In my blog about Assistant d’anglais, I had talked about the eligibility criteria, an assistants’ job role and the pros and cons of being an English Teaching Assistant in France. If you’re planning to apply for the program and have not read my blog yet, go read it now and then continue to read this one.
This blog offers you a candid perspective of Assistant d’anglais. I will be talking about my second experience as an assistant. So this time I was a Teaching Assistant at Reims Academy, and I’ll tell you all about how it was different from the first time in Grenoble Academy. As aspiring assistants, you could use some help getting a broader idea of all kinds of experiences an assistant usually has, and to mentally prepare yourself.
When I renewed
As you know already, in 2020, I returned to India after being an assistant once in Grenoble Academy. Back then, I wasn’t planning on renewing my contract. But well, since I had returned while the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak, I think within some corner inside my heart I was not ready to accept having quit France. It was as if Europe kept calling me back every single day but I didn’t listen to the voice within. I continued in India for almost a year as an online French Language teacher until a point came in July 2021 where certain things took an unplanned turn and I knew it was time to hear that inner voice.
So I finally decided to go back again. This time I hadn’t applied through the regular process for the program. Since the application deadlines had already ended almost 8 months ago, I applied as a local recruit. Check this blog of mine to know how you could also apply as a local recruit.
It was a risky decision for me to leave all of my French teaching and go to France to be an assistant again. I had worked really hard to build my online presence as a French teacher and I had responsibilities on me. Being an assistant again was like getting stuck earning a minimum wage compared to what I was earning as a French teacher. But I anyway found it tempting knowing that I deserved this time for myself and that I had plenty of savings. This time, I was under extreme stress but more excited because Europe was already a familiar place. I got selected for a high school and a secondary school in a small town called Chalons en Champagne under the Reims Academy.
As an assistant, you devote just 12 hours weekly for classes and are paid for the same. However, this pay doesn’t include the time of your commute, spending time to plan your lessons and waiting in the school for the next class. I only had 4 days of work every week. But it was honestly both a blessing as well as a curse for me because the gaps in between the classes were too long!
This time I wasn’t provided accommodation within the school and so I stayed in Reims city. It was a 45- minute commute by Blablacar and a 1.5- hour commute by train, so certainly not easy especially in the early mornings of the winter. Blablacar was highly unreliable for daily commutes and train commute was too long and exhausting. Some of my school days required me to leave from Reims as early as 5:30 am in the dark to reach the town. Moreover, being vegetarian, I could not eat at the school canteen and so I had to either prepare all my meals for the day either the night before or very early in the morning. It took me extra hours and would be a lot more exhausting than productive. After each school day, I only had extreme fatigue and I didn’t even feel that I had learnt anything new.
Talking about my prof référent and colleagues, everybody was always sweet and understanding. But I was having some extreme difficulties on the personal and professional level. I still do wish there had been somebody to hear me out and possibly give a solution for my professional difficulties including my timings, commute, high rent, no CAF and far- away accommodation. But since I didn’t get any of that and knowing that my days weren’t going productively enough, my stress was increasing. So I finally decided to resign on March 2nd, and took the rest of the time to travel in Europe till the end of April. I had plenty of savings and it was totally worth it!
What I learnt
Having been an assistant the second time, I learnt that not only no two assistants have the same experience, but also no two experiences of the same person as an assistant are the same. The last time I got lucky and was served everything on a silver platter as I always boasted about in my earlier conversations. (Check out this video– My conversation with another former- assistant Bhavna Kwatra) However, this time my experience was quite the opposite. But I cherish the fact that I learnt different things from both the times. As a second time assistant, I also learnt a better sense of independence than the last time, because this time I was more open to taking risks. Things seemed easier because I exposed myself to them more willingly.
Europe gave me some great adventures. I socialized way more than I did before. Having opened up a lot more as a person, I made some really good friends in different countries. And of course, I did gain a lot more confidence in French and speaking to natives (the last time it had been quite a struggle for me).
Is it possible to improve your French while being an assistant?
As an English teaching assistant, you’re required to communicate only in English with the students. But if you’re genuinely willing to, you can improve your French during your stay, no matter where you’re posted. Only English you are required to speak is with the students inside the class. Outside, you get to speak French everywhere. In bigger cities, there are more people who can also speak English.
In small towns, very rarely do people speak English and so you’ll anyway have a French- speaking environment around you all the time. In any case, it’s up to you to take the initiative. The more you mix up with the natives and try to listen and communicate, the better your progress will be. Most of my colleagues were willing to listen to me and correct me when I spoke to them. I could also learn some French slang from some of my students and friends.
Is the Experience Worth It?
As alluring as it seems to somebody learning French in a far away country, being a teaching assistant isn’t always as pleasant. Some experiences will stress you out and make you feel alone and homesick, just as I did this time. Other times, you’ll feel like you’ve been blessed to have this opportunity that not everyone
In small towns, since there isn’t always a lot to do, you may feel bored, trapped, alone and homesick. Even while staying in the city, I experienced seasonal affective disorder since I was located in the north. I had a lot of difficulty during the gray and gloomy days. Some assistants may have difficulties related to commute, expenses, difficult colleagues or students and even racism.
In any case, I will say that the teaching assistants’ program has more pros than cons. I traveled a lot during both my times as an assistant, met some other assistants, made new friends who have different cultural backgrounds and had amazing conversations. I did solo trips as well as trips with friends on the
beautiful landscapes of Europe. Had I not taken up this opportunity, I would’ve missed out on all these experiences that one could get through one’s capability as a francophone, without even having to spend a lot from one’s own pocket! And most importantly for me, being a French language teacher, this experience gave me such immense confidence and better communication skills in French. That’s a skill I gained to help my students. Afterall, what can be better than having a skill that nobody can ever take away from you!
Sometimes being far from home is the right environment where you grow and learn better. After these seven months as a teaching assistant in France, I learnt even more about myself than I did about the world. I’ve learnt resilience and that I could survive anywhere in the world independently to achieve what I envision. If you have the willingness and zeal for it, the experience you gain through the program can open endless possibilities for you.