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.

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