On Teaching

Hi from Lille!

Porte de Paris in Lille

I have now been teaching for a variety of classes for about a month’s worth of time. Here is a discussion and reflection on what that month has looked like for me.

My contract stipulates that I will have 12 hours worth of classes a week. Technically, my timetable does have 12 classes on it, I have yet to work more than 9 hours in a week. Although this doesn’t include any necessary out-of-class prep work, I can tell you that 9 hours isn’t a lot. They do manage to make it feel like a fair amount of work, but that’s because my schedule is all over the place. I work at 11:30 for an hour, and then not again until 4:45 for another hour. I can’t imagine not living at my school. Many assistants end up spending hours everyday just waiting in the teacher’s lounge because their schedules are so spread out. At least I can return to my apartment.

I work for a school that is divided into two halves. One half is the Lycée Générale, this is a fairly standard high school, with classes in subjects including languages, science and math, literature, etc. The other half is the Lycée Professionnel, which is a vocational school. Students can learn various vocations from shop-keeping, to machine maintenance, to secretarial work. A big component of the vocational school is each student has to do a certain number of internships (‘un stage’). These internships are coordinated by the school and each grade within each chosen vocation goes on their internships at the same time. Four of my classes are doing their internships right now, so I don’t work those time slots (which is why I haven’t been working my full 12 hours).

What I actually do in class depends on which teacher I’m working with. I work with 5 different teachers, and each one utilizes me differently. The assistant’s role is really to provide an opportunity for student’s to improve their conversational English and listening skills. That is a really general job description. Communication in France is not always where I think it should be (e.g. don’t expect anyone to get an email for a day or two), so often I don’t even know what they want me to do before I get there.

Some teachers have a list of questions they want me to go through with the students. Some teachers tell me to work on conversation (& that’s it!). Some teachers ask me to give Q&A style presentations to the class. Here are some examples of what I’ve been doing:

  • introductions in small groups. I introduce myself, the students introduce themselves, we ask questions and have a conversation. This sometimes goes well and sometimes doesn’t depending on how interested the student’s are in me/America.
  • asking them questions on their internship experience. This is a necessary skill for the vocational students because they have to be able to do this for the exam they take at the end of their studies. They have a list of questions which I read to them, and they answer as practiced. It feels like a waste of time, but amazingly so many of them aren’t very good at it, despite having had weeks to practice 8 simple questions.
  •  20 questions in a small group. This was probably the most fun activity I did. The students weren’t the most capable in English, but they became motivated to actually say something because it was a boys vs. girls competition. I’m not sure it’s the best activity because they really only ask one style of question (e.g. “Is it….?”) but I think it is a good ice breaker activity for a  new group.
  • group presentations on topics relating to America. Two examples are 9/11 and National Parks. Remember: my purpose is to provide opportunities for them to talk, and listening to me is secondary. So these are mainly pictures with questions like “what do you see here?”, “why is this here?”, etc.

In general, I like what I’m doing. However, I am really thankful that I am not on a career path to become a teacher, and I could never imagine myself doing the program for a second year. There are so many students who just don’t care. Especially in the vocational school, it’s hard to speak in English with them. The teachers don’t do it, but there is an expectation that I will only speak English. When the teacher isn’t doing that, they don’t care to listen to me, and they honestly aren’t capable. Around 4-5 people per class can understand me when I talk as slowly and clearly as possible. And the rest either don’t care presently, or spent enough years not caring that now they are really far behind. I don’t like feeling like a babysitter, and I don’t like trying to make people care. If you don’t want to be there, I don’t want to deal with you. The general high school is stricter in that regard, and easier for me to work with – just really different student demographics between the two schools.

Let’s just say I use these expressions a lot.

On that note, I finally had the motivation to suck it up and finish my grad school applications and pay the OUTRAGEOUS application fees (OVER $200 to apply to 4 schools?!!?!?!?). Teaching this year is helping me feel very affirmed in my career choice as a scientist. 😀

A bientôt,




3 thoughts on “On Teaching

  1. A fun read….and it sounds much like high schools here with the mix of attitudes towards what is happening in school by different groups of students. Sometimes I think more vocational training in high school would be good here, but I’m sure that would be a ginormous budget issue these days. And was that “over $200 per grad school” or your combined cost? Can’t wait to hear what you hear about those applications. Remind me again of your 4 schools….UW, UO and 2 in CO that I can’t remember, I think.


    1. Yeah, vocational training is definitely valuable and more useful for a lot of students. Unfortunately those students often choose a vocational school because they are hoping it means they don’t have to do school at all. -___- Doesn’t work that way.
      No, over $200 total. But thats still crazy! If nobody was to apply, they would be the ones SOL. If it was per grad school, I might stay a teaching assistant forever ;). UW, UO, CU Boulder, CO School of Mines.


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