It’s been three weeks since the rentrée, and hence three weeks since I’ve begun my new job at an International School in Lille. And I must say, I am SUCH a bag of mixed emotions.
For the most part, though, I can’t stop smiling, because I am so proud of myself. I keep having flashbacks to 21-year-old Dana in her Senior year of university googling, “American School of London” and “American School of Paris” and “International School of Nice” and bookmarking schools and contacts and blogs and requirements, determinedly thinking, “One day, I am going to work at an international school in France or the UK.” Twenty-six-year-old Dana cannot believe that she is actually here and she actually made this happen for herself. It is so, so surreal to literally be living your own dream.
The school itself is wonderful, and to be honest is kind of a utopia that makes me (almost) forget that I’m living and working in France. With two sister schools in Paris and London, the school’s culture is very unique in that we are basically always expected to speak our native language (ie: the Head Director is actually French but he always addresses me in English. Before coming to work at this current school, I would have addressed him in French because I have culturally been taught that that is the polite thing to do in France. However, at this school, the culture is to speak in your native language– for me this is English.) This may also be partly because there are many teachers who work here whom do not speak any French. My colleagues come from all over– England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, Canada, USA, Spain, India, China, Germany and of course France; most all of us have teaching degrees and certifications, but very few of us were trained in France. I am so lucky to have found an establishment where my US teaching degree means something and counts towards my work and my pay. Even better, there’s a whole group of Lille expats I never knew existed, so it’s been a great change meeting new people. Finally, the students, no matter how young, only speak to me and other English teachers in English. It’s very cool to see and experience because it’s just pure proof of how amazing bilingualism is. Finally, part of our school’s philosophy is to embrace and welcome all kinds of teaching methods from all of our respective countries, and I find that to be fantastic. All in all it’s a very unique place to work and a welcomed change to the strictly-French education system.
On the other hand, I am now plunged into a world of learning targets and standards and am so, so, so unbelievably busy with lesson planning and grading and professional development and reading and researching and organizing and actual teaching that I hardly remember what it’s like to be an assistante or a lectrice anymore. I had three extremely spoiled years of decent pay for a low number of working hours and I enjoyed them to the fullest, taking advantage of my ample time off to travel and explore all corners of Europe. But now, I teach 23 hours a week (contact time– a full time secondary teacher in France teaches 18 hours contact); my course load includes 7 different classes– 6ème, 5ème, 3ème, 2nde, 1ère, and Terminale (6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades). Our school offers both IB and French Bac options, but I am teaching on the French Bac side, which means that all of my students are French and are planning to take the difficult French Baccalauréat exam at the end of high school and integrate into the French university system (where as IB students are a mixture of native and non-native English speakers whom take the extremely International Baccalaureate exams and continue on to higher education in perhaps France but also other countries, including the USA, UK, and Canada.) The school IS accredited and recognized by both the U.K. and USA edcucation departments. Needless to say, I’m finally making a real salary with real benefits; I can start to save instead of just scrape by.
I’m learning a lot; I went from teaching Business English to university students to teaching grammar and literature and poetry and short stories and comprehension and writing skills to middle and high school students. We have to read novels and write essays and give speeches and I have to teach them the skills they need along the way. I’m teaching English but also solely to EAL/ESL students, mixing skills I have with skills I am still developing. I have a lot to learn but I’ve definitely welcomed the challenge. For the most part, the students are lovely, although I’ve had to certainly re-vamp my classroom management skills. It’s a bit stressful for me at times to realize that now, finally, I am actually the teacher. It’s up to me to distribute grades and discipline students and differentiate materials and track progress and plan curriculum and contact parents simultaneously for 7 different classes, as well as become familiar with new exams and language certificates. It’s exhausting but exhilarating at the same time. I’m reminded most days that I still love teaching and doing what I do. I’m looking forward to this year unfolding and seeing what’s in store.
Finally, I’ve started running the Debate Club on Wednesday nights with the boarding school students. This is something I’ve never done before but am looking forward to getting involved in.
I know that accepting this position was absolutely the right thing for me; although I still get homesick, the combination of skills I’ll develop and contacts I’ll make is going to open so many doors, career-wise. Even better, I’m motivated each and every day to keep helping and inspiring students to learn and grow, as well as to be reflective and improve on my own teaching and learning.