Tag Archive | Teaching English

August 10 – A day in my life as a Business English teacher

I know, I know – I recently did a couple of posts about a week in my life. However, I have been persuaded to risk repeating myself for a great, selfless and noble cause.

. . . okay, maybe it’s not so noble. And it’s definitely not selfless. But I still think it’s pretty great – by writing about a day in my TEFL life, I can win a two-week holiday! Rate my post here. Just highlight and select the stars at the bottom of the page.

I wake up at 7:30 – strangely, always one minute before my alarm goes off – and get ready for my day. At the moment breakfast is a bowl of cereal, but when I’m a little richer I might splash out on daily croissants. At 8:15 I leave and take the metro (lines 12, 4 and 5) to Gare d’Austerlitz. From here it’s a five-minute walk to my first class.

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9:00-10:30, Groupe Prima, Upper-Intermediate

Having three people, this is usually my largest class. However, the two ladies are on holidays so I only have Olivier – I’m guessing he’s in his late 30s, but he still has the approval-seeking mannerisms of a school boy. Last week I asked, since he would be on his own, what he would like to work on.

He replied with ‘listening comprehension.’ Fair enough – I haven’t done much listening with this class because my iPod doesn’t like the audio tracks from this course book – although it plays them perfectly in iTunes, they keep skipping when I open them in class. This means preparation takes a while, as I search for suitable podcasts. I stumble upon two gems:

1 – The Ethicist

The Ethicist is a podcast of letters written to the New York Times asking questions about moral dilemmas, and their replies. Tracks are generally under five minutes and contain 2-3 letters ad responses. These are great for class because they can lead onto debates after the comprehension questions (so, was it a good idea? Was it right? What would you do in this situation), and can also spin-off into letter-writing exercises.

2 – NPR Story of the Day

This podcast discusses front-page stories, so we get to talk about news, and the episodes are quite short. This is advantageous because anything over about 4 minutes is too long for the students to digest.

So Olivier and I discussed three ethicist letters, an NPR podcast on US employment statistics, and a 5 min excerpt from a Cambridge Conference podcast on ‘Becoming Barbie’. Issues related to female stereotypes and beauty have always interested me, but I’m a bit worried about how Olivier, being a man, will react to an audio activity that mentions both breast and bottom augmentation. However, I reason that if I’m interested in a topic, it will be more interesting for the students, and my reasoning proves correct! He answers the questions I set, takes nearly two pages of notes and we have a great conversation about beauty, plastic surgery and feminism.

Admittedly, I was only able to do this activity because he has a very high level of English, but I think some intermediate students (even strong pre-intermediate listeners) could cope with The Ethicist and NPR.

My next student is on holidays, so I walk to Gare de Lyon and take the metro (line 14) to Saint Lazare, then walk to a replacement class on Rue d’Astorg.

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11:30-1:00, Guillaume, Upper-Intermediate

The receptionists direct me to the fourth floor and, when I leave the elevator, there is a gorgeous man waiting for me. He introduces himself as Guillaume and takes me to the meeting room where our class is booked.

As we do the getting-to-know you activity (a page in my notebook filled with circles, each saying a word about me – students need to guess the significance of each word, which makes it great for practising questions), I realise that he has eyes just like Eric Bana (swoon!). Miraculously, I don’t offer myself to him on the conference table and we get to work. The lesson follows a unit from his course book (In Company, Upper-Intermediate) on Information and Media. As a rule, I find lessons that just follow the book can be a bit of a bore, but this is a topic we’re both interested in, and the listening activities (which list several surprising facts behind newspaper headlines) provide ample material for discussion.

Afterwards I take the metro from Saint Augustin to Grands Boulevards (line 9), and plan to quickly by a sandwich before my 1:30 class. There’s a wonderful blue boulangerie on Rue Montmartre that makes the most heavenly sandwiches – I almost which I had class in this area every day so I could eat more of them! The bread is lovely and soft with a divinely crunchy crust . . . but my hunger is not to be sated! I walk past the little boulangerie and it is closed, with a steel door rolled down over the windows. I desperately pray that this is temporary.

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1:30 – 3:00, Group Lazaar, Pre-Intermediate

This is my least favourite class of the week. There are two students, Samya and Florence, but generally I only have them one at a time due to holiday and work commitments. Samya is lovely and talkative, and we get along really well. Florence is also lovely, but I don’t think she likes me much. In two of our classes she has been close to tears of frustration over the work, and she frequently snaps when she doesn’t understand something, and then rushes through everything afterwards. Even when I do lessons around topics that she has said interest her, we still don’t seem to build a rapport.

Surprisingly, today ends up being our best lesson so far. We start with half-an-hour of ‘have you ever’ (a card game with questions that begin with ‘have you ever’ on each card) before checking her homework on modal verbs and doing a section from her course book (Market Leader Pre-Intermediate) on negotiating. We try a negotiating role play, but she starts to get frustrated, so I ask whether she would prefer to do some listening, or some vocab.

She chooses listening and I play a podcast about stress and holidays – after she easily does the comprehension questions, we talk about the two-week holiday she is going on next week.

Next I’m back on the metro (line 9) and I travel from Grands Boulevards to Havre-Caumartin. I arrive at my school’s office at 3:20, which gives me plenty of time to plan Wednesday’s class before my 4:00 lesson. Yes – you read correctly. Wednesday’s class. Singular. Being August, many Parisians are away, including many of my students, so things can be quite slow.

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4:00 – 5:30, Magali, Pre-Intermediate

My final class of the day is with Magali, who works for Medecins du Monde, which means she has seen many incredible places and has many stories to tell. After a vocab quiz, a homework check and doing a few pages from a unit on Selling Online (Market Leader, Pre-Intermediate), we play ‘have you ever’ and have a great time talking about all of the things she has seen and done and tasted (some interesting dishes include caterpillar and some sort of flying marsupial!).

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So on a Tuesday I start at 9:00 and finish at 5:30. As I only get paid for my teaching hours, I get six hours of pay for the day. That’s right – no paid preparation or travel time (though I do get partially reimbursed for my public transport costs). Based on the other interviews I had in June, this seems to be fairly standard and, as this is my first position, I didn’t have the leverage to negotiate a high hourly rate.

Being rather poor at the moment, I meet up with a friend after work for a walk around the 14th arrondissement and a late dinner of spaghetti with salmon. I wasn’t literally expecting plain spaghetti with a piece of smoked salmon tossed on the top, but I’m not one to complain about a free meal.

A week in the life of a new TEFL teacher – part 2

So, last Friday was a bit of a stressful day. I had two new classes in the afternoon, both in areas that I didn’t know that well (Genvilliers and La Défense).

Friday, 12:00 – 2:00, Latifa, Cella (currently working for EOS ITS)

My first class was at 12:00 and I knew that I was going to be late as I waited for the train. I had to get RER C, and RER C (overground train which goes to the suburbs) only runs every 15-20 minutes during the day. Having missed the last one by a couple of minutes, there was no way I’d be on time. However, having been told that if you’re less than 30mins late in France you are still considered to be on time, I assumed that 5mins or so wouldn’t damage my reputation too severely.

At 12:05 I arrived at the right station, Les Grésillons. As I left the station, I started to worry – it was an industrial wasteland. Across the road was an empty factory with a barbed-wire fence. I turned left, and reached the right road after a couple of minutes. Across the road was another closed factory – number 279. I needed number 222. To the left of the factory, I could only see vacant blocks – squares of green grass, fenced-in rubbish, or abandoned housing projects. To the right, there was another factory. I turned right, and started to get anxious – there were no street numbers! The building went on and on – there were cars parked on the street, but I don’t know where their owners were as there were no sounds emerging from the factory’s broken windows. 12:15 – I walked on, still searching for street numbers, and hit the end of the road. I’d gone the wrong way!

I did an about-face and powered-on in my suit and heels, determined not to lose any more time. I passed number 279, and marched past vacant block after vacant block until – finally – I saw an ‘Alliance’ building. The company I was looking for was called EOS ITS, but I figured that I could at least ask for directions here. I went through the gate and saw the number – 222.

After apologising profusely to my student, Latifa, and offering to add an extra 10mins to our next three classes, we got to work. Latifa has the lowest level of my students, though you can’t actually tell it by talking to her. Her general conversation is very good, she can make herself understood very easily and I haven’t had to use French to explain anything. However, she has forgotten the alphabet and days of the week and many simple things – so she probably learnt English at school and hasn’t used it since. I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of lessons with her – although the topics we cover are very basic, I love going over the basic grammar. I love grammar in general – it’s the only time I really feel like I’m teaching anything. The rest of the time my students are just putting it into practice.

Friday, 3:00 – 4:30 and Monday, 9:30 – 11:00, Valerie, Société Générale

Société Générale

I finished my class with Latifa at 2:10, to start compensating for the time I missed at the beginning of the lesson. As RATP told me it would only take 40mins to travel from Les Grésillons to La Défense, I figured I still had enough time to be early.

However, I didn’t take into account that I might be stressed and my brain wouldn’t be working properly.

Société Générale is one of my school’s biggest clients – we mainly work with companies in the financial sector, and this is one of them. This means that I can’t mess up.

After reaching Les Grésillons, I realised that I might be late (again). Once again, I would have to wait 15mins

La Défense - Grande Arche


for the RER. But I didn’t panic – I figured I could just say I was stuck in reception. I hopped onto the train and looked at the map of the RER to confirm at which station I needed to change. Neuilly – Porte Maillot.

Now, because my brain wasn’t in the best condition, I read the map as if I was travelling from a station called Porte de Clichy, instead of Les Grésillons. Because of this, when I hit the next station (Saint Ouen), I thought I was going in the wrong direction and bolted off the train and across the platform onto the train going in the opposite direction. As I walked through the doors, I asked a man whether the train was heading to Porte Maillot. He told me it was, and I sank into a seat, relieved.

The man then approached me and gave me a bit of paper, saying that he and his children were starving and needed money for food, etc. He did a lap of the carriage then returned to me. I don’t usually hand out money (mainly because I don’t have any, but also because you see so many of these people on trains that your sympathy starts to wear thin), but I decided to give him a couple of Euros because he’d been so nice to give me directions.

After I gave him the money, he told me that I was, in fact, on the wrong train. Apparently Porte Maillot was in the other direction!

I was not happy. I started having a rant in my bad French:

“But I asked you the question whether this train went to Porte Maillot, and you told me yes! Why did you tell me that? Oh God, I’m so late.”

The train pulled into Les Grésillons and I went back to the platform where I had been waiting 10mins earlier. 2:40. Time to call my school. I called BTL and explained what had happened and they were surprisingly understanding – they offered to call my student for me and let her know I would be late. After another few minutes I hopped onto another train, and stayed on until I was supposed to get off. I then switched to the metro, and got off at La Défense – Grande Arche.

Earlier that day I had been getting directions from the other teachers at school (it was one of the reasons I was late for my first class). They told me to take the exit of the shopping centre, and then explained how to get to the building. They didn’t tell me how to get through the shopping centre.

Quatre Temps, the shopping centre at La Défense, is huge. I’m talking Chadstone big – probably larger. This means it doesn’t have one entrance/exit, and I didn’t know which one to take. I managed to get through it without much difficulty – and, although I didn’t choose the most convenient exit, I was able to orient myself once I was outside and easily found Soc Gén. I was only 30mins late.

My student, Valérie, was lovely. She is having two lessons a week, so I see her on a Friday afternoon and Monday morning. She’s very attractive and has three daughters who she likes talking about – we did a lesson on brands and she loved telling me about not letting her daughters have branded clothes, etc., because she wanted to ‘keep them simple’ (i.e.: stop them from becoming vain). She loves going over grammar, and picks things up really quickly (I know – I’m easily won over), and she hates getting English phone calls.

Valérie is an SP2 class, which means that 30-50% of the material in our lessons should be things she brings in from work. She has to host a meeting in English later in our course, so we’ll probably work on that then, but so far she hasn’t had many ideas about things we can work on. That was until yesterday – when I got to her office she was in a panic because one of her associates from Hong Kong called and she couldn’t understand his accent. She told me that she dreads getting phone calls in English and always avoids answering them, because she prefers to be able to listen to the message a couple of times and then email them back. As an example, she had saved a couple of messages for me, so it looks like we’ve found our SP2 work!

Monday, 11:30 – 1:00, Xavier, Société Générale

After I saw Valérie on Monday, I met Xavier. From his test, I know that Xavier has a very good level of English. This is all I knew – I hadn’t been able to find any other information about what his job was or whether he had and previous courses and course books from BTL.

So I prepared quite a long lesson, so there would be plenty of backup material.

I needn’t have worried. Xavier’s course is another SP2 one. Having had classes with BTL before, he came in prepared with more material then I would go through in a week of classes. It turns out that Xavier is a financial lawyer (I know – holy crap). The material he brought in on Monday was for a meeting he had on Wednesday in Brussels with the European Payments Council (EPC). Apparently the EPC is having an argument with the European Commission about something to do with mandatory payment dates – from what I gathered, the EPC thinks mandatory dates are necessary, but the European Commission (EC) doesn’t want to enforce them due to the extra regulation this would entail.

So, after about 40mins of learning about this and what France’s position is, and what his role in the scenario is, I wondered what to do with all of the documents he’d brought in. There were hundreds of pages of contracts and legal correspondence that were on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting – there was no way we were going to get through much of it in one lesson. But he also needed to do some work on it before his meeting.

I asked him which document was the most important – it was a summary of the European Commission’s position. I asked him to read it to me and summarise it to me. We then went through some vocab that he didn’t understand (there was one I couldn’t help him with – some sort of bank account. I told him what the word he didn’t know meant, but I had no idea what it was in relation to finance), and argued about the EC’s arguments. I took the EC’s side (pretty easy, as the points were written for me), and he had to argue with me and explain why the mandatory dates were a good thing. I’m not sure how much he learned, but I thought it was useful to get him thinking about it some more before the meeting.

This Monday I’ll find out how the meeting went – I wonder if I’ll still have a student? :p

Tuesday and Wednesday went as per usual – I’ve had those students since the beginning.

On Thursday, my morning class was cancelled. Although this was logical (one student was going to be away for four weeks, and the other was going to be away for the next three), it means that my only income for that slot over the next month will be if I get some replacement classes. It’s a shame, because I really liked the area that class was in – it’s like a small village in the middle of Paris. Bercy Village is a group of 19th century wine warehouses that have been converted into specialty shops and cafes, and the neighbouring park, Parc de Bercy, is beautiful with a rose garden, trellises covered with vines and a number of water features. Luckily my Thursday afternoon classes are only one stop away, so I can easily wander around.

Bercy Village

Thursday, 1:00 – 2:30, Marie-Maud, Flammarion

Marie-Maud was another very advanced student. The most advanced of all of my students, I was worried that none of the books would be challenging enough, and that she’d spend our lessons bored.

Again, it seems I was worrying for nothing. Although advanced, Marie-Maud was lovely. Being in her late 20s, we had a lot to talk about and laughed quite a bit, and she enjoyed doing idioms. She said her priority was to go practice her grammar (no wonder I like her), especially her tenses, though I didn’t notice her make any mistakes.

This seems to be a common concern for many of my students – they want to do a lot of grammar revision, and they want me to correct their mistakes. This is all very well and good, but it borders on being paranoid, as they don’t actually make that many mistakes.

All in all, things are going well. Because many of my students are going on holidays over the summer, I have a number of replacement classes coming up over the next few weeks – I’m a bit nervous, as I seem to prepare better lessons once I know my students, but it’s all a learning experience!

A week in the life of a new TEFL teacher – part 1

I loathe waking up. That’s probably not the most optimistic beginning, but I never want to get out of bed in the morning. I cling to my doona until the last possible minute then grumble through my morning routine with a passion that I never had at home.

Once I’ve been on the metro for a few minutes and my day is officially unrolling, I perk up. I usually have a seat (I’m assuming this is because it’s summer and most of Paris is on holidays on the coast) and read. Between the metro and my classes I pull out the appropriate dossier for the class, so I can show the receptionist my students’ names in case she can’t decipher my accent (this happens frequently).

I usually wait in reception for one of my students to collect me, and during that time I go over my lesson plan. After three weeks of teaching my plans have shrunk dramatically – originally I wrote over a page of dot-points on activities with discussion questions and estimates for how much time each exercise would take. Today my lessons had single paragraph plans. As long as I have spare material on me and know what I want to cover from the course book, I figure I’ll be fine.

Last week my main concern was that I wouldn’t have enough work – on my first week I worked 11.5 hours. On my second I worked 4.5 (Bastille Day cost me 5 hours). Being on an hourly rate, I knew that if this continued I wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in Paris. My calendar for next week is below. Look how it’s grown! Grey and purple appointments are regular classes (grey is SP1 – meaning general business English, purple is SP2 – meaning general business English plus English documents that the student provides from his/her work environment). Blue are replacement classes or intensives (replacements are when other teachers are on holidays and intensives are 30-hour courses that students do over a week at my school’s office – if I get one of these it’s usually only one of their morning or afternoon classes, not the whole week). Green appointments are to be confirmed.

Class timetable

As each course is from 10 to 20 hours, this means I have guaranteed work for the next couple of months!

A couple of my classes don’t start until next week, but here are the ones I’ve had so far:

Tuesday, 9:00 – 10:30, Groupe Prima, Natixis

This is by far my favourite class. Having an upper intermediate level, they are very good at getting into debates and making jokes in English – we always end up laughing at some point. It also means I get to bring in newspaper articles and other supplementary material that’s too advanced for some of my other students. There are three students – Charlotte, Anne-Francoise and Olivier.

Olivier is the most advanced of the three – while the ladies are reading he goes onto the reading comprehension activities. When I brought in the news articles, he chose an opinion piece on the Russian spy story – I think many native English speakers would have struggled to summarise it accurately, but he did a brilliant job and managed to condense the contention into a couple of sentences. I worry that I don’t have enough challenging material for him, but he never complains. He sometimes seems like a school boy seeking approval.

Charlotte and Anne-Francoise are at a slightly lower level. Although Anne can keep up, she does take a bit longer to read and I worry about leaving her behind. Both of the ladies are tan with short blond hair, though there is about a 15-year age difference between them. We have had three lessons so far, and they have been late to all of them (actually, I was late to the first one, so I can’t really blame them) – on the second week they both forgot that they had class, and on the third week Anne happened to get to work while I was waiting for Olivier to collect me from reception. She dropped me off in our regular meeting room then left to get a coffee and returned 10mins later.

Tuesday, 11:00 – 12:30, Sandra, Natixis

Sandra detests the course book. On our second week it was just the chapter (Companies), but this week she announced that she hated the book and slammed it on the desk. Sandra has a beautifully coiffed Posh-Spice bob (sorry, I don’t remember the name of it) and always wears beautiful heels with skinny jeans and a top that shows off her cleavage. She has a pre-intermediate level of English, so she can converse quite well but has a limited vocabulary and pauses frequently. And she doesn’t like business English. As she doesn’t really use English at work, I’m going to try a travel-focussed lesson next week.

Tuesday, 1:30 – 3:00, Groupe Lazaar, Natixis

This class has two students – Florence and Samya. In the last three weeks I have had two lessons with Samya and one with Florence – I have yet to see them in class together. My first lesson with Samya was really good – although she was the same level as Sandra, her oral expression was much more fluent and she rarely had long pauses. She also was like a sponge with grammar – accepting whatever I said then putting it into practice. At least, that’s what she was like on the first week. Last week she had just come back from a week on the beach (she was so brown I looked anaemic) and her head was in the clouds. She was nowhere near as talkative and her English was littered with French phrases – I hope she’s back in the mood for work next week.

Florence was interesting. She was lovely, but a bit shy and I think she approached tears of frustration at one point when she couldn’t answer my questions (I’m not a mean teacher – I promise! I felt awful). I hope she’ll be a bit more comfortable when she’s in the lesson with Samya.

All of my Tuesday classes are in Natixis offices (Natixis is a bank) – in a week I have four different Natixis classes in four different offices. The company is huge! My Wednesday classes are in Noisy-le-Grand, which is in zone 4. This means I have to take RER A to the suburbs in peak hour – not fun.

Wednesday, 9:30 – 11:00, Joelle, Groupama

Joelle has an intermediate and loves to joke and talk. She told me that she likes doing written exercises but would prefer to do them at home and spend our class time talking. However, having seen her homework last week, I’ve realised that her speaking level is higher than her written and grammatical level, so she might not get her wish. She’s a bit difficult with regular classes. Admittedly, it is summer and people go on holidays, but she is going on two separate holidays, as well as missing a week for a doctor’s appointment and missing two weeks for work seminars – she’s missing seven weeks! I’m trying to reschedule them, but two weeks after her course ends she goes on holiday again! I’m not sure she will improve as much as she wants to.

Wednesday, 11:00 – 1:00, Bruno, Groupama

Bruno has a low pre-intermediate level. Although he’s friendly and likes to talk, he often doesn’t realise that I’ve asked him a questions. His listening skills need work (not just because he has trouble understanding me sometimes, but listening activities take us a long time), and he used Google translator for his homework. We also had some issues with ‘how’ questions in his first class. However, I think we had a breakthrough this week! I got him to answer the five w’s and how about a story he’d read in the news, and then did a worksheet and had him ask me questions – I think he gets it, but the true test will be how he goes on his homework, which is answering the questions about another article.

Wednesday, 1:30 – 3:00, Stephane, Groupama

This guy really reminds me of a young Daniel Auteuil (see the picture). I don’t know what it is.

Daniel Auteuil

But he really likes to talk. I mean really. In our first lesson, he spent an hour talking. He could have happily spent the whole 90mins talking, but I managed to twist what he was saying so it was related to the exercises I was doing. But I don’t think he really wants to do much work – he’s working on a thesis at the moment and also has a full-time job and four children, so I think English class is like a bit of a rest for him. He has done courses through my school before, and when I asked him what worked and didn’t work for him, he told me he liked the first teacher because they talked a lot and had coffee. He didn’t like the second teacher who was very academic and used the book.

Hmm . . . I want there to be some sort of structure to our lessons, but I also want him to like me. I ended up bringing in one of the News Lessons from the One-Stop-English website last week and he really seemed to enjoy it, so I’ll probably do more of that.

Thursday’s classes are in the 13th arrondissement, which I don’t think I’ve visited before. When I leave the metro I already know I’ll like working near here – there’s a park on one side of the metro and on the other there is a stone passageway that cuts through an arcade of cafés and gourmet shops – the feel is very similar to the Prahran market. And it’s so quiet as I walk down the paved pedestrian road towards the Seine.

Thursday, 10:00 – 11:30, Groupe Laudic, Natixis

I get to this office 10mins early and ask the gentleman at reception to call Daniel, one of my students. At 10:10, I return to the desk and he says that he couldn’t reach him. I ask him to try Antoine (my other student) as well. At 10:15 I call the office and tell them my situation – if the class doesn’t go ahead then I get paid anyway because the students didn’t cancel 48 hours in advance, but I need to wait here for half the length of the lesson before I can leave. Lisa (a lovely English girl who works in the planning department at BTL and has perfect French) says she’ll send the students an email. At 10:30 Antoine collects me, saying no one called him. I ask the gentleman at reception if he tried calling Antoine, but apparently he only called Daniel who is in a meeting.

Antoine is lovely and polite – he worked in aeronautical engineering before moving to banking. He explained why he switched industries (he needed a change), but I don’t really understand why – aeronautical engineering sounds cool! The lesson goes smoothly, but it turns out that Daniel will be away for the next three weeks, and then Antoine will go away for four weeks after that. This means that they will both miss a fair chunk of their 20 hour courses, and spend less than half of their lessons learning together. At the moment this course is back with the planning department, who will determine whether it should continue like this, or whether we should postpone it until September.

Thursday, 3:00 – 4:30, Muriel, Flammarion

This is the first lesson I have outside of the financial sector – Flammarion is a publishing company, so I’m immediately interested. Muriel is lovely. Her English tested lower than Bruno’s, but she seems to be much more adept than him at the exercises I set. What is interesting is that she is perfectly capable of having a conversation, but she has forgotten a lot of her basics – we ended up revising her numbers as well as her parts of speech. She picks things up quickly, though, so I think she’ll be okay with a pre-intermediate book, as long as I continue doing elementary grammar as a supplement.

I’m really surprised at how good I feel when I get out of our first lesson – she seemed so quiet and shy when she first approached me, and when the lesson started I was worried about it being strained and awkward. But by the end she has loosened up so much that I can’t help but feel buoyant.

I’m surprised by how much I enjoy teaching here – this was never a career plan for me, it was just a job I could do that would allow me to travel. But I do enjoy it – I love seeing the different parts of Paris and meeting different people, I like learning what students are interested in and tailoring lessons that they’ll (hopefully) enjoy, and I love that I’m making a difference, even if it is small.

First TEFL classes

I’d already done two two-hour intensive classes at my school, but intensives are planned by someone else so they don’t really count as real teaching. So the pressure was still on when I had to do my first in-company classes.

RATP (the Parisian public transport website) told me that I would need to leave at 8:15am to get to my 9am class on time. Wanting to give myself a bit of breathing room, I left at 7:55am.

If you look at a map of the Paris metro, the south-west end of Line 10 (the Boulogne end) breaks off into two parts, and joins up again for the last two stops. I originally thought that alternate trains took each route. Not so – trains going east take one branch, and trains going west take the other. I needed to change from Line 9 to Line 10 at Michel-Ange-Molitor, which is closed for renovations until July 27. However, as Line 9 also connects with Line 10 at the next station – Michel-Ange-Auteil – I assumed I would be able to change there instead. Not so – Michel-Ange-Auteil was on the wrong branch. I walked around the station for several minutes trying to figure out how to get to Gare D’Austerlitz, then realised that I would have to head back to Boulogne (basically going back the way I came for three or four stops), change there, and get a new train into the city.

Not to worry – I’d left early, so with this hiccup I should still have had enough time to get to the office by 9.

I reached Gare D’Austerlitz with 12 minutes to spare (according to the website, it would take 9 minutes to walk from the station). And I couldn’t find the exit I wanted. I could find the other four of the five exits, but not Quai D’Austerlitz (where the office was).

I stayed calm. I looked at the map of the area and figured out how to get there from another exit. Boulevard l’Hopital intersected with Quai D’Austerlitz, so I took Boulevard l’Hopital and turned left when I hit the river . . . the street sign said Quai Saint Bernard. I’d turned the wrong way. I quickly went back across the road I’d just crossed and was on the right place – Quai D’Austerlitz. I didn’t have enough guts to check the time.

I walked as fast as I could in my skirt and heels to number 47 and told reception that I had a class starting at 9. She looked for the names on her computer and couldn’t find them. I handed her some of my paperwork with my details.

“Oh, I’m sorry Madame, you’re at the wrong address,” she pointed to the address on my paper.

What?! Oh my God, I was already running late.

Luckily the right address was in a street behind Quai D’Austerlitz, so it only took a couple of minutes to get there. I went through the same routine with this receptionist (the clock on the wall said 9:10) and she said she’d call someone to get me. At 9:15 that someone came and, nearly twenty minutes late, the class was underway.

This was my first of three classes for the day (don’t worry – for the others I was a model of punctuality). The first one was great – the three students (two women and a man, two in their late thirties and one in her late forties) had an upper-intermediate level, so we got to joke around a bit and had a few laughs while still getting everything done. We did a unit on presentations, and there was an activity (not mine – from the book) where each one had to persuade the rest of us to buy a washing machine/dishwasher/coffee machine with our fictional social club’s money – I ended up pitting them against each other by getting them to argue why their product was better than the other ones, and watching the debates unfold was very entertaining.

My next class (which was at 47 Quai D’Austerlitz – I didn’t just make up the address) was with one girl who was pre-intermediate. Having only had classes with intermediate and upper-intermediate students, I was surprised at how much of a drop there was in her fluency. I think a lot of it is a practice issue, but I realised that I need to improve my vocab definitions (I have a habit of explaining words with more difficult words). She was also fun, but it was more difficult to figure out what interested her, and to figure out how to make the topics relevant to her.

My third and final class of the day was with two pre-intermediate girls, though only one showed up. She was lovely, and very receptive to grammatical concepts – we did some work on modal verbs and I was just able to give her some simple rules, and she accepted them, no questions asked. She then did the activities using the rules – after one of my intensive classes it was a bit of a relief, she just followed the rules and accepted that they worked, and didn’t really care about why. Unfortunately in this class I hadn’t copied the right audio files, so half of my lesson plan was gone, but I had a number of other activities on hand that I could use. However, this didn’t result in my most dynamic lesson of the day, and at 2:20 I was debating whether or not to give her some more work, or just finish a bit early.

The first lesson went from 9 to 10:30, the second from 11 to 12:30. The third started at 1:30. At 2:25 we’d finished talking and I said that I could give her another activity, or we could finish five minutes early. We decided to finish five minutes early, and it was only after I had left the building and was on my way to the metro that I remembered it was a 90 minute lesson and I’d finished it 35 minutes early. I know – my bad.

I thought about going back, then decided against it – 10 minutes had already passed, which meant that by the time I returned and we’d settled back down there would only be 10 minutes left (the real reason was that I didn’t want to look stupid in Paris and chickened out). So I went to my school’s office to prepare tomorrow’s lessons, and spent two and a half hours hanging out with other teachers in the teachers’ lounge – more importantly, I spent two and a half hours speaking English with fluent English speakers!

So the first classes have gone well, and I’ll try to restrain myself from writing again for a few days :p

TEFL Interviews – second round

Of my interviews, BTL and ICB were the only contenders. After my Wednesday interview, BTL called me back on the Friday to organise an interview on Monday with a gentleman called Paul, who would be asking me pedagogical questions.

We met at 9am, and he asked me a number of questions, including the following:

  • How would you use a newspaper article in a lesson?
  • Explain the difference between the present perfect and the past simple.
  • What would you do to make a shy student more confident?
  • What games could you play in the classroom?
  • What information would you need to know about your students before the class begins?
  • How would you expose your students to different accents?
  • How much would you use course books in a class?
  • How would you structure your average lesson?

Luckily, Renée had asked me the first three questions in my first interview, so I had ready-made answers for those. As for the others, I had revised some of my TEFL course on the weekend, so I was quite confident by the end of the interview.

Afterwards, Paul went to speak to Renée about me. After a few minutes he returned, saying that she was on the phone to the company director, but that I shouldn’t be waiting for too long, and gave me a course book to look over.

Sometime later, Paul returned and said that the company director wanted to meet me. I panicked inwardly – did Renée tell Paul that she’d asked me the same questions? Was I in trouble for cheating?

When the director was ready, I was escorted to his office. I entered the room meekly – like entering the principal’s office – but he immediately put me at ease. A tall, tanned man with impeccably styled, greying hair, he was the very image of a French businessman from the Riviera. Then he started speaking to me in a Cheltenham accent (English Cheltenham, not Australian Cheltenham). We sat on opposite sides of his desk, and he asked me to tell him about myself – education, work experience, teaching experience, etc. Every time I started a sentence, he would start talking and go off on a tangent for about 5mins, then remind himself that he was learning about me and ask me another question (which would lead to him going off on another tangent). As a result, it was the most enjoyable interview I’ve ever had – he was very entertaining and there were a lot of laughs.

Later he said that he really didn’t need to interview me – Paul and Renée already wanted to hire me – but just wanted to meet me to see what type of person I was, and whether students were likely to come back to see me for class week after week (he thought they would). He called Renée in her office to organise a time for me to come back to receive my official offer of employment and, after two hours of interviewing, I had a two hour break before I had to return and shake hands.

To celebrate my triumph (and to give my poor, blistered feet a rest after two days walking in heels) I decided to go out for lunch. After walking for another 45mins in heels (it took that long to find a place that looked decent with spare tables), I sat down in a brassiere. After 10mins I was reminded why I don’t like to eat out alone. The waiter approached me and I asked for the menu.

“For food?” he asked.

“. . . yes.”

Then he took one of the blackboards with the menu from the wall, sat it on the chair opposite me, and started to read it aloud to me in English. The two chic French women on the table next to me looked on. I was mortified!

Luckily I had an ‘official offer’ meeting to brighten my spirits. So, the verbal offer was made on the Monday afternoon, and I signed my contract on the Tuesday morning. The next two mornings I was at the office for induction activities.

Wednesday’s induction was with an awesome American called Dan for three or four hours. He told me about the school, did a grammar refresher course (my grammar’s quite good, but he went through the six main grammar questions that French students ask and gave me succinct answers for them so I already have them on hand), and brainstormed some classroom activities. We then picked up the folders for my first scheduled lessons (next Tuesday) and I did some lesson plans for them, on which he provided feedback. We then went to the teachers’ lounge and bemoaned French bureaucracy and how difficult it can be to get set up (I’m struggling with the bank account, but that can wait for another post).

On Thursday I had Microsoft Outlook training with an English guy called Jeffrey (very cute in his mid-thirties with greying hair – no wedding ring, but I can’t tell if he’s gay or not. He’s very well groomed and very proper, but he might just be English). As I’ve had a number of office jobs, this didn’t take very long, and we then went onto my lesson plans for next week. After briefly looking at what I did yesterday, we returned to the teachers’ lounge and he pulled out useful worksheet after useful worksheet, and showed me useful book after useful book, and gave me useful classroom activity idea after useful classroom activity idea – they were all great, but I’m just not sure how to fit them into my courses with the course book, without overwhelming the students.

The good things about the Outlook training were that I got to see my calendar, which is filling up quickly. On Wednesday I had two hour-and-a-half classes next week. Now I have 16 hours worth of classes (once I’m settled in, it should be around 20-25 hours a week – at €16.5 an hour, this is less than I was earning in London, but I suppose that’s the price I’ll pay for living in Paris) and the first one is on Monday. Wish me luck!

TEFL Interviews

I had set up four interviews in Teaching English as a Foreign Language before I left. One of my TEFL teachers said to never accept the first job you’re offered. Looking at the rundown of each job’s conditions below, I can see why.

Interview 1 – Formaland, 18/06/10

This school was just outside of Paris (surprising), but teachers get sent to companies in Paris to run courses. Each course is 20 hours split into 1.5 hour classes twice a week – no materials are provided to the teachers, so the teachers need to create the whole 20-hour course from scratch based on the results of the students’ initial placement tests. Already this is unappealing – although I have a good knowledge of English and have a TEFL qualification, I don’t have any real teaching experience, so I don’t think I would be capable of doing this.

A teacher would only start with one contract (so two 1.5 hour sessions a week), and then get more contracts based on student feedback – this means it could be a while until this job would cover my living expenses. The pay is 25 Euros (I don’t remember whether this was an hour or a class) for one-on-one lessons and 30 Euros for group lessons (the groups get up to 4 or 5 students). There would be no paid preparation time which, considering the amount of preparation time required in the job, greatly lessens the hourly rate.

They wanted to hire me. I don’t want to work for them. I haven’t gotten back to them yet, as I’d like to hear from some of my other interviews first, but I don’t think I’ll accept this even if I get nothing else – I just don’t think I’m capable.

Interview 2 – Transfer, 21/06/10

Printemps

This school was in one of Paris’s main shopping areas (the Opera district, down the road from Printemps and not far from the Galleries Lafayette), so it’s probably a good thing that we get sent to schools, as working in this area would not be good for my budget.

Materials are provided but it’s up to me to choose how I use them, so I have freedom over my lesson plans. Students are automatically given levels based on their initial test results. In busy times I could expect 6 hour days at 18.21 an hour, in slower periods I’d only be working 3 hour days. In slower periods I can negotiate more work on the side.

Class sizes are usually 5-6 (10 students at the most), and 50% of your travel expenses are covered in central Paris.

Downside? There wasn’t actually a job available; they just wanted to meet me for future reference.

Interview 3 – BTL, 22/06/10

I received an email for this job when I was between France and Australia, asking if I’d be able to do an interview on the 16th and start immediately, assuming things went well. I tried to call on the 15th and the 16th, but Renée (the interviewer) was in meetings. I then emailed, and she suggested an initial phone interview on the 22nd. Don’t ask me why there was so much urgency in the original email.

So I originally rang up for the phone interview using Skype, but because the internet connection is really bad where I’m living for the moment (more details next email), I ended up disconnecting a couple of times. As I didn’t have a French sim card yet, Renée, the interviewer, called me back on my Aussie phone, which charges me when I receive calls over here. My credit ran out in 5 minutes (I’ve learned my lesson – I bought a French sim as soon as the call was dropped).

Interview 3; take two – BTL, 23/06/10

I waited in reception for 10 minutes, during which time I was referred to as ‘the Jolie girl’ (I know – I already have a reputation. One of the girls in the office was the one on reception the day before when I was calling for the interview).

In this job materials are provided and they offer a lot of assistance to new teachers – you meet with a coordinator every week to get feedback on lesson plans and there are regular out-of-hours training sessions. All of the teachers use the same series of books, which helps course quality remain consistent, reduces preparation time, and makes it easier if you’re new.

The pay is 16 Euros an hour, 60% of your lunch is covered, 50% of your travel expenses are covered and you get paid holiday leave, which is calculated pro-rata (12% of the time you’ve been teaching). They also give free French lessons starting in October – 1.5 hours a day.

Classes range from individual to 6 or 7, and in busy times I could expect 20-25 hours a week.

So far this has been the most appealing position. However, I may have messed up the interview. We were getting along really well just talking about my background and the job details, and then she decided to quiz me on some class room situations – one was how I’d teach the present perfect tense, another was how I’d use an article in a classroom setting, and I don’t remember the third. I crashed and burned – generally I started well, but ran out of steam after one or two examples. The problem is that I did my TEFL course in the second half of last year, starting in July/August and finishing in early November. For anyone else considering doing this – do your course in the few months before you travel, or revise before you leave.

The interviewer actually made a comment that this is why BTL is weary of online courses (my course consisted of 100 hours online and 20 hours in person). Trinity and Cambridge seem to be respected here. I did i-to-i, thinking that because it’s the one STA Travel organises (though I went directly to the company) it must be a good one. Although the course was good, it didn’t provide teaching experience, so going to Asia first to get some experience may have been more sensible than coming straight to France.

Interview 4 – ICB Europe, 23/06/10

My fourth interview was a two-hour group interview with ICB. The school’s office was in a great little area, right near the Rue Montorgueil.

There were seven of us in the group – four girls and three guys, and I was the only one not from the UK. All of us either had a TEFL qualification, or had tutoring experience. We should find out the results of the interview next week, at which point the successful candidates will get a one-on-one interview.

This school has a training department where everyone gets a 3 hour session before they start to determine whether they need some more training or whether they are ready to go out to companies.

Classes, as with all the other schools, are based in companies and teachers can expect 25 hours a week. Unfortunately we don’t get to find out any details about payment until the second interview.

I performed much better in this interview. We started with a general introduction to the school, then had two written tests – one on grammar (ten sets of questions, each starting with a sentence that you had to correct, then explain what the problem was, how you fixed it and why you fixed it) and one on financial services terms (I knew about half of them and made up the other half – argh, if only it had been a year ago when I was in London reading finance articles for work!) – then a general discussion. This morning’s interview’s discussions about classroom activities had given me some examples I could use, so I plagiarised them and think I did quite well :p