Things I wish I’d known before I chose to do British Council at primary level …
While I understand that no two experiences of the British Council Assistantship are the same because everything depends upon your placement, I will openly admit that I did not expect things to turn out the way they have – it’s certainly been one huge learning curve for me. Why? Well, a lot of the information I received from CIEP/British Council way back in August was very much orientated towards assistants working at college/lycée level – i.e you spend the majority of your 12 hours (if that) a week trying to force small groups of 18 year olds to speak English/aid teachers in the deliverance of their lessons. This, however, is NOT THE SAME for primary level. At primary level, you are fully expected to be the teacher – if I go into school un-prepared, I am completely and utterly stuck because 80% of my teachers rely on my preparation, and use my arrival as their chance to take leave for a “coffee break”. Now, don’t get me wrong, it has meant that my French has come on leaps and bounds (certainly in the lexis of discipline anyway) and I certainly have more confidence in my abilities as a teacher … I just wish I’d been given a more honest overview at the start so I could have known what I’d let myself in for.
So, here are a few things I wish I had known before I started my Y/A as a British Council Language Assistant …
It is not the easy way out.
I’m not saying that this is why I opted for the British Council Assistantship over studying at a University, because it really isn’t (I actually do enjoy teaching!) but it seems to be the general consensus that BC is the “easy option”. And, when others have been faced with preparing for 4 exams all in different languages, I can understand why it could be seen as the easy option – I mean, I only teach for 12 hours a week, right? Wrong. While I don’t have to do University work, I have to prepare allll the lessons with no curriculum guidelines or ‘teacher’s guide’ books to work from, which is SO MUCH HARDER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE!!! Not only do you have to gage the ever-changing level of English that the children have, and prepare work that isn’t too challenging/too easy, you also have to find something that will keep them entertained for 45mins-1 hour. It’s either that, or the lesson becomes less teaching and more crowd control … And, what’s more, none of the lesson plans that I have prepared will count towards my degree. Oh no, I have to write two essays on top of all of this … yaaay.
Be prepared to teach on next to no training.
So, leading on from the point above – if you have chosen/are thinking of choosing primary level, you NEED to be ready to prepare lessons and deliver them completely alone on next to no training (the “stage” you’re forced to attend is practically useless when it comes to teacher training). While this prospect at first appeared completely daunting, after the first few weeks it became the norm, especially once I’d realised I was the teacher and not the assistant (which is best done sooner rather than later!). Nevertheless, having free-reign on lesson planning is still to this day rather difficult, especially when I don’t know the best way to deliver a language lesson – it’s all been one huge game of trial and error. The only thing that’s been getting me through is remembering how I was taught French at secondary school and going from there … it’s a good job I had inventive and very influential teachers!
Be prepared to be thrown in at the deep end
You’ve planned a detailed lesson, spent hours making flashcards, and then turned up to the class, and every single one of the pupils are bouncing off the walls refusing to listen to their teacher – let alone you, the “English assistant”. What do you do? Oh, and to add to this, the photocopier/printer is out of use and so your lesson plan has been thrown out of the window. This isn’t an uncommon situation, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to always have a back-up – even if it is just a few educational songs saved onto your phone that you can whip out in seconds … never, ever underestimate the power of technology to calm a bunch of hyperactive youngsters.
You’ll be re-acquainted with chalk and will step back in time with electrical equipment (interactive whiteboard/ projector? Dream on …)
Out of 12 of my classrooms, only ONE has a whiteboard. The rest, it’s a good old piece of chalk. The scratchy, horrid, gets-all-over-your-clothes -after-10-seconds HELL that is chalk. Also, DO NOT prepare powerpoints/anything that needs anything other than a photocopier/printer, because more often than not that’s all you’ll have, and it’ll be a complete waste of time if you prepare otherwise. This has been difficult for me because I know that there is a world of interactive activities out there online that my students would benefit from immensely – especially on the British Council website (!!!), but I just can’t use it … well, unless I want 30 kids crowded around 1 computer, and from experience, that really doesn’t work well! It’s old-fashioned teaching only here in France– no wonder the kids get so excited when I get out my iPad!
At the start of my assistantship, hardly any of the teachers spoke to me. This is partly my fault – I felt like my French was no-way near a level suitable for conversation and so only talked when I was spoken to, and did everything I could to avoid having to speak. And then I decided that this was going to get me nowhere, and so got my act together and started to make conversation. While some of the teachers still do their very best not to speak to me, the majority (now they’ve realised I’m not a mute) make me feel like part of the team.
This also applies to children – it’s almost like children smell fear … and they LOVE it. They can quite easily make your life a living misery, so just don’t give them the chance to realise you’re nervous/unprepared and you’ll be fine.
A love/hate relationship with the children.
Some days, I leave class after an hour of “crowd control” and all I want to do is run home and cry into a glass of wine and a big French pastry. And, other days, I think that I could actually make it as a teacher … it’s just the luck of the draw really.
Now, if I could do it all again, would I choose Uni over the assistantship? No, probably not. While I absolutely DESPISE lesson planning, and there have been many days when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and walk out the classroom, I’ve had a real introduction into the world of teaching and it’s been the wake-up call I’ve needed to think about what I’m going to do post-cushty Uni life … could I cut it as a teacher?
En ce moment, je sais pas …
But, in order to end the blog on a happier note (especially because this time next week I’ll be home!!) … Nicola took me on a little detour round Chambery, and introduced me to this FANTASTIC view. I’m reallllly going to miss the landscape here!