around 14 euros/hour net before taxes.) The other job paid 15 euros an hour net (with a fixed number of hours per week) and 100 euros/day when traveling.

See Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English In France for other helpful information.

Year 2

TAPIF Language Assistant in Lyon

My visa: TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program In France) is a program for foreigners under 30 that allows you to work legally in France. I had a travailleur temporaire work visa. This visa is usually valid for about 9 months because the assistant contract is 7 months, but the San Francisco consulate did me a solid and gave me a 12 month visa (the maximum length).

My job: I worked 12 hours a week at a lycée in Lyon. I taught groups of 10-15 students ages 14-18. I got the job by applying to the TAPIF program, who placed me in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. The local education administration (the rectorat) gave me my school assignment over the summer. I also worked remotely for an American company as a travel assistant during this time.

The pay: Assistants net about 790 euros/month in metropolitan France (Paris too) for the duration of your contract. You work 12 hours a week (this can be split between several schools in the region.) This includes quite a few weeks of paid vacation (during the vacances scolaires.) Some schools provide low-cost housing on campus.

Years 3 & 4

Lectrice in Lyon

My visa: A lecteur/lectrice work contract allows foreigners to legally work in France for up to two years. (It’s a one year contract that can be renewed once if the school opts to keep you on.) I renewed my visa at the préfecture in Lyon instead of going back to the U.S. (If your visa is still valid and you are not changing status – from worker to student, for example – you can renew it in France.) I’ve blogged all about this process in case you’re interested. This year I had to wait in line for almost nine hours, starting at 3 a.m.! But now you can make appointments online… three months in advance. (Don’t worry, the préfecture is relatively painless in many other cities.) My visa is good for 1 year because that is the length of my lectrice contract.

My job: Lecteurs/lectrices are foreigners who teach at French universities. There is no national program; instead, you apply directly to the university if they have an opening. The job description and the application process vary depending on the school. Many schools will insist that you have a Masters degree, or a year of study towards one. Some schools will accept a TEFL certificate in lieu of this. I got an interview by sending my cover letter and CV to the head of the English department. Hiring season for lecteurs/lectrices is usually March through May, depending on the school.

Last year I taught 11-14 hours a week and this year I’ll teach 20 hours a week (we are compensated for teaching extra hours.) Some of my co-workers juggle another job on top of this. I’ve written all about the perks of being a lectrice here.

As I said, the lecteur/lectrice contract is 12 months long. If your school renews your contract, you can hold the position for a maximum of 2 years. It’s competitive because there are far fewer positions available than there are for assistants. In my opinion, this is the best job to have in France as an American teacher.

The pay: Lecteurs/lectrices earn a salary of around 1500 euros/month brut, or about 1250 net. This is paid for the twelve months of your contract, so it includes a significant amount of paid vacation. (Summer vacation, Christmas vacation, Toussaint vacation, winter vacation, spring vacation… and then some.) The number of hours vary by institution, but around 10-12 is normal. Beyond that, you are paid hourly for the extra hours you teach, 40 euros/hour brut. This is usually paid annually or bi-annually.

Note: French salaries are lower than Amerian salaries across the board. It’s really, really normal to earn less than 2,000 euros/month in many industries, especially at the beginning of your career. A lecteur/lectrice salary allows you to live comfortably almost anywhere in France (with the exception of Paris) even though it’s not a ton of money. For example, in Lyon you can live with roommates for around 400 euros/month and by yourself for 500-600 euros/month. Phone plans and public transport are cheaper, you won’t have car payments, and healthcare costs are negligible.

Other ways to work in France

Working Holiday Visa

If you from a country that offers a working holiday visa in France, it’s an excellent way to work in France. Americans cannot obtain a working holiday visa in France.

Franco-American Chamber of Commerce: American Trainees in France

If you are American, you may be able to get your visa sponsored by up to 18 months via the Franco-American Chamber of Commerce. You have to find a job that meets their requirements first, you must have a four-year degree, and you must be under 35. I have never actually met someone on this visa, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done. More information here.

Freelance lessons and tutoring

Some language assistants and students earn extra money by teaching private students. Many families look for native English speakers to tutor their kids. You can also post an ad in upscale neighborhoods, at schools, or online. People also post up-for-grabs gigs in city-specific Facebook groups (e.g. “English teachers in Lyon”). I don’t recommend that you count on this for your main source of income, but it can be a good way to earn some cash on the side.

Vacataire

Vacataires teach at universities like lecteurs and lectrices do, but they don’t have a monthly salary – they are paid only for the hours they teach (40 euros/hour brut). Like heures supplémentaires for salaried teachers, they are usually paid in chunks once or twice a year. You must have another primary employer, and you cannot get a visa for being a vacataire.

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This is meant to be a brief overview of my time working in France. It is based solely on my personal experiences, which may not pertain to everybody. If you would like more information, you are welcome to contact me with questions. You might want to check out the other posts I’ve written about teaching English in France. The most popular ones are Preparing for TAPIF, Things I wish I’d known about teaching English in France, and my favorite lesson plans.

If you’ve written about teaching English in France, feel free to share a link! If you’d like to mention something I missed, I’d love to hear from you. (Trolls, please abstain.)

2015 Round-up: Where I Went

One of my 2015 resolutions was to travel more. I went to nine countries and sixteen new cities, which is not much if you’re a travel fanatic but is still pretty good if you’re me.

For me, it’s always a battle between traveling, saving money, and just taking the time to enjoy life at home. Sometimes I feel like I should go somewhere, but I wonder if I’d actually be happier strolling the cobblestone streets of Lyon with Hugo and gelato (my other main squeeze), than I would be pinching pennies in Rome, even though the latter makes a more interesting story. So I try to be honest with myself and not travel just for the sake of it, just to say I did, or because I think I ought to. I know I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t travel at all, but I also know that I can’t go everywhere I want to and still save and have stress-free time at home, so the hardest part is deciding where to go, because there are so many interesting places to visit just a short plane ride away. OMG MY LIFE IS SO DIFFICULT!!!!!!!

Kidding, kidding.

Continue reading “2015 Round-up: Where I Went”

Lectrice Life: The First Week of School

You know in L’auberge espagnole when Wendy, the English girl, doesn’t understand why Xavier calls his university the “fac”? Well, I work at “la fac.” It’s a public university – I work in “la faculté des langues,” the language department.

This week was my official back-to-school week. I actually have classes and students now! (What was I doing up until now? Lesson planning. Let’s say I was lesson planning.)

The last time I had classes and students was in May. Then I went on vacation.

Just kidding. I graded a zillion handwritten translation finals and invigilated exams. ( I think we’re supposed to say “proctored” in American, but it’s kind of an ugly word, and “invigilated” sounds like a Harry Potter spell.)

Then I went on vacation.

I’m happy to be back at work, though. I’m teaching almost double the hours I did last year, but I still have good balance – a few early mornings, and a couple mornings where I make coffee, read, and do laundry, and teach in the afternoon or evening. (I love being at home in the morning with the washing machine running. It’s so cozy.)

And I do like teaching when I’m gifted with a reasonably attentive and inquisitive class. I hate discipline. (“Wear a tie and look mean,” the head of the department joked. “It always works for me.”) I love thinking about words and talking about language. I love when students ask questions that make me think about my native language in ways I never considered.

For example, two students asked me the same question this week: when we use “they” as a gender neutral singular pronoun, do we change the verb conjugation to singular? So, we normally conjugate verbs like this – I eat, you eat, he/she/it eats, we eat, they eat. Right? But, these girls wanted to know, when we use “they” as a replacement for he/she/it, which has become increasingly common, does the verb conjugation change accordingly? Do we say, “they eats” because “they” is now singular? Well, no, we don’t. I never even thought about it. But it was a reasonable and logical question, and I love when students ask me things like this.

What? Pronouns are cool and interesting.

On the whole, the first week went smoothly, better than I could have expected. I was ready to lay down the law about chatting in class – French students tend to be very chatty, and it drives me crazy. Then when I get mad, they have no idea why I’m upset, and I get the, “Mais j’ai rien fait!” (“But I didn’t even do anything!”) But this week I had class after class of attentive twenty-year-old angels who listened (and laughed at my jokes, bless them).

There was that one class where I fell off the stage because the whiteboard is longer than the platform in front of it, but the students were kind enough to make me at least feel like they were laughing with me, not at me. But otherwise, I did my best to be a good teacher and stay out of trouble.

And then there was Thursday. Thursday is a long day for me. I start at 8 a.m. and I finish at 8 p.m. My classes get zanier as the day goes on.

In the morning, I have three first year classes, and I actually have a couple students that were in my classes at the lycée where I was a language assistant! Isn’t that cool? But it makes me inexplicably nervous. It’s a little like how performing in front of a huge crowd isn’t as nervewracking as being on stage when you know someone in the audience.

I get a break for lunch, thank goodness, and in the afternoon they have me running back and forth to opposite sides of the building for every single class. PLUS I have to stop and pick up a video projector for one of the classes smack in the middle because the classroom isn’t equipped with technology.

Naturally, that’s the wild card class because I haven’t taught it before and I know nothing about first year history students. Or history. By the time I picked up the projector and walked what I can only assume was a mile and a half to the other side of the building, I was ten minutes late, and after we all shuffled into the classroom and the students crowded themselves into seats against the back wall, I realized I had no idea how to work the damn video projector. I looked at it dubiously and poked some buttons on the top.

“Any of you guys know how to work this thing?” It wouldn’t be the first time students have rescued me from dysfunctional technology. They look at me like I’m a weirdo. I give them a writing assignment while I try to figure out the projector box thing. It takes me twenty minutes to get it to work.

Getting behind schedule results in a domino effect; I’m ten minutes late to every class for the rest of the day. In my next class, second year translation, the first slide of my PowerPoint is “Come to class on time.” #fail

Halfway through the class, I notice my laptop battery is at less than 10% and I have no power cord. Why didn’t I bring a charger on a day when I’m at school for twelve hours straight? Maybe I thought the laptop faires would come help me out, I don’t know. It wouldn’t be so bad, but this isn’t my last class of the day. I have one more second year class, and the whole lesson plan is in a PowerPoint. Merde.

In the ten minutes before I show up late, I try to figure out how I’m going to get through a 90 minute class with no materials. I can do the introduction without it, and I can do the grammar activity without it. The problem is that the bulk of the lesson revolves around two videos that I now can’t show.

I fell back on a packet of grammar quizzes in my bag that I had intended to do with an earlier class, but then I’d changed my mind and decided grammar on the very first day might be off-putting. I was worried about how it would go over, but it ended up being a good refresher. They did pretty well on most of it, which I hoped helped build their confidence, but they were stumped by “either” and “neither” (I sang them a little Ella Fitzgerald and got blank stares) and phrasal verbs (Throw the sandwich? Throw out the sandwich? Throw up the sandwich?)

I went home feeling energized and exhausted at the same time. Sometimes Thursdays are bad go-home-with-a-migraine days, but this one was pretty good. If the rest of the semester goes as well as the first week, I have no complaints. Even though I have less time to work on projects I started over the summer, it’s nice to be back into the routine of teaching.

Well, I say that now. Talk to me in a few weeks when I’m grading 400 midterm exams, and I might tell you a different story.

Are any of you teachers (or students)? How was your first week of school?

TAPIF: My favorite ESL games and lessons

I receive a lot of inquiries about teaching English in France. My most popular post to date is on preparing for TAPIF, followed by Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English In France. Currently I’m seeing a lot of visitors from English-speaking countries around the world, and I’m guessing that a lot of you are future TAPIF language assistants. I don’t write a lot about TAPIF because there is already so much great information out there, but know that you’re welcome to contact me with questions or requests for a blog post. I had a ton of questions before I was an assistant and someone was nice enough to help me out (thanks Shannon!) so I’m happy to pay that forward. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite games and lessons that I’ve used many times in my three years of teaching English in France. I hope this will show you the kinds of things you might teach as an assistant, and maybe give you ideas for lesson plans you can cook up on your own.

Scattergories

This was my go-to game when I was an assistant. It can take anywhere from five to twenty minutes depending on how many rounds you play, the kids love it, and you just need to print off a grid with categories. I did mine like this:

Pictionary, La Vie En C Rose
The more creative your students are, the more you will laugh.

This game is called “le petit bac” in French. The students will know what it is and how to play. I usually put them in teams of two or three to save paper and put less confident students at ease. If the class has a low level, pick an easy letter like B or E. (Originally I had the idea to pull a letter out of a hat, but I find that it’s easier if you just pick one and write it on the board.) I would give them one or two minutes to fill out as many as they could, we would tally up how many correct answers each team had, the winners would gloat, and then we would play another round. I loved seeing how creative and funny they got with their answers. You’ll notice a lot of them making the same mistakes, so in between rounds you can correct common errors like how to spell “carrot” and “Denmark”.

Taboo

Taboo is a little tricky, and you should really only play it with groups that have a very good level of English (high B2 or C1). For lower levels, Taboo can be frustrating because their vocabulary isn’t big enough and it’s stressful to have to speak in front of the class. Even with high-level groups, I never force a student to play if they really don’t want to. (If you’re not familiar with this game, there is a deck of card with words on it, and the person has to describe the main word without saying any of the forbidden words on the card, and their team has to guess as many words as they can in under a minute. For example, if the word to guess is “strawberry,” forbidden words might be “red,” “fruit,” “jam,” “shortcake.”) Think about bringing Taboo cards with you from home if you can, as it’s not so easy to make them from scratch. You can also find them online, usually for a small fee.

Pictionary

Okay, Pictionary is not the greatest ESL game because it doesn’t require the students to use any language, but it can be good for lower level groups if you have some extra time at the end of a lesson. All you need is two markers and a white board. Try using vocabulary words you’ve recently learned in class. Once, I had two students up at the board and their teams were confused because they were drawing completely different things. One was drawing “dessert” and the other was drawing “desert”!

Humans of New York

I created a Humans of New York lesson plan this year for a second year class on cultural themes, but you could easily adapt it for a lycée or collège class. I started by showing my class examples of HONY photos and captions, and then we watched a short video clip on Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind HONY, which I paired with a comprehension exercise. We also read an article on the fundraiser for Mott Hall Bridges Academy, which was going on at the time, and then worked with new vocabulary from the article. At the end, I had them interview each other with typical HONY questions (“What is your happiest memory,” “What’s the best part about [your job/your field of study],” “What piece of advice would you give to a large group of people,” etc. Obviously, keep the questions appropriate for class to avoid making anyone uncomfortable.) You can’t do all of this in an hour, so cut it down or break it up into multiple lessons. If you don’t know about Humans of New York OMG WHAT? Go look at it right now. If you enjoy the portraits and the stories, I recommend you follow HONY on Facebook or Instagram for regular updates.

Weird foods

I found a short article on strange foods from countries around the world (live octopus, durian fruit, pigeon, snake venom wine, grasshoppers, etc.) easy enough for the lower levels to read but interesting enough for the higher levels to discuss in more depth, and I found it worked well with most of my classes when I was an assistant. After we read about each dish, I asked them if they would try it or not, or if they had already tried it and what it was like. At the end we voted on which food they would be most likely and least likely to eat. If you google “weird foods from around the world” you’ll find lots of articles like this one. I recommend you edit it down to about ten items. This one is good if you don’t have access to technology in the classroom.

Superbowl commercials

This is a great lesson in a pinch because all you need is a video projector. I recommend you convert a YouTube video into a video file so that you’re not reliant on the internet. (Finicky internet has definitely screwed over a few of my classes!) We start off by talking about what the superbowl is, why superbowl advertising is a big deal, and tactics advertisers use to attract their target audience. Then we watch several different commercials, depending on how much time we have, and work on describing what they saw, who they think the commercial was aimed at, if it was effective or not, etc. Keep in mind the level of your group when choosing which commercials to show them. Of course you could do this with other funny commercials – they don’t have to be American and they don’t have to be from the Superbowl. But a search for “funniest superbowl commercials” will give you a lot of compilations to choose from, so it does make things efficient.

The Post-it Game

I also call this “Celebrity guessing game.” Each student has the name of a famous person taped to their forehead, and they have to ask their classmates yes-or-no questions to figure out who they are. My students loved this game, but it was a challenge to stop them from slipping into French. Make sure the famous people are well-known in France. The majority of my students didn’t know who Oprah was, and they didn’t have a clue about Ellen DeGeneres.

Travel guide

I did this lesson with almost all my classes when I was an assistant, and some of the results were hilarious. The kids worked in pairs to write a travel guide of Lyon, or their hometown if they weren’t from Lyon. They had to pick a theme and a specific audience, and they could get as creative as they wanted. Some of them busted out the colored pencils and went to town. It’s a good idea to print out a couple different examples in case they need some inspiration. I got guides written on “A romantic weekend in Lyon,” “The best places to see live music in Lyon” (broken down by genre), “The best viewpoints in Lyon,” “Water-themed activities in Lyon,” and “How to find love in Lyon.” The last one should probably have been called, “Sketchy ways to pick up girls in Lyon,” and was mildly alarming coming from two fourteen-year-old boys, but hey, they did it all in English! TAPIF lesson plans La Vie En C Rose Allow a good chunk of time for this lesson – it took at lot longer than I thought it would.

Your hometown

It is a great idea to bring photos of your hometown. You can do a lesson on your home country as well, but I found that most of my students were much more interested in my specific region than the United States as a whole. They had already had several American assistants and were really bored of learning about the U.S. (They requested lessons about New Zealand and Australia instead… a bit of a challenge since I’ve never been there.) Are there more assistants coming from the U.S. than other English-speaking countries? Where are you guys from?

I hope this list gave you some ideas, whether you’re teaching English in France or another country.

You can find lots more on ielanguages.com and astoldbydana.com

Have you taught abroad? What are your favorite games and lessons?

Working in France: Lectrice Q & A

Most Americans in France know how hard it is to get a visa and a job. If you don’t have EU nationality, a French spouse, or a rare and in-demand professional specialty, job opportunities are slimmer than the supermodels France recently banned, especially if you weren’t educated in France.

There are a couple solutions. You can work part time on a student visa while going to school (check), you can be a language assistant in a French elementary, middle, or high school (check), and, if you have the required education, you can be a lecteur or lectrice in a French university (check!)

(Other ways to live and work in France include being an au pair and getting your visa sponsored through the Franco-American chamber of commerce. If you’re Canadian or Australian, you may qualify for a working holiday visa.)

I’m about to embark on my fourth year in France and my second as a university lectrice. Here are some insights into my experience as a lectrice so far.

Wait, what’s a lecteur/lectrice?

A lecteur/lectrice is a foreigner who teaches their native language in a French university. A lecteur is a mec (a dude) and a lectrice is a meuf (a woman).

So, what do you do?

The job description of a lecteur/lectrice can vary greatly depending on the school, and sometimes even within the same school. Loosely, you teach about 10-12 hours per week, and are usually responsible for lesson planning and grading as well.

I teach classes of 20-30 students on average, and sometimes I follow an established curriculum, and sometimes I create my own course material based on the topic of the class. I know others who teach much smaller groups, who plan all their lessons from scratch, who work with small groups and individuals with special needs – really, it varies.

What are your classes like?

I teach a wide range of subjects to first, second, and third year students. I teach classes in translation, business English, oral comprehension, phonetics, and cultural themes.

What’s the best part about being a lectrice?

Am I allowed to say the vacation? (Just kidding.) For me, it’s a few things.

I love language, and I love pondering words, so I enjoy explaining interesting things about English – English versus French, differences between English dialects, written versus spoken English – all the quirks. I also love to rant about punctuation.

I am constantly learning new things in English and French, and even about other cultures from my students.

Finally, I can’t lie – the life balance and time off is great. There are very busy times, but they are followed by time to rest, recover, travel. Even when I have a pile of papers to grade, I can always take my red pen to a sunny terrace, or a cozy cafe in the winter, so I can’t complain.

And what’s the worst part?

For me, it’s discipline. I love teaching students who want to learn, but they’re not always the majority. In France, it costs practically nothing to attend a public university (la fac) and some students actually get money from the government for being a full time student. On the one hand, that’s awesome, but on the other hand, it means the level of motivation among the students varies greatly, and being a strong classroom disciplinarian is more important than you would expect at the university level.

How did you get your lectrice job?

I kept a watch on job postings on the IE Languages blog (which is chock full of resources for language teaching and learning) and I called all the universities in my area to find out if they were hiring. Some only take lecteurs/lectrices on exchange from partner universities, and some hire on exchange first, then fill remaining spots with local applicants. I was referred as an applicant by a teacher at the lycée where I worked.

Usually, the best thing is to look for online job postings, and if you don’t see one, to contact the head of the English department. After I sent my cover letter and CV, I was invited to interview in May, and I received my acceptance via email in June.

How long can you be a lecteur/lectrice?

A lecteur/lectrice contract lasts one year (CDD fixed contract), and you can hold the position for two years maximum. Some universities do not guarantee that you’ll be rehired for a second year.

What kind of visa do you have?

I have a long-stay working visa titre de séjour with the status traveilleur temporaire. (Some lecteurs/lectrices have the status salarié. I’m not sure why, but it seems to end up costing more in government stamps.) I got my carte de séjour in France since I was already living here and didn’t change status, but you can obtain or renew your visa at your home consulate as well.

I have ranted extensively about my “adventures” at the préfecture, and since I’ll be doing the whole thing again this summer, you can expect more where that came from. (Unless everything goes smoothly. But let’s not kid ourselves.)

All ranting aside, I’m extremely grateful to have my job as a lectrice, and I’m excited to be staying in France for another year.

Mademoiselles Jill and Dana have also written about working as a lectrice in France. They are the best.

Have you been a lecteur or lectrice? Do you have questions? I’m all ears.

Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English in France

I frequently receive questions about teaching English in France. I try to answer honestly but recognize that what was true for me may not be true for everyone.

I came to France with wildly unrealistic expectations. Actually, no. I didn’t really have clear expectations. I didn’t know what to expect.

The problem was, it was hard to get accurate information on the reality of teaching in France, and I think that’s because the reality can vary so much. I read that you had to fly over here, knock on doors until someone offered you a teaching job, and then fly back home with your work contract to get your visa. I’m sure this has happened to a handful of people in the history of teaching English in France, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say THIS IS A LIE. In my opinion, the only way this would work is if you used the Franco-American chamber of commerce to sponsor your visa (they have an exchange program for professionals under 35 with a college degree). And you certainly could do that. If you can find a teaching contract that meets the requirements.

My TEFL program set the record straight on visas, but while they gave me an idea of what it was like to teach in France, I still didn’t really know what to expect. Before I launch into my list, let me give you the rundown on what I’ve done here: I’ve been a teacher in France since 2012. I taught for Business Talk France and Les Petits Bilingues in Paris, I worked as a TAPIF language assistant in a lycée in Lyon, and I’m starting my second year as a lectrice at a university in Lyon. I’ve taught pretty much all ages, all levels. I’ve even “taught” babies and stuff. (What? It was less stressful than teaching teens, and I’m handy with a tambourine.)

No, I’m not an expert – a few years of teaching does not an expert make! However, I’ve had a taste of a variety of teaching situations in France, and I sure know a hell of a lot more than before I came over here – thank goodness.

I was as innocent as this delicious juice.
I was as innocent as this delicious juice.

Before moving to France, I wish I had known that…

Teaching contracts aren’t full time, and your hours aren’t fixed

You’re going to laugh at me, but I thought if a language school hired me, I would work 35 hours a week. That’s a full French work week, right?! And I thought, if I work 35 hours a week and get paid 18 euros an hour (which is a common hourly rate), I’ll make 2500 euros a month! Anyone who knew anything about work in France was shaking their head and going, “No girl, just… no.” But I honestly didn’t know how it would work. So here’s the deal.

No one teaches 35 hours a week. No one. (If you do, please tell me your story!) In theory, you could if you worked two teaching jobs. But a full time teaching contract isn’t 35 hours anyway, because you need time to prep and lesson plan (which you will not be paid for, FYI.) The truth of the matter is, that while there are jobs out there that will offer you enough hours to live on, most language schools only offer part time hours as they have them available. For example, I started out working fifteen to twenty hours a week with a language school in September (which is probably the busiest time of the year), but in January, there were fewer students to teach and so I only worked ten hours or less with that language school. I interviewed with quite a few other language schools to see how they worked, and most of them offer students as they become available, a few hours a week at a time, and won’t guarantee a certain number of hours. This means you could go from being able to pay your rent to living on your savings and eating 99¢ pasta. Eek. That’s not what you want.

Bottom line: if you’re paid hourly and your hours are prone to fluctuate, you better hustle. Most teachers have more than one job.

Salaries are lower in France

I did have some co-workers who had full-time contracts. They were paid a monthly salary instead of hourly. (It’s often easier to negotiate this kind of contract with your current employer if they know you, like you, and want to keep you.) Their salary was about 1300 euros per month. To give you another example, Les Petits Bilingues is a language school for kids, and center managers work full time teaching and managing and earn 1800 euros per month. A French teacher in a French school earns about 1800 euros per month. A marketing professional might earn 2000-2500 euros per month, and an assistant or receptionist might earn 1300-1800. Minimum wage is higher compared to the United States (about 9-10 euros/hour) and government benefits are great, but overall, the payscale is lower than what you’ll find in the US. (If you have more examples or a different opinion, please tell me! This is based on my observations and personal experience, and certainly it can vary depending on the job.)

Sometimes, employers lie

Look. Not all language schools are bad. But sometimes, employers promise things that don’t turn out to be true. I’m sure that their intention is not to mislead teachers, usually. But the fact is, if you end up only working half the hours they promised you, you get screwed, whether they meant to lie to you or not. This happened to me with two language schools and it sucked a lot. If it’s not in your contract, there’s no guarantee. Have a back-up plan.

The dress code is on the casual side

When you’re moving to France, what do you pack? I didn’t know what I would have to wear to work, especially because I didn’t have a job yet! There are some situations where you want to look sharp – interviews of course, and when a language school that sends you to the student’s professional office to teach. In general, casual is fine as long as you still look nice. Business casual is okay, but jeans and a sweater are usually acceptable too. I like to dress up a little for classroom teaching because I look younger than I am, but some teachers dress more casually. If you’re working with kids, all bets are off. When in doubt, pack versatile clothes that you can dress up or dress down, but know that you won’t be expected to wear a suit or heels to work. It would actually be pretty weird if you did.

Classroom management is more important than your teaching skills

I’ve been working in the ESL field for over six years, and I love teaching adults and private lessons. You know what I suck at? Classroom management. With business language schools, this isn’t a problem because you teach grown-ups who have chosen to be there and presumably want to learn. With the TAPIF assistantship program and with schools like Les Petits Bilingues, it is a huge issue because you have to manage groups of kids, and they could be anywhere between three years old to eighteen years old. (Note: sometimes, language assistants aren’t responsible for their own classes – they might help the teacher in class or work with just a few students at a time. It completely depends on the school you end up in.)

In fact, although Les Petits Bilingues was impressed that I had a TEFL certificate, they were much more concerned with my experience managing groups of kids, for good reason. There’s no lesson planning involved with that particular company because they have their own materials, so corralling the kids is truly the toughest part of the job (seven year olds are the worst.)

The hardest part is this: you really have to discipline them in French. I don’t find that English is effective for discipline in most cases; they just don’t understand. And it is not easy to discipline kids in your second language.

Truth: I am not a scary person. I am small and smiley and baby-faced. If you are more intimidating than I am, or simply more comfortable and experienced in classroom management, this may not even be an issue. Good for you!

Visas are a big deal

I knew that I needed a visa to work in France. I knew that an employer was unlikely to sponsor me. But I didn’t realize how big a deal these legal things really are. Sometimes you even need legal status to work with a family privately, because they can get tax benefits by hiring you. You can work up to 20 hours a week on a student visa in France, and many people go this route (I did my first year.) No one is really calculating the number of hours you work, and some people say it’s an average of 20/week over a period of time that matters. I think this probably matters most if you are filing taxes, and I’m not sure what would really happen if you exceeded the limit (by working for two employers, for example) although I don’t recommend you break the law.

When employers find out that you’re not European, their first question will be about your legal status. Some of them are wary of student visas. When I had two months left on my visa, many schools wouldn’t even interview me. “Give us a call when you take care of your visa,” they said. Since schools can hire UK citizens with no extra paperwork, it makes it tougher on Americans looking for work. Canadians and Australians can get a working holiday visa in France, but that program doesn’t exist for Americans. Most job postings will say “must have the legal right to work in E.U. or don’t bother applying.”

Luckily, school is cheap here, and if you plan ahead you should be able to enroll as a full time student. Be warned that if you don’t actually go to school and pass your classes, you won’t be able to renew! I wish I had had this guide about enrolling in school in France before I came.

Christie was right… the TAPIF program is the way to go

I taught in this shiny lycée.
I taught in this shiny lycée with the TAPIF program.

Christie was my advisor at the International TEFL Academy in Chicago. Christie is awesome. And she told me that they really advise people who want to study in France to go through the TAPIF language assistant program. But I didn’t want to do that. No, I said, the pay is so low (about 800 euros per month net.) No, you don’t have any control over where you’re placed. No, I would have to wait until the following year to apply and I want to go to France now. (What a brat.)

Let me tell you, if you’re not studying in France, if there’s no exchange program with your home university, if you don’t have a European passport, I really believe that the TAPIF program is the way to go. I’ve done it both ways, and it was much easier being an assistant than it was doing it on my own. It can be a bit luck of the draw in terms of where you end up, and not everyone has a good experience. But at least you know you have 800 euros coming in every month, you have plenty of time to work another job on the side (assistants work 12 hours per week), and the visa process is easy-peasy. Sometimes schools even offer housing for cheap. Dana and Jill are former assistants who have written a ton of helpful posts about this program.

The most important part of your job is to get your students to use the language

Yes, grammar is important and you should know your stuff. Yes, private students may have individual needs that differ from each other, yes, it can be hard to incorporate oral activities in a large class. BUT. In general, the French school system drills verb tenses into their students’ brains, but many people are not confident speaking. In the vast majority of everyone I have taught in France, the written level is much higher than the oral level. This is normal when you learn in the classroom, and it was certainly the case with my French before I moved here.

When I tested grammar levels, my students knew all the irregular past participles and found written exercises too easy, but struggled with oral communication. Just getting them to use the language is huge, and if you’ve studied a foreign language yourself, you know how essential this is to making progress.

If they are prepping for a test like the TOEFL or TOEIC, it’s a different story, and of course you want to know your stuff so you can offer helpful grammatical explanations and help your students expand their capacities for expression in written and oral English. Many schools have their own curriculum they want you to use, which takes lesson planning off the table. (Less work for you, but also less freedom.)

But in general, I find over and over again that practice listening and speaking is what students need most, and where they have the least confidence. More likely than not, they know more than they think they do, and just never have the opportunity to put what they know into practice.

Note: If you’re a language assistant, this is the whole point of your job. Your students already have English teachers for learning grammar and taking tests – you want them to have fun using the language so that they like speaking English and want to continue to progress!

Teaching English in France isn't always a bowl of cherries
Teaching English in France isn’t always a bowl of cherries

Some disclaimers and caveats:

This is my perspective, based on my personal experiences. Not everyone shares my perspective, so please take it all with a grain of salt (feel free to add tequila and lime if my ranting has left you depressed.) I wanted to write it because I had a hard time finding honest personal accounts of what it was like to teach in French language schools in particular before I moved. There are many bloggers writing about the TAPIF program, which is great!

If you disagree with me, I’d love to hear your story! If you’ve experienced something similar, well, I also love it when people agree with me.

Have you taught English abroad? What was your experience like?