Bisous Baby: 13/10/2009

So you’ve found somewhere to live, you’ve opened a bank account, you’ve bought a mobile phone and a bus pass; you’ve signed about 73 different contracts and you’re finally starting to feel at home. And then you remember that the reason you moved abroad in the first place was for a job. And that you have to start that job tomorrow.

Before leaving the country your tutors will tell you that for the first week or two you’re not expected to teach any classes; you have an ‘observation period’ to sit in on lessons, find out what sort of activities work best with each set of students, and work out the level of their English. When you start work you will discover that what ‘observation period’ actually means is that you are not expected to prepare any classes, the teacher just pushes you out in front of twenty five teenagers and you have to try and make them talk for an entire hour. While the teacher has a nice sit down, of course. Blood from a stone doesn’t even come close. As you can imagine, the conversation isn’t particularly varied. If you are a girl it will go something like this: “Do you have a French boyfriend?” “No” “Do you have an English boyfriend?” “No” “Not yet! Haw haw haw”. A) You are sixteen years old, it isn’t likely that you will ever become my boyfriend and B) I’m Welsh. Stop asking me about England.

Then, after an entire week of slowly articulating ‘Yes, I have one cat’, you are expected to take classes all alone.

When I was in high school, our French assistants used to take out groups of five or six students for twenty minutes or half an hour maximum, and after that another group would get a turn to practise their speaking. This way the assistant only has to prepare twenty minutes of work which they can reuse for the entire week. Here, I am expected to take half the class (sometimes thirteen or fourteen students) for the entire hour. In France it is possible to stay back a year several times over so some of my students are the same age as I am. Imagine taking thirteen insolent boys, some of whom are as old as you, for English conversation for an entire hour. No one wants to talk. No one has prepared anything to say. No one has brought along what you asked. Everyone is making jokes and talking to each other in French slang that you don’t understand. Occasionally someone will ask you to write something on the board and when this happens you get all excited thinking that you’ve found a diamond in the rough, someone who is secretly keen to learn. It’s only after that you realise they only asked so you would turn around and they could get a good look at your bum. The first week of planning and taking your own classes can be disheartening to say the least.

Instructions vary from school to school and even from teacher to teacher. At my school, one of the teachers prepares my classes for me, most of them want me to prepare classes which compliment and revise the topics that the pupils are currently studying, but others want me to do something entirely separate and unconnected. The key is to be flexible, but also to know when to say no. You are only being paid to do twelve hours of work a week and so should refuse to do anything further. Unfortunately I haven’t worked out how to do this yet, hence my involvement in the college production of Romeo and Juliet and my attendance at catering class…


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