Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Month: April 2017

I am a teacher

At least, I am trying to be one.

I heard that I was lost,that I went to business school for nothing before, that I wasted my time, that it was crazy to go back to college at twenty seven. On the contrary,that’s why I will be a good teacher.

I fell in love with the English language against all odds when I was just a kid (I wanted to attend Yale University when I was 8 because I had read somewhere that they had the most terrific history department in this hemisphere, and back then I wanted to be a history teacher). I taught myself English, two or three hours a day at least, alone in my bedroom, using only books and DVDs (no wonder I can have such a legal jargon, I created my own course using Ally McBeal‘s first three seasons when I was 16).

I loved it. I loved every minute of it. It was not the idea of speaking another language that drove me, but the idea of all the possibilities that I could reach. Teaching a language is not only about teaching grammar, or phonology, or irregular verbs. These are parts of English teaching of course, but teaching a language, any language means teaching a way of life, a way of thinking, another culture, another history. None of my middle school teachers lived in an English spoken country and the courses were dull. There was no life whatsoever. All they knew, they had read it. They never used authentic materials, they used a shitty textbooks which were edited in France, by French people, for French people.

I read a lot, obviously, but I also experiment. How are you suppose teach teenagers or young adults if you don’t know what’s out there? If you don’t know how the job market will be? I watch foreign channels, I read numerous newspaper: we have this tremendous luck to live with Internet. A click, and everything you want to know is appearing on the screen in front of you. As teachers, we must use that luck to create possibilities.

I already teach to be honest: I teach to a seventeen years old girl. At the beginning of the year, she told me that she didn’t like grammar. I didn’t like grammar either when I was her age: I liked watching Buffy. But thanks to that show, I know how to use modals because they were using it every five minutes. That’s the kind of technique I used with her: I used another show, obviously, but even if her accent is not on point, she is not afraid to talk anymore, because she is not afraid of making mistakes. And that means that my main job with her is done.

Every student is different, nobody is learning the same way. Thinking otherwise would be crazy, literally. I have been a student, I know how that works, it’s not esoteric. To be a teacher, you must be yourself a learner.


We shouldn’t be afraid, but….


I am no historian.

I am no politician either.

I mean, I am just (trying to be) an English teacher. I am no expert, I just read foreign news, I don’t really watch TV, expect for CNN less than ten minutes a day, I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I am still a student.

You get it, I am no one to talk.

But still, I have something to say.

I am born and raised in France, whatever my accent may say. My grand parents fought, in the dark, to free their country, despite everything, hidden in bushes during the Second World War. I can’t stop thinking about them right now, how much they suffered, how many times they told me that no one was suppose to live what they had to live. How much they wanted us to live in a free country.

And yet, the 2002 election happened. An extreme right wing was in the second turn, and million people were on the streets, screaming their anger. I was just a kid then, but I saw terror on my mother’s eyes.

Yesterday, the same extreme right wing was in the second turn, and this time, I was the one crying: but I was the only one. Around me, people couldn’t seem to care less.

France’s revolution changed the face of the world in 1789. And now, what? The USA elected a puppet for president so we have to get our own dictatorship to feel good again?

French people isn’t stupid(at least, I want to believe it), the American people wasn’t either, as the British, when they decided to leave the EU. They are tired, are feeling neglected, rejected and they need someone to blame. Who am I to say they shouldn’t feel that way? I am a French person, and I do feel like that.

But blaming immigration and minorities had never been the answer, and will never be.

It may have another name, the face can change, but the ideas are still the same and I don’t know, yet, if I would be able to live in a country which elected, fully knowing the consequences, an extreme right wing party.

If France decides for her in two weeks, I don’t know how I will explain this to my hypothetical child. I don’t have one just yet, but I already know that I will be ashamed.

I shouldn’t be afraid just now, but I am.

Why I don’t give a damn anymore (and I feel great)

I used to suffer from anxiety.

I was suffering so much from stress that I used to blush every time I had to express my opinion. I had to keep quiet in order to survive at some point, I think.

I have always been the nicest girl, I checked every little box in order to become the most relatable and nice girl in this fucking continent, I suppose. I refused to leave the country for an Erasmus Program to please my mother, I studied law and administration to please my dad, and I even quit a prestigious internship in a fashion company to please my then boyfriend. I was exactly what people wanted me to be.

I had a rebellious phase, during my teenage years: in order to avoid my father to read my diary (yes,he used to do that), I learned English so he couldn’t understand a thing (he speaks Italian, German and French, but thank God, no English). That’s how edgy I was. (I also dyed my hair blonde, and got pierced three times on the same ear, yeah, I know that’s too much info to handle)

You have no idea how bad I felt most of the time.

I guess I didn’t open my eyes all of the sudden, it took some years to realize, and to improve my situation. I took baby steps, I am still taking them actually. You cannot change your life out of the blue, you have to be coherent. It took me three years to become myself, and I am still working on it, to be honest.

I still get Facebook messages from my high school friends saying that I changed way too much: no,I am just true to myself for a change. Even an ex colleague told me, quite recently, that she despised the new “me”, I just replied that her opinion of me just didn’t mattered.

I used to pretend so many things that now,admitting and expressing what I truly feel is relieving. What was I suppose to do? Playing the good, nice and quiet girl for the rest of my life? Being played all the time? Killing myself at some point?

Being exactly what people wanted me to be almost ate me alive, so here’s a little piece of advice for every struggling person: these people you want so badly to please, they won’t do the same to please you. They don’t give a crap about you. They are living their lives without wondering if you are okay with it.

That’s not being selfish, that is surviving.


What I wish I had known sooner

I am in that strange state, between two eras of my life, on the wrong side of my twenties and of course, I thought about it. And about some mistakes I could have avoided if I had received the rightful advices.

-You don’t choose where to live, or what to do, or what to eat, or anything because some friends of yours, or relatives, are telling you to: my parents told me to do a business school and to keep quiet. I became an executive assistant, got bored to death and finally enrolled to some English classes in order to become a teacher. Which was I wanted to do in the first place. 

-It’s okay to be lost. That doesn’t mean you have malaria or something. That just means you don’t know yourself enough just yet: back in high school, all my friends had big plans for themselves and I had not, and I felt like crap. I checked recently on Facebook what they were up to: no big plans at all.

-Life is not a race. If you are hitting 30 without a mortgage, a baby on the way, a husband/a wife, a bright new car, you are not gonna die : I wanted so much to be like others that I forgot what it was to be myself.

-Don’t change yourself in order to please. You can’t please anybody, that’s the trick: I decided to stay on a shitty job because my parents were proud of me. There’s only one result in that action: I could have done way much better in three years than that.

-You are not your mother. Or your father. You are an individual being with your own will and motives: I didn’t apply to an Erasmus program when I could because my mother was afraid something could happen. That’s her problem, not mine. But back in the day, I was too scared to hurt her and I didn’t go. And that’s my loss, not hers.

-People’s opinion is bullshit. One day, I received a text from a colleague saying that I could at least pretend that I was motivated, while I was on my two weeks notice. I was leaving the fucking job and someone told me to care about it. People will always have an opinion, like they all have an asshole, and they feel obligated to share this with others. That doesn’t matter.

Which actually matters is what you think is right for you. Don’t waste your time. I feel like I have waste enough on my own, and I am only 28 years old. I also feel like an old lady, because of that kind of article which basically says “I know better than you do and I am wiser than you”. I am not wiser. I am not an old lady either and I don’t know better. I am just trying to get my shit together.


© 2023 Helene Combe

Powered by Jonas ChopinUp ↑

Pin It on Pinterest