Teaching English in a French Classroom

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Today was one of many new discoveries, doing things that put me out of my comfort zone, but things that felt so fulfilling all at once. Thursdays I am busy solely with my assistant English teaching internship. With my schedule and class numbers all laid out, I headed for building D (the school where I work is huge, but I found my way around really well today), only to find it was just me and five students for la conversation coll├Ęge. It took me a few minutes to realize I wasn’t assisting a prof, but that I would facilitate the conversation alone in English. This turned out to be really fun for me! Slowly I adjusted back into English, surrounded by young people who understood every word I said. All five students had different British accents when they spoke English, one had more of a British London accent, for example and another more of a Yorkshire-like accent. These students have a parent who is French and another who is British, hence why they live in France, but travel to England often to visit family. I just had fun the whole time asking them questions, since the idea is for them to have a chance to use their English. When I told them I was going to Morocco for my fall vacation, one of the boys asked, “vacation?” One of the other kids quickly explained to him it’s the same as, “holiday.” The kids were very helpful answering any questions I had about French vocab and where to find the teacher’s lounge. I look forward to more spontaneous discussions with them.

Next, I worked with the prof, Mme. Lalaude in my own separate classroom, which I was not expecting. I knew, however, that we agreed I would work separately with a small group of her students, while she worked with the other half. The middle school French students looked confused for a moment when I told them to place the chairs in a circle and not to go to their desks. I think I brought with me my American casualness, lack of formality, yet still able to take charge. That must have been quite the interesting surprise for them: who is this American student and why does she do things so differently? I prefer classes Socratic seminar style: everyone is gathered in a circle, there is a sense of equality and less strict formality. I think it really charges the energy of the room and certainly puts me more at ease because I like to sit next to the students, not above them. We went around and made introductions and I had each of them explain their favorite activities, writing on the board to explain certain grammar that was unclear. I laughed with them, enjoyed hearing their travel stories to America or England, and would occasionally switch to French to translate anything unclear I had said in English. It felt like something I was supposed to be doing: I’ve always loved working with young people, especially when it comes to learning foreign languages. They are my French teachers and I am here to facilitate the class period in English. It’s very much a win/win situation. It was really funny seeing the first group reluctant to switch with the second group of kids. I felt like I had done something right.

The last part of my English teaching at the school was to work with high school students. This definitely put me out of my comfort zone the most. I think it’s due to the fact I’m closer in age to the high school students. I don’t have the natural sense of authority with age when I’m with the middle school kids. So I had to really fill the space with purpose and look like I know what I’m doing. I made the same kind of introductions with the high school kids with their desks all in a circle. I facilitated more complex discussions in English like what do you like, or not like about the U.S. when you visited? One girl in the class shared how she found Americans more friendly than the French during her visit. Another student asked me what I liked about France. Since there were two other American-French students in the room, I chose my answer carefully. My experience is not the same as theirs. I have been in France as long as they have, nor do I have French family members. I told them I liked how the French in general are more relaxed, mostly because Brittany where I’ve spent most of my time is calmer. People get a coffee, or share a meal together and they take their time; they’re not constantly rushing. One of the American-French students mentioned how that wasn’t her experience, but she said, “Yeah, Bretagne is kind of dead,” meaning everything is way more chill here than Paris, or other parts of France. Zack, the second American-French student said how much he liked the European community, the food, and how much more relaxed people were as well.

I think the students didn’t mind my presence at all. It was certainly something new for them and I look forward to planning lessons for the middle and high school students. I’m just more used to working with middle school level students; they aren’t as self-conscious about their English and are more curious to ask questions. So for each group, I will have to compartmentalize a bit: what kind of communication in English and in general works for this age group and what doesn’t? It’s going to be a good challenge and learning experience for me. I’m planning on personally journaling about it. Overall, it was a very satisfying day!