I can’t start this post without noting that I’m happy to be teaching English in France.
In fact, teaching is my life – creating lessons, engaging students in a second (or third in some cases) language, making learning about other cultures fun and interesting… I thrive on these things. In fact, I have a permit to teach French legally in the US. However, not every dream is all rainbows and butterflies, no, often dreams turn into an ugly mess.
Reasons why teaching through TAPIF is frustrating and ridiculous:
- The French public school system is completely UNORGANIZED and UNCOMMUNICATIVE. I’m not saying that public school districts in the US aren’t as unorganized and uncommunicative as those in France, but, c’mon! The extent of disorganization and the lack of communication is RIDICULOUS and FRUSTRATING (see reasons #2-7)!
- On my first day as an assistante, none of the teachers knew I was coming! I was confused by their confusion because I didn’t choose the emploie du temps, or work schedule. So, either there was poor communication on the part of my boss and the directors or the directors of the schools didn’t bother notifying their staff… In fact, one teacher had no idea that she was going to have an assistante! Yet, I knew in June that, come October, I would be working at her school.
- None of the teachers seemed to know my rôle. Oh, but my boss set a few of them straight when she came to inspect me (it was more of an inspection of the teachers I work with than an inspection of my teaching). So, on Wednesday’s, I do whatever the teacher has planned (Monday’s and Tuesday’s, I’m usually in charge of everything). An assistant(e) at the primary level “intervenes in front of the entire class by applying what the teacher has already planned or by working with a small group of students on oral comprehension and oral expressions.” For exact information on the rôle d’assistant(e), check out the official 2014-2015 CIEP book (in French): Le guide assistant de langue en France. The rôle doesn’t include making full fledged lesson plans, so, why is it that most (~99%) assistants(es) take on the rôle of both the assistant(e) and the teacher? This question is easy to answer: the primary school teachers aren’t qualified to teach English. I enjoy creating lesson plans; however, I didn’t graduate university and get a teaching license so that I could create lesson plans that aren’t in my work contract. But, I like having control over the lesson (I’m sure most assistants(es) would agree)! And, honestly, I’m more qualified to make the lesson plans than most of the teachers I work with (when you think that British English and American English are exactly identical and are surprised when I point out differences, then there’s a huge problem). In fact, all of the teachers take notes when I teach!
- In the primary schools, the assistants(es) don’t have their own classroom. This poses several problems. First, the assistant(e) has to lug all of his/her material to each class (on Tuesday’s, I have 8 classes ranging from the first floor to the fourth floor…). I show a video/song at the beginning of every class, so that means that I lug my laptop and my speakers to every class. Second, discipline can be difficult at times because the assistant(e) is intervening in the students’ classroom. In my experience as a teacher in the US, I’ve seen that having your own classroom makes it easier for elementary aged students to associate that room with your rules. Third, since the assistant(e) makes all of the lesson plans anyway, it would be beneficial to be able to offer a classroom full of English paraphernalia (flags, holiday decorations, etc….) and the students’ work of art. It would be much more welcoming for the students and it would make the transition into English Time easier for the students. In all 3 of my schools, there’s at least 1 room that I know I could use for this purpose (so, “not having an extra room available” is not an excuse).
- None of the primary school teachers are qualified to teach English (perhaps, 2 out of the 16 I work with are semi-qualified). So, the whole assistants(es)-do-what-the-teacher-plans thing is sort of tossed out the window – or it should be. I work with one teacher who tries really hard to create the lessons. We work together to teach English and French side-by-side (it’s the only class I have that teaches both languages at the same time). I spend more than half of the class correcting this teacher’s English. On the one hand, this is good for the students because it shows that they’re not alone in this second, or third, language struggle. On the other hand, it’s time consuming. So, with this in mind, it would be beneficial to the TAPIF program if they required applicants to have some second language teaching background. For example, requiring a teaching licence or a major/minor in English and ELL. I’m a better teacher today because of the methods classes I took during the Foreign Language Teaching Program at my university. (of course with this requirement, there would be a pay increase and your own classroom – maybe more hours at one or two schools rather than minuscule hours at 3 schools, too…an assistante can dream, can’t she?). I like to think that assistants(es) could pop out bilingual French-English speakers faster and more efficient through these changes.
- In October, no one seemed to be able to tell us assistants(es) what day of the month we would get paid. In the US, most enterprises (including the public school sector) have a set day(s) every month. For example, when I worked in retail, I got paid every other Wednesday (obviously, holidays can change the date). The assistants(es) were told that we would be paid at the end of every month, which was rather vague. We had so many questions: “‘the end’ means the 30th or the 31st right? Even if it’s a Sunday?” Apparently, the 27th counts as ‘the end of the month’. The 27th hasn’t yet landed on a Sunday, so I’m still unsure about that answer. 2 months after our start date, we realized that every month on the 27th, we get paid. Why didn’t anyone tell us sooner?!? I know some assistants(es) really needed the money, so, not knowing the date created a lot of unnecessary stress.
- Assistants(es) start a month (almost 2 months in some cases) after the French school system is in session. Unfortunately, this creates an array of problems for the assistant(e), the teacher, and the students. I have no idea why TAPIF starts in October – maybe it’s to get the students already used to the school routine before introducing them to an étranger(e), or foreigner? It seems more stressful to start the assistants(es) a month later than it would be to start them at the same time. Specifically, the assistants(es) needs to work with the teachers, so, it’s better to find a way to work together at the beginning than when the teacher already has his/her plan (that often doesn’t include English) for the semester/year.
- Healthcare. Yeah, I’m about to go there. The healthcare in France is AMAZING. First of all, the Dr.’s actually see the patient as a human being to care for instead of as dollar signs. Second of all, there’s not much hassle (once the insurance kicks in) with whether or not the insurance will cover something (because it covers almost EVERYTHING)! Unfortunately, behind this fabulous healthcare, there’s a dark spot. The amount of time it takes to send the forms to MGEN (teacher’s healthcare) is RIDICULOUS! The assistants(es) filled out the forms and gave all of the necessary paperwork to the lovely employees that handle this type of administrative work for the school district on October 1st. About a month later, I found myself with a sinus infection, so, I went to both the sécu and to the MGEN in hopes of receiving my SSN or a temporary SSN. Surpise, suprise: I wasn’t even in the system. An entire month and a half had flown by and the paperwork wasn’t even submitted yet! How long does it take to submit paperwork? Apparently almost 3 moths. The nice employee at MGEN told me that she could submit all of my paperwork for me (and at no charge, of course). So, why doesn’t the program just let us submit the paperwork ourselves? I understand that certain people can’t be trusted to successfully carry out a task like this, but seriously! The employees who are in charge of this paperwork could schedule trips for the assistants(es), in groups of 5-10, to submit everything at an MGEN office (it would be similar to the OFII visit). This could take care of the stress of the middle-men (essentially, that’s what they are) handling official documents. In fact, there’s an MGEN office nicely tucked away in the centre ville d’Aix. With this in mind, I only paid 23€ to see the Dr. (that was without insurance), so, it’s not so bad. I’ve been paying for insurance from my income each month, though, so, it’s the principle, really. But, in the end, the Dr. gave me forms to fill out and to submit to MGEN once I receive my SSN. These forms will enable me to get back my 23€. Even with this sécu mess, I still prefer the healthcare system in France (with insurance, I paid $100 in the US to see the Dr. – makes you wonder how much money insurance companies are making from your tiny wallet).
Even with these negative aspects to the TAPIF program, I’m still happy and proud of my choice (and the fact that I was chosen) to teach English in France. To come: Reasons why teaching through TAPIF is AMAZING (obviously, I had to get the negative stuff out of the way first…).♦