France is a dream destination for many travelers. But it’s a reality for Charmaine Yip, who works through the teaching assistant program in France and now lives in Paris.
This is a great option for young travelers, especially because you don’t need to have any teaching experience or qualifications to do this. And it’s not just for English speakers either; there are opportunities for native speakers of other languages as well.
Read on to find out how to travel and work in France as a language teaching assistant.
Hi Charmaine, tell me about what you do.
I am an English language assistant in a high school in France; I am not an official teacher. I have done this for 2 years — last year in Quebec and this year in France.
What’s a teaching assistant’s job description?
My role is to engage and help students to improve their English in a more fun and interactive way. I love my job because I get to work with small groups of students (sometimes two to four for 15 minutes) and I really get to know them.
Sometimes, I get to make my own lesson plans and decide what I want to do. Other times, the teacher would give me something to revise with the students.
This is different from an English teacher because my focus as a native speaker is to bring experience outside of what the regular teacher can. I can tell them what it is like growing up in Canada or something about their country I’ve discovered. I take groups of students out of the classroom for a more interactive experience and, because I am younger, I can relate to them. I still demand respect and it is expected — but it’s not a teacher-student relationship. I want them to see me more as a friend who is here to share learning together.
How much is a teaching assistant’s salary?
Generally, language assistants do not get paid a lot, but it would be enough to cover your main expenses. You really have to be careful in how you spend your money, though, especially on rent. You get paid around a student salary. Many assistants get a second job babysitting or tutoring.
Do you get any non-monetary benefits?
I get 50 percent transportation to school covered and medical insurance. Food and accommodation is on your own, but some schools offer housing and they are very cheap.
What are the hours like?
I only work 12 hours of class time a week. It is not a lot, but my schedule is spread out so I do spend the entire day at school on most days. I also need some time to prepare and research the lesson before my classes. I think it balances out quite well, but it really depends on your school and your schedule. Generally, you do get at least a day off and you have a lot of time to explore.
How do you join the teaching assistant program in France?
The program is called Foreign Language Assistant in France and you are qualified if you are from certain countries. You can be a Spanish assistant or a German assistant, or even Chinese! In my school I have a German and a Spanish assistant.
Do you get to choose where you go?
When you do your application, they ask your preference, and you have to choose one city in each zone (there are three zones in France). You will sometimes get your choice or sometimes you do not — it really depends.
I ended up in Paris. This was my first choice, so yes, I got lucky. :)
What about teaching assistant qualifications? Do you have to complete teaching courses like TEFL or TESOL certification?
You do not need a teacher’s qualifications or complete teaching courses. Generally, a native speaker between 20 to 30 years old, a student or recent graduate, and preferably a good knowledge of French. This depends on each country, but these were my qualifications. My French is not very strong, but having some type of knowledge will help to integrate easily here, especially dealing with a lot of paperwork.
What’s the biggest reward/challenge of the teaching assistant program in France?
The biggest reward: I really enjoy working with the students. Each time I come out of a class and I feel I have taught something, it feels good. I also learn a lot from them about France and the world.
The biggest challenge: Being young and not their teacher, sometimes it is difficult to get their attention and to keep them focused. One hour is a long time and, in France, school runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (sometimes shorter depending on the student’s schedule) so they are tired.
What’s the most unexpected thing of being a language assistant for you?
The school system and the education system. For example, the long hours of a school day and that they have to learn at least two foreign languages (English and German or Spanish). I am really surprised by how knowledgeable students are and how they would become so international after graduation. As an assistant, I learn so much from preparing my lesson with them and it is exciting.
(end of interview)
If you enjoyed the interview, you can reach out to Charmaine for more info on how to do this. Charmaine is a community builder, a social media addict, an educator abroad and an online writer with a passion for youth development and culture. She writes about her experiences living abroad on her blog, Wanderer. She’s also on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Images: 1. Tristan Nitot (CC BY-SA 3.0 License); 2-4. Charmaine Yip.