The Journey to Orientation and the Anxieties of Teaching

It’s been a few weeks since I last updated, but lots has happened since then!  There will be many more blog posts to come in the next few days, but first, I’d like to tell you all, especially future TAPIF-ers, just how scary going to orientation and actually teaching is.

Before you go to orientation, you must introduce yourself to your main teacher and the principal-figure at your school.  I have said this before about my roommates and my town, and I will say it about every other experience I’ve had here: it was a perfect fit.  The principal was very nice (and a woman–and for me, it’s always nice seeing someone like me in positions of authority because it makes me feel safer, and more confident).  My main teacher, Blanche, I already knew was a perfect fit before meeting her.



Image result for blanche golden girls
This is Blanche Devereaux from The Golden Girls, not my teacher, just to be clear.

Knowing my teacher’s name was Blanche, I could just tell that she would be a pal and a confidante.  Meeting her was even better, and reaffirmed the fact that I am not straight LOL.  With a passion for English literature and a minor in gender studies, I could tell we were a good match.  For those TAPIF-ers who are worried about being waitlisted, DON’T WORRY!  It’ll work out in due time!!  The other teachers I’m with have been super kind to me, and are very reassuring, as well as the teachers I’m not working closely with.

But, the next day was daunting: we had to go to orientation.  Each person in every académie must go to their académie’s orientation.  I’m pretty sure that whoever is in charge of setting up orientation makes it their goal to have it be at a place so out of the way that you have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning just to get there on time.  Which is what I had to do.  Ours was in Noisy-le-Grand, which is a quaint city just southeast of Paris.  There’s a bus that goes directly there, or so I’ve heard, but I haven’t seen a confirmation of that on any direction/map website I’ve been on.  I’m pretty sure it’s a myth.  So, with the help of two friends from my district, we took a train into Paris, took a metro, and then took the RER in order to get where we needed to be.

If you’re a future TAPIF-er, here’s what to expect: it begins in the morning, so it’ll likely be chilly until noon, where you’re forced to either take off your layers or overheat.  The lunch is grand (if your orientation offers lunch), and it’s much nicer than anything I’ve seen in America–but, if you’re vegan, like me, your options will likely consist of bread and apples.  Such is life.  In terms of actual content, the first half of the day consisted of learning a little about France’s education system and how difficult the bureaucracy is here.  The next half of the day consisted of pedagogical training in which a lycée teacher gave us lots of really great pointers!  So, don’t fret about teaching quite yet, TAPIF-ers, they give you lots of good ideas!

In fact, we got lots of good ideas, because our académie  had two trainings.  Our second training was…interesting, to put it nicely.   I’ll expand on this, if anybody wants, but for right now, I’ll just talk about the content.  Our teacher gave us a lot of ideas, lots of good ideas, which was surprising considering the tension of the room.

Since he gave us lots of good ideas, I’ll list some of the few I really liked out for anyone teaching English:

  • Time’s Up! or, Catchphrase – This is really good for seconde classes!  (seconde=sophomore-level students)
  • Taboo – This one is great for premier or terminale, since it limits the amount of words they’re able to use to describe the main word (premier=junior-level students; terminale=senior-level students)
  • Murder Mystery – Good for premier students!  What you do is find a picture of a crime-scene (probably illustrated) and you can have the students do a few things: they can devise a story of what happened on their own (focuses on writing skills), or pair the students up and have one student be a police officer and the other student be a witness (the police officer must interview the witness and they must create a’report’ to present to the rest of the class)
  • Interview with a celebrity/ghost/tourist – Also good for premier/terminale students!  This makes the interviewer create questions, and the interviewee create fun and interesting answers!
  • Speed-dating – I like to do this with seconde!  Have each student create a character–name, age, job, where they’re from, hobbies, likes, dislikes, etc., and then make them “speed date” and tell the class what they learned about the other person.
  • Seasonal/holiday themed vocab lists – Good for everyone!!  I’ve made small talk so much since I’ve gotten here, and trust me, it would have been a lot easier if I remembered how to talk about the weather, discuss holidays, and favorite things about the seasons.
  • Create a Person – Good for seconde!  With your friends’ permission, show your class a photo of them.  What do they look like?  Is their hair dyed or natural?  Do they have piercings?  What are they wearing?  Once they’re done with the appearance…do you think they like cats or dogs more?  Why?  (ALWAYS ask why!) Do you think they’re more of a coffee or tea person?  Winter or summer? Regardless of whether it’s actually true for the person you’re showing them, it’s fun to create a story for someone they’ve never met.
  • Above all, my favorite thing to do is simply TALK with them 🙂 I LOVE learning things about my students, and let’s face it–you’re probably the only American/Canadian/Indian/British/Irish person they’ll be able to really get to know for the time being!  They love it, they don’t feel super pressured because you’re being friendly and not an authoritative figure (it’s weird–you’re not a student, but you’re not a teacher either, so there’s definitely a bizarre balance you have to figure out), and they ask a LOT of questions and practice both speaking and listening comprehension!

And, speaking of just talking with them, let me tell y’all the things that they’ve asked me and that they’ve talked about.  First things first, they asked me about the election.  Our second orientation teacher told us to remain neutral about really intense political topics, including the American election, which makes sense, except for that we all knew our feelings about a certain presidential candidate.  On this topic, these were the things they asked me: Who are you going to vote for?  How do you feel about Trump?  Why does America have so many guns??  One of the teachers also put me on the spot to describe the “”””American Dream””””, or as it’s better known in my circles, “The Bootstraps Myth.”

But, heavy topics aside, they had more personal questions: Why did you choose to come here?  What’s it like back home?  What did you study?  How many people are in your family?  Is this the first time you’ve been to France?  Have you been anywhere else?

My responses to these questions really riled them up: Who do you like to listen to?  Have you been to any concerts?  (I think three girls died after I told them that I’d seen Halsey twice).  Do you watch The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones?   Who’s your favorite superhero? (a totally UNFAIR question after Civil War).  Do you watch Pretty Little Liars or Stranger Things or Daredevil?

Literally, if you messed up and have nothing planned for the day, or you still have ten minutes left, just talk about television.  They’ll ask you what you like to watch, and what I do to turn it into a “teaching moment” for the English language is that I also describe what it’s about, and ask them to describe their favorite television show.  Sometimes, you’ll get the occasional student who says they don’t have a favorite television show, so I’ll ask them who their favorite artist, book, album, or whatever is, and why.  The important part is the “why.”

For us assistants, the main goal of our teaching work is to have the students speak.  If the lesson consists of me speaking a lot, and actually teaching them about something (like American history or culture) I’ll try to check in with them every now and then just to make sure they understand the gist of what I’ve been saying.  I’ll ask them if they have any questions about literally anything.  And, at the end of the period, I remind them of the one thing I want them to take away from my lesson, and then become the evil teacher and ask them to tell me one thing they learned.  At the very least, this tells me how well they’ve comprehended what I have been talking about, and makes them speak, even if it’s just one sentence.

I know that I’m more an assistant than a teacher.  But the students that I’ve met are so vast and different in their experiences, and I know I want to make sure that they know that I’m a person that they can trust–whether that means they need to tell me something serious, or that it’s okay to ask “stupid” questions (which, to be clear, there are no stupid questions).  I hope that when they visit me, that I can break up tdhe monotony of school, even if it’s just for one day.  I’ve seen many different school systems treat students like they’re machines, intentionally or no.  I want to remind them that it’s okay to mess up, that trying their best is valid, and with the English language, anything goes, and grammar is made up, just like everything else.

And, right when I was getting the hang of my schedule and being put in a teaching position, my school began Les Vacances de la Touissant, a two week vacation.  Such is life.

Happy holidays, y’all.


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