A few weeks ago, I was sitting with my roommates in the salon and reflecting on my first six months of teaching at the international bilingual school. I reluctantly expressed the frustrations I was having with myself– the difficulties I was having aligning standards / objectives, finding my niche with classroom management, time management and giving quality homework, planning a solid unit and curriculum, amongst other things. I said that I don’t remember it being quite this difficult– even though I have been teaching for nearly four years, I felt like a brand-new, inexperienced teacher all over again. One of my roommates is also a past TAPIF-er and current lectrice, as well as a certified teacher in the USA, with a few years of teaching experience under her belt. I asked her, a bit hesitantly, if she felt she had actually lost some of her teaching skills since coming to teach in France. She responded, “Yes.”
Although I do not deny that sometimes a school placement and living situation during TAPIF can either make or break an experience, I also sincerely believe that for the most part, TAPIF is what you make of it. If you go in with an open mind, a positive attitude, zero expectations, and a bit of background knowledge in regards to the bureaucracy and administration BS, you can really get a lot out of the program. I went in to TAPIF with the goals of improving my French, traveling as much as I could, and learning about the French Education system. As a certified teacher I was not too worried about my teaching experience– I was newly certified, but I had training. Of course, I learned a lot during my TAPIF year; I had never taught BTS before, and was forced to learn about electricity, machines, new technology, and teach that in English. However, I had to adjust to the role of an assistant— seeing students only once every other week and not really being able to do anything continuous with them; seeing one student at a time and working on one-on-one exam preparation. It forced me to be creative with my lessons– to have something concrete and to the point, as well as the ability to differentiate and cater a lesson to a bunch of different classes with varying levels. However, I was not grading assessments or measuring my students’ progress on a formal or summative level. I wasn’t building curriculum or aligning state standards or setting long-term goals. If I had a problem with classroom management, I sent the students back to their teacher. I wasn’t being evaluated for a pay raise or given opportunities for professional development. If all else failed, I could bring a game or set up YouTube and bullshit my way through a 55 minute lesson, and that was okay because I wasn’t really held accountable for my teaching. I didn’t really have to push myself if I didn’t want to.
American Day at school
When I was hired as a lectrice, I was suddenly required to use a set of very different teaching skills. My BTS experience actually proved itself useful, as I was now teaching at the university level. I also suddenly found myself teaching Business English, to students just two years my junior, despite the fact of never having taken a business class in my life. I taught myself about advertising, auditing, business plans, and of course the infamous TOEIC exam, for which a certain is required for engineering students in France. University teaching is (quite obviously) much different than collège and lycée teaching (although I couldn’t have told you that when I started at the international school in September). I had to use my native language but in a very French-style way of teaching, and I never had any classroom management issues because they were university students– if they didn’t want to be there they simply just wouldn’t come to class. My students were mine, but I only saw them once every week for about 1.5 hours at a time. Therefore learning goals and curriculum development were very different from what I was used to: it was very TOEIC-centered, with one or two other assignments mixed in for an overall grade. I learned a lot as a lectrice, and I worked with very talented and committed colleagues, all excellent teachers.
Students’ Sploosh Project
I’ve learned a lot these past few years in France– including certain teaching skills. But since starting my new position, I’ve had to re-learn many of the things I only had the chance to practice at university, and shortly after. It has been a somewhat frustrating and also humbling experience for me, because they are skills that I know are there– I know how to do them, how to execute them, but they’ve been buried for so long. Thankfully, skills like those do not just disappear. You may need to put a bit of oil on the hinge (being eaten alive by high school kids is a whole new level of vexation) but they do come back. Now that I’m beginning to feel more established at my new school, I’ve finally taken to updating and upgrading my Wisconsin Teaching License, a three-year journey which will upgrade me from “initial” to “professional”. In the meantime, I look forward to continue growing and learning and perfecting the skills I have.
Have you felt the frustrations of losing skills when taking time away from your career (or just filtering it in a new direction?)