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!

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