Semester Recap and Exchange Projects

Well, I survived the first part of my academic year as a Teaching Assistant, and I realize I haven’t really blogged much about my job.

-If you are interested in reading about the TAPIF Program, click here.
-If you are interested in comparing French and American high schools, click here.
-If you are interested in reading about my first week in my new French high school, click here.
-If you want to read about the French School System, click here.
-If you want to read about Secularism in French schools, click here.

Well, a lot has changed since that first week– I finally have my routine and understand how my rotating schedule works. As I have explained in various posts, I work 12 hours a week in a lycée professionelwith Secondes, (equivalent to high school sophomores), Terminales (high school seniors) and BTS students (college students between the ages of 18-22 working on Associate Degrees. However, their programs are much more specific, almost like what you would see at WCTC.) So, I work with two BTS classes following Electro technician programs, and four other BTS classes who are following a more computer-based program). I work on a rotating two-week schedule; I see each group every other week, meaning that I can teach the same lesson two weeks in a row, which is awesome in regards to planning (even though I only work 12 hours a week, I have 5 different preps!) However, at the same time this was difficult for me as a teacher because I am still learning how to give meaningful lessons that have no basis of curriculum or build up– in addition to only seeing them every other week, I cannot give them grades. (One of the biggest cultural differences I have encountered are the publicity of grades here in France. Teachers simply shout out the students’ grades and critique them or give them their feedback in front of the entire class. Grades here are out of 20 points, but it is virtually impossible to receive a 20 as there is always “room for improvement.” Anything above a 14 is considered fantastic.) Overall as I have stated, the goal and purpose of this program is for me to be a native speaker in the classroom and make the students speak in English.

The BTS students were difficult for me to teach at first (not because I couldn’t handle them in the classroom but because I was really sure what to teach in regards to making it relative of their programs– have I mentioned that they are ALL boys!?) However, ever since reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, I decided that my new approach in the work force is, “I am going to learn by doing.” So, I decided to reach out to some of my colleagues in order to get some ideas and resources, and that has helped me immensely, since I have never taught college students or these subjects. The subjects we discussed throughout this semester included job interviews, cell phone dangers, automobiles and texting while driving, and smart home technology, for example. After La Rentrée, my role will change slightly as I’ll be helping them individually to prepare for their oral English exams, but before that we’ll do a new unit about robots in medicine. In general, these students need a lot of background knowledge activation, so the activities I plan include worksheets with lots of photos and fill-in-the-blanks, a listening comprehension activity, and a group discussion. These boys are, overall, very nice young adults. I think the weirdest thing for me is for them to be calling me Madame and using vous (the formal version of you) with me even though I am only a year or two older than most of them.)

My Terminale students were a challenge for a different reason– they are fluent in English. No, really though, they are fluent. It’s so incredibly impressive. So, sometimes I am just at a loss as to what to teach them! So, I have done an activity with American slang and well-known idioms, and basically now we just have awesome group discussions about various topics I prepare in advance. All of these students are positive and motivated, and an absolute pleasure to work with! I also do video exchanges with this group and my mother’s French students. My students speak in French and then my mom uses their videos for listening exercises in her French classes, and then visa versa– her students speak in English and I use them for listening exercises here, which is great, and something students enjoy. Topics we have discussed include Sunday culture, jobs, and music.

My Secondes are also good kids, and they’re motivated to learn. They’re still young enough (15 and 16) so they are easy to manage in the classroom and like most activities I prepare.) Some of the things I have done with them include Thanksgiving, ‘Twas the night Before Christmas, and a debate about Santa Claus’s skin color. After break, I am going to help them start preparing for their oral English exam as well. Perhaps one of the coolest things I have done with my Secondes is a Skype exchange with my mother. I had my students prepare questions in English, and then they interviewed her students in the United States, who answered their questions, and visa versa in French! The students immensely enjoyed it and can’t wait to do it again (hopefully the reception will be better!)

As far as I can tell, I am on great relations with my colleagues in the English department. I eat lunch and drink coffee with them during breaks, and have hung out with them a few times outside of work (ie: we had a huge dinner in my honor the weekend of Thanksgiving out in centre ville, which was absolutely fantastic!) All of my colleagues are helpful and willing to talk with me, which has been awesome.

Of course, there are frustrations, or just things I have had to adapt to because it’s France, and things don’t always runs a smoothly as they do in the land of convenience (ie- every week somebody steals my computer speakers, as there’s not enough for every classroom. (I now hide a pair in my mailbox.) I also have to get a projector every Monday and set it up as I was assigned to the one classroom without one. Finally, my login account locks me out almost every other time on a consistent basis. However, on as positive note, one of my colleagues pulled me aside to tell me I am one of the most hard-working and dedicated assistants he has ever seen, which felt really really good. (I told him for me this is a teaching job, and I take it as seriously as I would any other job– I am here to make a difference with the kids.)

Overall as I am teaching English, I am learning that I still have so much left to learn about teaching and my techniques!

My second jobs and tutoring sessions have also been experiences for me. I teach four thirty-minute sessions at a preschool on Wednesdays, but this gig has above all taught be to be flexible- but the sessions are fun nonetheless. The kids now know the songs we sing and were even able to apply some of the phrases we have been learning to other outside situations, which was really exciting for me as a teacher. During my individual tutoring sessions I am using a lot of online resources to cater individual lessons. Some of the things I have done with my students have included debate prompts, negotiating with role playing, giving advice, Active and Passive voice, and forcing them to answer questions and speak in English for one minute without stopping, which has been great. I also give one lesson over Skype, two times per week. The guy I talk with is my age, and he is preparing to go to University at an Ivy League school in the states next year, so right now we are practicing college entry interview questions and working on his accent.

Overall I’m keeping busy and making enough where I don’t need to make a huge dent in my savings.



9 thoughts on “Semester Recap and Exchange Projects

  1. Hi Dana!

    Wow, this sounds amazing. I’m not at all technologically adept but I’d love to do some Skype exchanges/videos with my secondary students. Was it easy to get access to the tech you needed? I assume I could just do this with my phone, if the wifi is good enough. Any tips for video-making?

    I also have another (probably really dumb) technology question: will DVDs/CDs I bring from America work in French computers/will ones I buy there work with my laptop? Maybe I’ve completely made this up, but I know vaguely that there are different formats for these things…did you bring any media to use in class, and did that work out well?

    Thanks! I’m so impressed with the initiative it took to set up all these great lessons! I’m desperately trying to cling on to your coattails….

    1. Hi! Thanks for your nice comment.

      Since there was no wifi at my schools, I used the 3G hotspot to connect my phone to my ipad, and then used google hangout. I tried to connect the iPad to the big screen but it was difficult with the lack of wifi … But an Apple TV would have done the trick.

      Actually, American CDs and DVDs do not work in French machines 😦 I made a lot of power points, and had my mom film English speakers (we shared the files on google doc).

      I admit I was quite ambitious and I still
      Need to post about lessons from the spring 🙂

      Feel free to use any ideas- that’s what the internet is for!

      1. Wow! That’s probably a little beyond my ability–but I could take videos and send them later, I guess.

        I’m glad I wasn’t completely deluded about the DVD thing…but it’s too bad; that would be a great resource.

        Merci beaucoup! Tres bonnes idees ici. 🙂

  2. I just wanted to drop by and say that you are such an inspiration! Ever since I got accepted into TAPIF I’ve been stalking your blog for all the great writing and useful advice you give out. I don’t have much experience in teaching (which sometimes makes me wonder how I got accepted in the first place) but your enthusiasm and wisdom has motivated me to just do it and be the best I can be. For that, I want to thank you 🙂

  3. Okay, after reading your blog (and if I get into TAPIF) I hope to be as awesome as you! You seem to really have had a great experience with TAPIF and I hope that I get the chance too! Thanks for all the information you give out, and the lovely writing. I look forward to reading more.

    1. Bonjour!

      Aw, thank you! It means a lot that you say that! It hasn’t been all rainbows at all times , October was definitely hard- but overall I’ve had a wonderful experience because I’ve really put myself out there, taken advantage of opportunities, and networked, I know a few people in the north if France (whom I stayed with on Christmas) and they helped me to make some key connections here in the south.

      Living abroad is exciting but of course there are day-to-day struggles 🙂

      Bisous and good luck!

  4. I must say the communication between Toulon and Waukesha West if very exciting. The students are very interested in doing more and I am so proud of my professional daughter. Technology … awesome!

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