What you’re about to read is an email that I sent out to someone who is interested in teaching in France. I thought it would be useful post it here for anyone else having questions or trying to imagine what it’s like.
I’m sure that you know at least a bit about the program from the TAPIF page on the embassy website. If not, check it out because you can find some useful info in the FAQ’s. When I was applying I also emailed a former Berkeley student who was doing the program and I was more concerned about housing and practical stuff like the application, location, bank account etc. Hope this helps.
How I chose Bordeaux I studied abroad in Bordeaux in Spring 2013, my junior year of college. I chose Bordeaux because I didn’t want to go to a very busy place like Paris. Bordeaux seemed appealing to me based on what I’ve heard from people who studied there before me. So I applied. After a semester, I knew I wanted to go back, so I applied for TAPIF and got placed in Bordeaux as I hoped. The TAPIF website has all the info on the regions and the options.
Living Situation I currently work in two middle schools for a total of 12 hours a week and I have Mondays off. I live in a six-apartment building on campus which is reserved for staff, teachers, and the language assistants. My apartment is pretty huge. 85m2. It has 2 bedrooms and an enormous living room with two beds, which we converted into a room and a living room. I live with my boyfriend and another other language assistants, who teaches Arabic. The rent (including utilities) comes out to around 800€, and divided by three people is not bad at all.
Salary The pay is just under 800€ for the 12 hours a week, which is enough to live off of modestly, unless you are in Paris. Many other assistants take up second part-time jobs like babysitting or tutoring. As an assistant, you are not authorized to work full-time, so above-the-table jobs are usually off the table. I will probably try to tutor English on the side, I hear there are many people who look for help with their English. I’ll get on that pretty soon.
Day-to-Day You asked what it is like day-to-day. I only started work half-way through last week, so I can tell you what that was like. Considering I work right outside my apartment most days, I am pretty content. I only have to bus to my second school once a week. I work Tuesday all day, Wednesday morning, and Thursday and Friday afternoons. I heard (and hear) that there are schools which are disorganized when it comes to assistant paperwork, but luckily I didn’t have to deal with anything like that. I emailed my schools in advance and called to check-in as soon as I got my French phone to set up a meeting with the schools and to create my schedule. In these last few weeks before the real teaching started, I took care of lots of logistic business: ordered the modem, opened up a bank account, went to the assistant orientation, met up with other assistants, housed Air BNB guests for a night, shopped for housing necessities, signed up for reward points at my local supermarket, got a tram pass, created lessons plans, met up with my coworkers, ordered cheap macaroons at McDonalds for their wifi etc.
You asked if my French is improving. Yes, it is. I carry a notebook where I write new words every time I learn something new, even during a movie in the theater. And dealing with bureaucratic stuff, it’s inevitable that you’ll be picking up new vocab. I feel like movies have helped a lot with the slang because they don’t teach you that in the books. And since my boyfriend is French, I learn a lot from him as well.
The Job I teach middle school students: 6eme, 3eme and 4eme. I also have a few euro sections, which are the kids who excel in English and are grouped into an extra hour for English a week. The students are pretty interested, especially the younger ones. They were in awe when I told them I was from Los Angeles and wanted to know if I ever met any celebrities, if I was married, if I had a boyfriend, if I speak French (I am supposed to answer no to that one). For some classes, I have the hour to teach and for others, I have a room where teachers send students for me to work with outside the class. I start that next week so I can tell you more about it later, but at this point I know I have the music room and it has two pianos and I am very happy about it.
Prior Experience You asked if I have experience teaching and if it’s necessary. I have tutored English to native and non-native speakers for a few years. I worked with Japanese students and a family from Guatemala while I was in Berkeley (through YWCA and the Easy Bay Sanctuary; they’re always looking for volunteers). I taught a creative writing decal to college students. Here, however, it’s working with a different age group. All that has helped me but it is not at all necessary. Many assistants have never taught before, but it helps. In the few classes I taught last week, I felt that it was kinda natural. You also asked if you need to have a minimum level of French. No, you don’t. You do, however, have to be able to communicate in order to take care of logistic stuff. Try not to be shy about asking. It’s inevitable that your language will improve after the program.
In the Meantime I would recommend that you watch many movies in French (Netflix was a good friend my senior year of college. And it’s now available in France). I would also google TAPIF blogs to get a sense of other people’s experiences and to explore other regions that seem appealing to you. Allison Lounes was a good resource for me. She is the creator of Paris Unraveled, which is a haven of useful information for those moving to France.
I wish you luck with the application process if you’re decide to apply. I invite you ask any questions you have.