This is Part 1 of the “Do you ever go to work or do you just do paperwork and complain?” series, also known as the “Teaching” series in order to make tagging easier.
You may recall that this year started with me marching into my two schools and asking every adult I found who they were and if they knew anything about what I was supposed to do as a language assistant. This ended up with someone finding the Lovely Isabelle for me, as she is my contact person at the lycée, which is the main school in charge of me.
Isabelle gave me my schedule and showed me around the lycée. (Later, another person showed me around the collège.) I didn’t know it at the time, but almost every piece of information on the schedule was wrong or incomplete: the room numbers, the class start/end times, and the teachers’ names. I spent weeks hunting down the correct information, during which my schedule continued to change. I don’t think I’ve gone more than a month without having at least one class changed.
Here is part of the list of classes I’ve seen this year:
The first column is the profs’ names, the second is the class numbers, the third is whatever info I have about the class, and the fourth is how often I need to prepare a new lesson for the class. I’ve mostly given up on the fourth column. I have another section in this document where I list each activity I do with each class anyway. I also have another set of documents containing the different versions of my weekly schedule.
I think my teachers think I’m incompetent because I keep asking them questions like, “Do I take your students for 25 min or 55 min?” and “Is this the class you gave me the worksheets for, or were those for your other class?” and “Are your secondes the ones studying segregation?” and “Remind me, did we say I’d take the new terminales on Tuesday or Wednesday?” But it’s really impossible to keep all of this information in my head.
How many hours do you work per week?
How many classes do you teach per day?
What days do you work?
How many schools do you work at?
How many teachers and classes do you work with?
TAPIF assistants work 12 hrs/wk. For me, three of those weekly hours are at a middle school and nine are at a high school. I’m the only assistant at the middle school and the only English assistant at the high school. I’m working at the same two schools all year, and these schools are fortunately both in Rochefort and very close to each other. (Working at two or three schools simultaneously is common. Slightly less common is working at 3-4 schools sequentially over the course of the year. Schools may not be all in the same town, especially if you’re in a rural area.)
At the very beginning, I had classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Then one teacher took pity on me and asked some others to move things around so I could have alternate Mondays off for travel. (The high school has a Week A/Week B schedule.)
I think it’s fairly typical for schools to recognize that TAPIF assistants are here to explore France as well as work, and to try to give us either a Monday or Friday off. If you give your school a heads up earlier in the summer and explain that you’re going to take université/Master classes at the same time, they may squish all of your TAPIF classes into Mon-Tues-Weds or something like that. I know one assistant who’s doing a Master this way and another who thought she might take university classes but ended up not doing that (she travels a lot instead).
I work with 11 teachers and about 17 different classes. My schedule was pretty lumpy before January. These are the classes I had per day during Week A: 0-4-0-5-3. During Week B: 1-2-0-5-4.
What is your schedule like now?
Do you have your own classroom?
How many classes have you met?
My schedule is constantly evolving, but at the moment I have 0-4-3-2-2 classes during Week A and 0-2-2-2-5 during Week B. This is much easier to deal with, and since so many of my classes are new, I can recycle lessons that I created during the fall.
You may notice that I lost a class hour. This is because that class is off doing internships for the rest of the year, and when I asked what other class I would be switched to, the teacher told me to enjoy the free hour. Okay then. I’m fine with that.
No one in the administration has been notified of these class changes. I recently got a notice in my locker telling me that two of my classes will be in different rooms this week because of the bac blanc (practice tests); one of those classes I haven’t taught in months.
Some assistants have one room that’s “theirs” to take groups of students to. I have at least eight different rooms. Each of these rooms has a computer, projector, and whiteboard. Every time a class changes, the teacher has to find me a classroom that will be unoccupied during that timeslot. Since these changes aren’t registered, sometimes I arrive and find that the room is in use. Or I get started teaching and three minutes into class another professor knocks on the door and says that they have class in that room. This is a very common TAPIF experience.
Like I said, I have about 17 different classes that I see regularly during each 2-week rotation, but by Feb 13 I will have met 29 different classes in total. This appears to be on the low end for an English-language assistant. Another Anglophone in Rochefort estimates that she has met 40 classes and another thinks that she has met 60 or 70. (She has done almost nothing but introduce herself so far this year. All the children in town know her. She’s kind of a local celebrity.)
What do you do in these classes?
How many kids do you work with at once?
Aha, the most critical question. There are two kinds of classes:
–Manon Works with the Teacher in the Teacher’s Classroom
–Manon Takes Some Students to Her Own Classroom
When I work with the teacher—something that happens more at the middle school—the teacher usually prepares the lesson and we teach/help the students together. Sometimes the teacher asks me to prepare a bit of material (e.g. a list of English idioms) and she provides the context during class.
When I take students on my own, it’s usually each half of the class for 25 min, or half of the class for 55 min (and the next time I see them, the other half for 55 min). The smallest group I’ve ever had was 4 students and the largest was 18. Usually it’s around 12 students.
When I take a group on my own, the teacher might give me the same lesson material that he/she is doing with the other half of the class. But more often, I prepare a slideshow/worksheet/game/activity related to what the students are studying, if I know what that is, or just because I think it’ll be fun and good practice.
There will be a more detailed post later with specific lessons and activities I have done with students.
What information do the teachers give you about the classes?
As little as they can get away with.
They don’t seem to be doing it maliciously. My teachers are quite nice! But if I want a class list, the number of the teacher’s classroom, an idea of the students’ level of English, an idea of what the students are currently studying (forget a syllabus, I don’t think any of the teachers use them), or the students’ academic grouping (Euro English, Literature, Technical), I have to ask. I need all of this information in order to prepare good lessons, deliver them, and keep a list of what I do with each class.
And I have to ask every single week, “Is there anything in particular you want me to do with the next class?” The teachers either expect me to magically know what the students are studying/can handle, or they really don’t care what I come up with. Even when I ask, a response could be as vague as, “You’ll have my premières for the second time on Friday. Teach them something about the Boston Tea Party, or whatever you want.”
It’s incredibly frustrating to try to prepare lessons not knowing if the students can converse well in English or if they struggle to identify simple words. English ability can vary DRASTICALLY from class to class. During the first few months, it seemed like all of my lessons were too hard or too easy for the groups they were meant for. But now, I have a feel for the ability of my usual classes and I’ve gotten better at scaling the difficulty up or down on the fly.
Constantly lacking critical information is another common TAPIF experience. Most teachers appear not to understand that assistants need this information in order to function. Or they think that it’s our job to ask first rather than their job to anticipate our needs. (Even though they need to take our presence into account when they plan their lessons.) I’ve been wondering all year how much weight I should give to cultural differences when I encounter difficulties like this.
How do you communicate with the teachers?
Most of my teachers don’t communicate well over email or text. They don’t check email on weekends, they don’t check more than once a day, etc. And they often don’t know more than four days in advance what they’ll be doing with a particular class. This doesn’t leave enough time to discuss the next lesson.
My communication with the teachers began to improve in January when I started making more of an effort to hang out in the salle des profs (teachers’ lounge) when I have free time. (I live very close to my schools, so before I’d just escape back home in between classes.) Now I see most of the profs every day, we chat, and there are more opportunities to talk about lesson planning. I don’t use email very much anymore. I think that my friendships with the professors are improving too because we’re getting to know each other better.