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TEFL Lessons Learned – earnings

I know this post is a bit behind the rest of the Lessons Learned series, but I wanted to wait until my February pay and holiday pay came through before posting.

What I earned in eight months of teaching English in France:

Month

BTL –  

Net salary

Other Comments Monthly total
July €694.52 - Summer €694.52
August €943.90 - Summer, started advertising for private students €943.90
September €1291.63 €225 Patrizio, a private student, started €1516.93
October €1067.58 €110 One week on holiday and Patrizio also went away. Still advertising. €1177.58
November €1199.27 €125 Patrizio was away. Still advertising. €1324.27
December €1106.11 €40 One week on holiday and Patrizio was away. Still advertising. €1146.11
January €701.25 €670 BTL stopped giving me new classes. Patrizio was back and Sebastien, a new private student, started. Also did short term work – 15 hours of admin for American Amanda and two exam prep. sessions with Damien, a private student. €1371.25
February €320.16 €500 32  BTL hours (ouch), and Patrizio and Sebastien continued €850.16
Holiday Pay €990.36 Paid in full at the end of the year/contract €960.36
Total for eight months €9986.08
Average monthly salary €1248.14

Other gifts from students:

  • Drinks (tea, hot chocolate, a pineapple juice, water)
  • Biscuits
  • Various individual chocolates
  • 1 box of chocolates
  • 1 tub of moisturiser wrapped in red paper with gold ribbon
  • 2 French novels
  • 1 book of French idioms
  • A notebook (with horizontal lines!)
  • Countless pencils

If I add my February pay and holiday leave to the money I had when I left Paris, I finished with €2030.52 left for my trip, which works out to €29 a day.

I was hoping to have a little more but, as I’ve already paid for flights, everything I have can go towards trains, shelter, food and fun!

€694.52

€943.90

€1291.63

€1067.58

€1199.27

€1106.11

€701.25

€325

€1000

TEFL Lessons Learned – the first class, private students

The first lesson with a private student is different to the first lesson with a BTL student.

The main reason is that you don’t know the student’s level, so you can’t prepare much.

So, after introducing myself, I start by saying that my objective of the lesson is to determine their level and that will help me prepare activities for the next lesson. This gives you a bit of leeway – unlike BTL students, whose companies pay for their lessons, private students are paying themselves, so they expect value for money. Saying this takes the pressure off the first lesson, but means you’d better bring something good on the second. I lost a private student by bringing activities that were too simple on the second lesson, so it’s probably better to overestimate than under estimate their levels.

But back to the first lesson! It’s just a conversation class. If the conversation is easy enough, I let it flow naturally and wait until the end to ask them about what they want to achieve.

If the introductory small-talk doesn’t branch off to other areas of conversation, I ask about their goals and bring out my fail-safe activity – Have You Ever.

Have You Ever is a pile of question cards, each beginning with the words ‘have you ever’.

  • Have you ever done a job you really disliked?
  • Have you ever met someone famous or important?
  • Have you ever called the police?
  • Have you ever experienced problems in a foreign country?
  • Have you ever eaten something strange or unusual?
  • Etc.

It’s good if you’re teaching the present perfect, and it’s excellent for conversation, it usually averages about 40mins, which is plenty of time to observe someone’s level and pinpoint the errors they make.

And I know that whenever I cut a sheet of paper into smaller cards I feel like a much better teacher. :p

TEFL Lessons Learned – course books

Since I often write about using course books in my classes, I should probably discuss their value.

At BTL you are expected to use them – as part of their course, the students are entitled to a book, so you should use it. I’ve had a couple of students complain about not liking the books or finding them boring and, in those cases, I’ve stopped using the books. Most of the time, however, I use the books about two thirds of the time (about 60 minutes of a 90 minute class, as well as in two of every three classes – for more advanced students, I just use the book in one of every three classes).

For private students I also use the books, but not as much. If I do use it, I’ll generally just photocopy some grammar exercises.

Here are some pictures taken from one of my favourite books, Market Leader Intermediate.

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

This is how I’d use this extract –

1.      Conversation about brands. I wouldn’t have them open their books (or give them a copy of the first page), but would leave mine open for conversation prompts, if needed. My questions would include:

a.       Do you buy brands? Which ones?

b.      Do you like brands? Why, why not?

c.       Why do you think people buy brands?

d.      Branded items are often more expensive than unbranded items – do you think there is an increase in value when you buy a brand? Do you think that value justifies the price? (use an example of a branded bag costing €300 more than an unbranded bag – is it really €300 better, or do people just want the name?)

e.       What are some examples of good brands?

f.       I’ve heard that there are no school uniforms here, and sometimes children can get bullied because they don’t wear branded clothes? Is this true? Has this happened to your children/anyone you know? (this is a France-specific issue)

2.      Listening activity C – I would verbally ask what reasons the speakers give for liking/disliking brands, and talk about it afterwards. Do the students agree?

3.      Vocabulary exercises A and B – may need to teach words like ‘stretching’, ‘awareness’ and ‘endorsement’, and use process of elimination to find the right definitions.

4.      Listening activities A – C. This interview discusses how important it is for brands to arouse emotions and create loyalty, and uses the examples of Apple and Orange (the computer and telecoms companies, not the fruits :p ) as being companies that create fierce loyalty because they have a personality. Ask if the students agree and if they have any other examples.

5.      Grammar – the present simple vs. the present continuous.

a.       Explain the structure

i. Present simple – Regular verbs use the infinitive form and take an ‘s’ for the third-person singular – I do, I go, I walk, etc.

ii. Present continuous – Be + verb-ing – I am doing, I am going, I am walking, etc.

b.      Explain the usage and give examples

i. Present simple – routine activities

– permanent situations or factual information

ii. Present continuous – temporary situations

– continuing actions

– things happening at the time of speaking/writing

– future plans

c.       Do exercises A – C

And that will generally take an hour to 90 minutes – the rest of the lesson is made up of homework correction, a vocab quiz, conversation, and maybe a card activity if there is time. If I’m doing a part of the book that doesn’t have a grammar focus, I might bring in some grammar exercises revising what we did the previous week as well. In the third part of a first lesson I would just do the first two pages, so steps 1-4.

And for homework I would set page 3 – the students would need to read the article and do exercises C and D.

I like this book because the units (Brands, Travel, Advertising, Culture, etc.) are quite generic, so you can do them with most students of this level. Some of the higher level books have more specific business topics, which can be really dry (Public Private Partnerships, Takeovers and Mergers, Building Business Relationships). It might be one of the reasons why I use the books less frequently with more advanced students . . .

So, do course books have any value?

For me, yes, because:

1.      This is my first teaching position and, when I started, I wouldn’t have known where to start without some structure in place. Although now I could manage without them, I still enjoy how much material they put at my fingertips, including audio files and DVD-ROMs. They also give me a lot of material which is at the same level – when I use external material, sometimes it ends up being too easy or difficult for a student.

2.      They save preparation time – on €16.50 an hour you don’t want to spend 30 minutes preparing for every class. Now I know the books and my favourite activities so well that I can plan a class in a couple of minutes.

3.      I think they are good for the students – a course book is something tangible they can take away from the course when they’re finished and continue using. It also gives them a measurable way to mark their progress.

However, I have some criticisms:

1.      Grammar is often not explained very well, (look at page 4 of the extract for example), and some of it is introduced too late in the book. I have so many students who make tense mistakes and, if I followed Market Leader Pre-Intermediate in order, they wouldn’t start doing tenses until the end of their course (it covers the Present Simple and Continuous in Unit 3, the Past Simple and Continuous in Unit 4 and the Past Simple and Present Perfect in Unit 5 – in a 20-hour course, I usually only get through three units).

2.      I know I’m supposed to be teaching Business English, but some of the topics are so dry! And business doesn’t have to be boring – talking about Brands, Advertising, Media and Communication, and Business Ethics are interesting (to me, at least).

3.      If the course book is all the teacher uses, it can be boring. I was shocked when I discovered that Berlitz literally goes through the course books page by page.

In conclusion, I think course books are valuable when used wisely. They provide a good basis, but please use other materials too – there are a wealth of podcasts, news stories and ESL activities available with a quick Google search, and often your life experience is the most important thing when you want to create conversation. Especially if you’re an expat learning about your students’ culture/s.

TEFL Lessons Learned – the first class, BTL

After confirming my travel route on RATP, I take the metro to the company of the day (I don’t take buses in Paris for two reasons: first, because I have a tendency to drift off and miss stops (this happens on the metro too, but it’s less common). Second, Paris traffic could result in me being late).

The first time I leave with 20 minutes to spare, with the aim of getting there 10 minutes early. If there are any problems, I need to call BTL.

Upon arriving, I greet the receptionist with a cheerful “bonjour! J’ai un rendez-vous avec [insert name here].” The student’s folder is at the ready, so I can show the receptionist the name in case there are pronunciation difficulties.

The student usually comes to reception to collect me, greeting me with a “bonjour.”

“Hi!” I reply with a big smile, “I’m Jolie.”

“Hello,” they reply in varying levels of English, and we make small talk as they take me to the appropriate room or office.

Now, onto the lesson!

The first lesson is broken into three parts – getting to know you, admin, and English.

1.      Getting to know you – 30-60 mins, depending on how talkative the students are

For elementary and pre-intermediate students, I have a set of interview cards that I use – these ask questions about their work and interests, and I can use these to go off on tangents if they’re comfortable enough. If they’re shy, we ask questions in turn and I give them lots of praise and take notes of problem areas.

For intermediate students, I draw a number of circles on a page – usually between seven and ten. In each of these circles I write a word that is related to me, e.g.: London, Melbourne, 92 (the department in which I live in France), 8 (the number of months I’ve been in Paris), my siblings’ names, etc. They need to guess the significance of each word by asking me questions (“Where is London?” isn’t good enough, I’m looking for “have you lived/worked in London?”). This is a good activity because it gives me a chance to see how good their speaking is and how comfortable they are taking the lead in a conversation. It’s also good for conversation – when intermediate students get something right, I turn the question back to them.

For upper-intermediate and advanced students, we do the circle activity. After they finish (some of them do it surprisingly quickly), they need to draw circles with facts about themselves which I, or another student, need to guess. It can be a lot of fun if you have two students – either they know nothing about each other, or they know each other so well that they need to write really obscure facts to stop it being too obvious.

2.      Admin – 5-20 minutes, depending on how frustrated students are with their current level of English

Next I open the class dossier. First I show students the presence sheet and tell them they need to sign it every week. Then we talk about cancellations – I explain that they need to call BTL to cancel a class at least 48 hours in advance or else they will lose the lesson, and give them a paper explaining this (in French – courtesy of BTL) with BTL’s number and my name on it. We then go through the calendar of classes, and they tell me if they have any holidays planned over the next few months.

Then we discuss objectives. I show them the Fiche D’Appreciation and explain that they will need to complete this at the end of the course. On the back of the form, there is a list of areas of  language – grammar, professional and general vocab, oral expression and comprehension, reading and writing. I ask them what their top priorities are – where they want to improve the most. Generally it’s oral expression and comprehension.

This is also when we talk about the student’s previous experience in English, which can sometimes lead onto a torrent about how frustrated they are with their level, which situations they find difficult, and what they didn’t like about their previous courses.

3.      English – the rest of the lesson

When we get a student’s dossier, there is a report on the student. If it’s an initial report, it was done over the phone by BTL, and should be taken with a grain of salt. If it’s an Evaluation de Fin de Stage, it was completed on a previous BTL course, and should still be taken with a grain of salt.

Initial evaluations grade students on a scale of 1 (beginner) to 30 (better English than me). My students have all been between 7 and 22 (we’re going to ignore my level 28s, because that’s really unusual). Based on these levels, we can choose a coursebook for them.

Why do you need to take the evaluation levels with a grain of salt? Because grading someone over the phone can be inaccurate. And because you can put whatever you want into a final report – if your students don’t progress, it reflects badly on you as a teacher. This means that someone who’s done a number of courses will continue to improve on paper, even if they have a twelve-month break between courses and forget everything. I’ve inherited a couple of students who have been on books that were way too high for them, and it’s incredibly frustrating – for the teacher, because you’re unprepared, and for the student, because they feel like their English is awful. The reverse is also annoying, mainly because you look like an idiot who’s giving them children’s work when they can clearly do much more.

So, for this part of the lesson I photocopy a couple of pages from the course book of their level and we work on that – I prefer to just use the book because it’s the easiest way to quickly check their listening and reading skills, and to determine what level they really are. If the book I’ve prepared is inappropriate for their level . . . it used to be rather embarrassing for me. However, now I know the material quite well I know I can quickly photocopy something appropriate or steal an activity from one of the folders for my other students that day. In a worst case scenario (i.e.: I have no other material), I can go into a grammar refresher with a lower-level student, or whip out a podcast with questions for a higher-level student.

If there’s any time left, I’ll quiz or play hangman with the new vocabulary from the lesson, then I set some homework for the next week and we’re done!

TEFL Lessons Learned – teaching uniform

My uniform is always the same – a brown or grey Portman’s suit (purchased on sale in a previous life) with decent, but comfortable, shoes and a knit top or shirt. The shoes have to be comfortable – when things are busy I often find myself working at four different companies in a day, which entails a lot of walking to and from metro stations and up and down metro stairs.

Most of the guys at work also wear suits. Most of the girls don’t, which leaves me looking a bit dressy. We’re supposed to wear “business casual” but, as long as you stay away from jeans, runners or swimwear, you’ll be fine.

Even though it means I’m dressed more formally than most of my students, I prefer to stick to a suit (weather permitting – summer was shirt and skirt time). First, because I have suits here, so I might as well wear them. Second, because I’m one of the younger teachers here, I think I get a bit more respect if I look professional. Third, suits make me look like I know what I’m doing.

That’s not always the case, but let’s keep that between you and me. :p

For private students, I wear a suit for the first lesson. After that, if I go to class after my day-job, I continue to wear the suit. If not, things seem to grow progressively more casual – I’ve been teaching Sebastien, a former BTL student, privately since January and now I wear jeans with a nice top and shoes. I’ve been teaching Patrizio since September, and now I sometimes wear runners with my jeans – next step, pjs!

TEFL Lessons Learned – finding a job

A quick Google search will give you thousands of TEFL job sites. Finding one for jobs in France is much more difficult.

These are the sites that I used:

TEFL.com has a good selection of jobs that is updated regularly, and you can sign up for job emails. The only problem with this site is that you need to use their online form to apply, which is really restrictive. Craigslist is Craigslist – many dodgy ads, but also many legitimate ones and it’s targeted at expats. Fusac is a French and English classifieds magazine that comes out every month or so, and you can view it online or download the pdf version – you can also find the hardcopy at W H Smith, the American Church of Paris, some language schools and other expat hangouts. There are lots of jobs for expats advertised, ranging from teachers to aupairs to bilingual secretaries. It also advertises rooms, conversation groups and other activities for Anglophones.

And i-to-i, the school through which I did my TEFL course, gave me a 477-page pdf of contact details for English language schools around the world, including 14 pages of schools in France. If I hadn’t had any luck with the job ads, I would have started knocking down classroom doors, begging for a job.

So, what goes into this resume and cover letter if you’re looking for your first TEFL job?

Luckily I’d done some English tutoring at university (two 1.5 hour classes on a Saturday morning for a class of three seven-year-old girls and a class of eight eight-year-old boys). So I divided my work experience into ‘teaching experience’ and ‘other experience’. Under the teaching experience I made this tutoring job sound like I was teaching English as a foreign language, and left out the dates so they wouldn’t know that I’d only done it for three months in 2007.

The ‘other experience’ section of my resume was my regular resume – because I was applying for Business English positions, demonstrating that I had some business experience was advantageous.

In my cover letter I tried to emphasise my language skills and my English skills, and structured it like this:

  1. Information about my course – how many hours it was, how many of these were in person, and a list of some of my appropriate specialist certificates
  2. Information about my degree – I have a BA with a major in English, including several subjects on grammar and writing, so I cashed in on this
  3. Information about my teaching experience – in my case, the tutoring I did at university. If I didn’t have this, I probably would have referred to work that I’d done with people.

I didn’t hear back from everyone, but it was enough to get me six positive emails, four interviews, two job offers and one job!

TEFL Lessons Learned

The interesting thing about this job is that it doesn’t take that long to feel like you know what you’re doing.

Admittedly, I’m not that experienced in comparison to many others in this job but I think I’ve picked up a few things. These are, by no means, the only solutions or the best ones, but they’ve worked for me.

So this short series is going to cover:

If you’d like to know about anything else, please leave it in the comments :)

Good students

I was really fortunate with my first group of students.

I loved my Wednesdays at Groupama, my Thursdays at Natixis and Flammarion and my Monday mornings and Friday evenings at Société Générale so much that it didn’t matter that my Tuesdays were a bit bland.

But one by one, these students finished. And, although their replacements are lovely, there are only a few with whom I have a similar rapport.

Laurence is one of them – late 40s (maybe early 50s – her sons are a bit older than me), she is very friendly and has been working in my dream career for the last three decades . . . I just haven’t figured out how to get her to offer me a job yet. :p

And I absolutely love Denise. In her late 50s, she’s an elementary student so we can’t really converse in detail, but she’s so enthusiastic and gets so pleased with herself when she understands a new concept that I can’t help but leave her classes feeling on top of the world. She also bought me a box of chocolates last week after she came back from a two month break, but I don’t want you to think that swayed my opinion.

At the other end of the scale are Eugenia and Aline – on BTL’s thirty point scale they have scores of 28 and 28.5, so they are the most advanced students I’ve ever had. I get along with them well, but they’re such good friends that it’s usually more fun just to sit back and watch them talk.

So what do you do when you finish your course with a student you really like?

Valérie from Société Générale was my original favourite. A pre-intermediate to intermediate student, she worked with colleagues in London and used to avoid their calls because she had trouble with the accent (after listening to their messages several times, she would email back). Determined to be fluent, she had a great mind for grammar and progressed quickly. We talked about a lot as well – about work, her daughters, Jewish holidays, Paris and Oz. She had dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin, perfect teeth and dimples – when she smiled she was so beautiful that I knew she was one of those women that men would devote their lives to. When I think of a woman who embodies what a Goddess is, I think of her.

I would have loved to have stayed in contact with her, but I didn’t know how to approach her without seeming like a stalker, and I haven’t heard from her since we finished in October.

Then, on Wednesday, I had a lovely surprise. Marie-Maud, an advanced student, is finishing next week. She and I have a good rapport too – she’s quite young (I originally thought late 20s but have since discovered that she’s actually mid-30s – I hope I look that good in ten years!) so not only do we go off on tangents about our lives, but subjects extend as far as boys. When she was taking me back to reception after class last week, she said, “do you want to get a coffee some time before you leave Paris?”

“Sure!”

I know this sounds really juvenile, but yay – I made a new friend!

Self-doubt

I never thought this day would come. I’ve started doubting my English.

As you know, English has many varieties, the most common being British English and American English. I speak (and write) Australian English, which takes from both styles – I spell organisation with an ‘s’, and the past participle I use for ‘get’ is ‘gotten’.

The latter example has been giving me some strife.

In English we have a selection of perfect tenses (I have done, I have been doing, I had done). French doesn’t – they have the passé composé (their past simple) and the imparfait (similar to our past continuous, but the use is sometimes different. Please don’t make me explain – my English grammar is much better than my French grammar). In English we use the present perfect and present perfect continuous to connect an event that happened in the past or started in the past with the present.

The Present Perfect (the first one of these tenses that I teach) is tricky for two reasons:

1.      The French don’t have an equivalent tense

2.      It is structured in a similar way to their passé composé (auxiliary have + past participle), so elementary to intermediate students often use the Present Perfect instead of the Past Simple

So, when I teach the Present Perfect, I like to spread several exercises over a few weeks, getting them out of the way at the beginning of each class. These exercises include matching time expressions to the Present Perfect or the Past Simple, choosing the correct tense for different sentences, structuring questions in each tense, and completing a text with verbs in each tense. And, of course, an exercise with the infinitive, past simple and past participle of several irregular verbs.

So we have:*

be                    was/were         been

do                    did                   done

eat                   ate                   eaten

go                    went                 gone

know                knew                known

shut                  shut                  shut**

take                  took                 taken

And, of course:

get                   got                   gotten

Et cetera.

On the last one, most of my students say “get, got, got”. I used to correct them, saying that it should be “gotten”. Then I realised – it’s British English. I also used to correct “take a decision” (it’s “make a decision”, God damn it!), but then realised that that, too, was right.

One time I said, “gotten. You can say got, but only in British English.”

My students looked at me blankly. “What type of English are we learning?”

Now I grudgingly admit that it’s okay, but tell them that in American and Australian English it’s “gotten”, so they can use either and be correct. I also hold my tongue when I hear someone say they “took a decision”, and think I’ve become quite adept at pointing out differences between different styles of English when they arise.

Or so I thought. Last week I had two pre-intermediate doing the infinitive, past simple and past participle exercise, and we reached the verb “to hit”.

“Hit, hit, hitten,” my student said.

I couldn’t remember whether or not “hitten” was a word.

 

*Can I just say thank God my students have already been drilled in this at school. It comes back so quickly, even for elementary students. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to teach this from scratch.

**One student said “shit, shut, shut” for this one. I answered with a quick, “no – shut, shut, shut” and left it at that.

Irritation and (more) money concerns

I’m a bit annoyed with BTL.

When I resigned, Renée told me that BTL wouldn’t be giving me any new students, and that it was my job to try to get my current students to do more classes so they could finish by the time I left.

I get that – of course they don’t want to start new students with a teacher who will be leaving in another seven weeks (eek – I’d better start booking things!). But, excluding three students who were already finishing in January, the rest of my classes have between 18.5 and 57 hours left on their courses – there’s no way that they’ll be able to do all of that by the end of February. I’ve also floated the idea of extra classes to them, but most of my current classes are now group classes, it’s very difficult for them to organise a time when everyone’s free.

So I wasn’t expecting to get much work there. But I was hoping BTL would give me some intensives and replacement classes to tide me over.

No such luck – I went begging in the planning department last week and nothing’s come through.

This wouldn’t be so bad if BTL didn’t insist on a two-month notice period. I was budgeting for my trip based on having 80 hours of work in both January and February, which I doubt will be the case. Last week I had 11 hours. This week I have 11.5. Over the next two weeks I will have 13 and 9.5, making a grand total of 45 hours for the month.

This is less than I worked in July. So I can probably expect €600 for the month. Thank God for private students.

Basically, by writing a two-month notice period into our contracts and not giving us new classes, BTL is sentencing its teachers to two months of poverty before they finish.

And it’s not a great position to be in if you’re planning a trip around Europe immediately afterwards.