Vacationless Vacation

I’ve got an hour to kill in the library, and it’s long past time that I update this blog.  So much has happened in the past three weeks, that I’m not really sure where to start.

I finally got that stable, permanent-contract job in Amiens, known in France as a CDI.  And I love it.  I’m teaching English to adults, following a specific method with a great staff and two fellow English-speakers, a Brittish girl my age and an Irish guy whose full-time passion is music.  The videos that make up the backbone of the learning method are pretty funny, and I’m learning loads about my own language in teaching it.  I have stable hours at a center not far from my apartment, stable (though very low) monthly pay and other job benefits.  Plenty of resources are available for me to use, and I’m gaining tons of experience.  There are nevertheless a few catches : I can no longer go to Italy this summer, as it’s a year-round job with few days of vacation until they’ve been accumulated throughout the year.  And, as a foreign student on a student visa, I am only able to work up to 20 hours a week.  I found a job I really like but am still not guaranteed the security to stay here in France, as in order to change my “visa status” from student to legal full-time worker, I pretty much need a Masters.  And my current Masters is becoming less and less interesting as time goes by…

The past two weeks were officially the semester “spring break,” two weeks without classes in which we were expected to advance on research, papers, or preparations for various concours, competitive contests or exams that pit you against the other candidates for a job.  Instead of focusing on my second semester studies or enjoying myself at the beach, I jumped head first into my new job, with insane 40+ hours the first week in doing both the new job and my old jobs (with various students around the city), and slightly more reasonable hours the second week.  I am starting to find my groove with the method and with how I explain things to students, while occasionally relying on my knowledge of French to explain grammatical points a bit quicker.  What I love about the method we use is that it’s based on communication, on hearing a language without understanding everything and about speaking as much as possible.  Which is pretty much the opposite of how English is taught in the French school system, which focuses on reading and writing instead of confident speaking abilities and correcting pronunciation mistakes.  Instead of being chastised for my “non-British” English and accent, I am valued as a member of the team who offers an alternative way of speaking, in an attempt to value diversity and a variant accent from the academic norm. Not that I don’t speak and write perfect English.  I got a 990 on the TOIEC (variant of the TEFOL exam to evaluate your English level) and always excelled at grammar and written expression.  But the whole point of the game is not to feel humiliated but to get your point across, then communicate – little by little – more confidently, more fluidly, more nuanced, finally assimilating cultural meanings and idiomatic expressions.  It’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past eight years in French, driven by an insane urge to perfect my second language, whether or not I can even advance past my current level (not for lack of trying, believe me).

In short, much of what I’ve learned this year has little prepared me for my current job: not the linguistic analysis of grammar, albeit fascinating in and of itself, especially not the complex literary translations into French in which my language level regresses and I feel like an incompetent idiot, and definitely not the specific points of methodology that are strictly applied to the writing of papers and summaries.  I think I’m a confident and competent teacher because I empathize with my students in learning their own language (French) as a foreign language, because I have spent hour after hour fine-tuning my explanations on specific grammar points and “language traps” such as the infamous phrasal verbs or faux amis, and partly because I stay calm and make it fun.  I’ve come to realize that part of why I dislike the French education system is because it’s an all or nothing deal – one grade you must pass or face redoing a whole year (in some circumstances), instead of a series of exercises that builds up your level, your confidence, your self-esteem.  It’s often about “being wrong,” being corrected as an example for the class instead of praised for your hard work, judged on the form and not the content.  It’s not about the learning process, the learning for the sake of learning that I have always loved about my teachers and my classes in school up till now, but that all-important diplôme that without which you are worth nothing.  You are put in a box : that slip of paper that tells that you are qualified to be a teacher, not because of your personality or your way with kids, but because you can translate from one language to the next without the aid of the dictionary.  And if you want to change careers… tough luck, you’ve got to start from scratch, because your diploma is for the wrong discipline.

Categories: Education, France, Working in France | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Vacationless Vacation

  1. Paul Fellows

    You’ve hit the nail on the head there Colleen :-) Now what’s the equivalent for that idiomatic expression in French…Anyway, I was surprised to hear that there is still a language school in existence in Amiens that is giving out CDIs, they obviously know a good thing when they see it :-) Personally I’ve always avoided that company, on the advice of colleagues who have warned me that it’s the lowest payer of all the language schools in the area… Just make sure you don’t become a slave, a CDI means they can ask you to do as many hours as they like for short periods of time (e.g. 40 hours a week for a whole month) and they won’t pay you any more. The big question in my mind (and yours no doubt) is what about the Masters degree?

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