TAPIF: One Year Anniversary Reflections

Expectations VS Retrospect

October 1st marked one year since the first day as a teaching assistant in France.

During my year (8 months) as a TA in France, I experienced the swoops and swooshes of everything from great challenge to great thrill .

I went in not really knowing what to expect in the school, and came out, through all the struggle and frustration, a better person and having touched the lives of others – whether or not they realized it at the time. I may sound cocky or over confident, but I know, not only from those students who said it blatantly in English, but also from the heartfelt goodbyes from other students, that my time was not wasted on all.

C’est pas évident.

Truth. Teaching in a high school is not my path, nor was teaching in my collegiate credentials. Though my experience teaching was limited at the onset, and in spite of my knowledge of the French language, a French phrase describes leading classes to foreign adolescents perfectly: “C’est pas évident.” Literally “it’s not obvious/easy,” but the expression evokes a deeper sense of struggle or confusion due lack of clarity or an ‘obvious’ solution, rhyme or reason for whatever you’re talking about. (It’s a difficult phrase to explain – I actually never translated it, just learned the real meaning by contextual inference – so I feel something is lost in translation/explanation.)

This expression is so applicable because every day is different. Every group has different dynamics and different levels of understanding. Different motivations. Some want to work, some work but understand very little. Talking to them in only English can be a very daunting task – what with the need to slow your speech to the pace of an escargot, repeating like a broken record (or tired cliché), and mostly the constant blank, void stares expressing neither comprehension nor utter confusion. But those small moments when something does happen, where the spark goes off, or when you can speak at a normal speed, just make you appreciate them even more.

For me: one year only. For you: who knows?

My stay at a French lycée taught me not only about French lifestyles or that you even have to report to school when students are on strike and that students have Wednesdays off, but did also gave me real experience in the front of the classroom. Some assistants have told me they only listened to and evaluated oral exams. It’s true, the role of the assistant varies, however the choice is yours what you do with the role you’re assigned and if you want to change it, the least you can do is ask.

You may wonder why, after I mention the feeling of reward from teaching, I chose not to renew my contract.

Well, don’t be fooled – it’s not as romantic as it might seem, but in retrospect we see what we missed before. I look back a bittersweet feeling, missing my friends and more, but know that it was not all a piece of tarte aux pommes.

To those assistants starting your year now, I wish you the best. Feel free to come here and ask whatever about your new post, or tell me about your experiences. I am here to listen and to offer my experiences to help you make the most of your time. I wish to be a resource for your concerns or questions. But, mostly, just know that you are not alone and just enjoy your time because it certainly is not forever.

To those who find this in research or preparation and can’t decide what to do, I hope this was helpful and that you can retain a sense of reality around the opportunity potentially presented to you. Realize that it can be hard, but can be great too. All you really need is an open mind and a bit of French. You as well feel free to use this blog as a resource, ask questions or speak your mind.

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