Today, I finally started my two-day work orientation for TAPIF (read more about what I’m doing by clicking on that link) in Toulon. (Coincidentally some people had to travel quite far to get here both days- I’m lucky the orientation took place in the city in which I am living!)
For the 2013-14 program, there are currently 1,100 Americans all around France and its overseas departments. In l’Académie de Nice, where I am placed, there are 142 language assistants representing seven different world languages (English, Spanish, German, Arabic, Chinese, Italian, & Russian). Of the 142 assistants, 77 of them are English assistants (coming from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa). Of those, 34 of us are on my side of the region- Le Var, and the rest are closer to Alps-Martimes, or the Nice area.
It was a long but great two days because I got to meet a lot of assistants from all over. It turns out we’ve all been a little lonely, so we were all quite talkative and eager to make friends!
The first day was spent being handed individual packets of papers and learning about the French Education system- how it is run and set up. We then went through our role as a teaching Assistants in France: our duties and expectations, what we can and cannot do, what our schools can and cannot do, etc. We finished the morning going through every single piece of paper required by the French bureaucracy. It was one of the most overwhelming things I have ever sat through (and I am a very organized person!) There was an MGEN and OFII representative present, so it is useful to bring your appropriate paperwork with you to submit or to clarify any questions!
After a two-hour lunch break (welcome to France!), we came back we split up by language. The afternoon was again filled with bureaucracy explanations, question and answer sessions, and introductions for all of us.
Day Two of orientation was at a different high school in the city. Today, all of the assistants were sent to different buildings according to language, and then at the actual building all the English assistants were split up by primary and secondary levels. Again, we spent the first part of the morning talking about how lucky we are to be in the region we are in, and all of the sites and cultural activities we should see (which was actually really helpful to hear perspective from locals!) Next, we spent time re-learning more about how the French education system is run as well as more precise vocabulary for the different administration titles at each levels. We were then lectured on appropriate work behavior and expectations, as well as appropriate student-teacher relationships (not adding our students on Facebook, not going out drinking with our students). Again, most of this stuff is very obvious to me, but people as young as 20 can participate in the program, and cultural differences/expectations need to be taken into account with every person, so all of this information needed to be said to at least one person in the room.(Ironically one of the biggest things also preached to us during these meetings also included punctuality, though we began about thirty minutes late both days- I guess that’s France for you. 🙂
At the beginning of the morning we were given a very, very detailed handout/chart entitled La République est Laïque or The French Republic is Secular, explaining La Laïcité aka Secularism and the importance of lack of religion in French schools. This means students and staff are absolutely forbidden from wearing or displaying any sort of religious symbols, including Burquas, Islamic head wraps, Sikh head wraps, Christianity-based cross jewelry or tattoos, Star of David jewelry or tattoos, and any sort of other symbol pertaining to any other religion. These rules also includes not celebrating any religious based holidays.
After our 1.5 hour lunch break, we worked on teaching strategies and lesson planning. We were split up into groups of 4 and were given 30 minutes to plan a lesson based on an English document given to us and then were to present our lesson.
For the record, the people who ran the orientation (public world language teachers here in the Var area) did an amazing job, and I am so happy they are here to help us. Overall, my first days have gone extremely well; I love being back in front of the classroom, and the students and staff are lovely!