Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Month: September 2017

What’s your real job?

Someone asked me this (obviously) dumb question two days ago. It was an old friend from high school, we were just catching up through a Messenger chat. And out of nowhere, she wrote : “besides being an English teacher, what do you do?”

Well, I teach. That’s all I do. I am not a serial slasher, I do not write, teach, create Tee shirts and design websites. I prepare my lessons, I read a lot, I study for the IELTS, and yeah, basically, all I do is teaching. And I am perfectly fine with it.

I do have some ambitions though. I mean, I am teaching Adults now, which I love, but I would to explore some possibilities, which is why I decided to do a Certificate in Business English in London next January. I honestly think that we can always improve ourselves.  Continue reading

The Language Experiment: 150 days later…

Remember when I decided to learn two foreign languages at the same time? Well, that was 150 days ago.

Centocinquanta giorni. Hundert funfzig Tage.

Being a language learner isn’t easy. But being an adult learner is hard. We all have a million other things to do, and sometimes, finding 5 minutes to do a German exercise is just too much. I think that learning a language when you are already working can be an enormous challenge.

I took some tests (online) last week to assess my level in Italian and German and the results are not what I expected: Continue reading

Classroom Management 101

Yesterday, I was teaching English to a bunch of retired people (that’s my Wednesday’s treat: I have fifteen elementary students and then, ten intermediate students. They are deeply motivated and they are not afraid to speak). I also had a new student, a very particular one. Let me explain.

I was monitoring during pair work when he called me and asked abruptly:

“What’s your real job?”

I didn’t understand at first. I thought he was talking about my previous job, so I replied “Well, I worked in real estate and then, I went back to college to become an English teacher. That’s my job.”

His answer was quick and sharp: “You don’t have a CAPES (a French teaching diploma), so you are not a teacher. You are an amateur. We shouldn’t even pay you.”

I was so stunned that I asked him if he wanted to check my CELTA by himself.

Fortunately, the others students told him that they were glad to have a teacher who actually trained in England and was really motivated.

No, I don’t have a CAPES and, frankly, I don’t want one. I don’t want to train in France in order to become an English teacher, no offense. I did a CELTA, I am planning to do a MA in TESOL, I am quite happy with my path, I am even proud of it.

I don’t teach English because I have some time off, I am not volunteering, I do get paid, this is not a charity job. I loved the atmosphere in the class so far, and with his comments (he made a sh*t load of them), he changed everything.

Students didn’t feel comfortable anymore, didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I actually felt threatened. This student spent the entire hour trying to trick me by asking irrelevant questions (“is it an intransitive verb?” “Sir, right now, we are revising the days of the week…”). By the end of the session, I was fed up.

Dear Sir, I am sorry that you are not quite happy with my resumé. Since you are the very first student to complain, I suggest you find another teacher, and let the other students actually enjoy the class.




Unusual teaching

Last Wednesday, I faced one of my new challenges (I called them my “Fall 2017 challenges” – I have three of them) and this one was the scariest of all: teaching elderly people.

What I mean by elderly actually, it’s retired people, between 49 (yes, she is retired. It’s like looking at an unicorn or something) and 74. They all have plenty of time, they still are young in mind, they want to travel and in order to do so, they want to learn English.

I arrived 30 minutes in advance, but some of them were already there, waiting for me. First question: “What kind of teacher are you?”  Me: What do you mean by that?

Second question:”Are you a high school teacher? Where did you train?”

They stopped asking questions when I explained my experience in England. They previously had a high school teacher, who focused on grammar. Obviously, I wasn’t about to be the same kind of teacher.

After the usual introduction, I dove in : our subject was Visiting abroadI didn’t reinvent the wheel at all, I followed the CELTA recipe. We (and by “we”, I mean 60% me, 40% them) spoke a lot, despite the huge level gap, which was comforting. I realized quickly how tricky that gap would be: some students are total beginner (they can barely say their names) and some are strong Upper Intermediate.

So, what worked:

-Pair work : they loved to talk to each other and to try on the new vocab written on the board.

-Written feedback at the end of the session: they were writing in their notebooks everything and felt free to ask for clarification.

-Pronunciation: when I pre taught some vocab, I also taught pronunciation. They liked it so much they were just repeating like parrots, even when that part was done. At the end of the session, they even asked for more!

What didn’t work:

-Huge group: they were a little less than 30, and managing the class was a huge part of my job. I took 2 Upper Intermediate to be my assistants at some points!

-Huge level gap: 3 were beginners with zero confidence, some were better than they thought, some were so motivated they couldn’t stop asking questions… To split is not negotiable. Starting next week, I will teach to two separate groups.

-The 2 hours format: even with a break, by the end, they were just tired. How can I blame them? I was tired too!

To work on:

-Reduce my Talking Time (TTT) and increase their Talking Time (STT)

It is now time for me to relax a little bit before actually starting to teach Business English next Monday 🙂




Being passionate : a review

I rarely read in French. Probably because most of my favorite authors are writing in English, so I don’t see a valuable reason to read a French version of a book that I could read in its original version. You get the idea.

But I read “L’élève au coeur de sa réussite” by French teacher and writer Marie-Hélène Fasquel. And I loved it.

I heard about Miss Fasquel because of the Global Teacher Prize, to be honest. My teachers at the University of Grenoble were speaking about her with sparkles on their eyes, so I decided to “take a look”. And I just fell for it; she is not an usual teacher. We are talking about someone who couldn’t stop working while laying on a hospital bed. Who believes that the teacher’s role is inspirational. The fact that she was a French teacher was, for me, another reason to read this book.

I am not a huge fan of the French educational system, despite having a mother who worked there for 35 years. I think they could do better, in a lot of ways. A lot of my friends are teachers now, and most of them aren’t motivated anymore, after only  a couple of years of practice. There is a huge gap between the government’s expectations and the reality, as Miss Fasquel wrote herself.

Being passionate is key when you are a teacher. And Miss Fasquel proves it during 180 pages. I am not saying that I agree with everything she wrote. I would have loved to read more about her techniques and some other examples than reading about the Global Prize itself, but that’s my opinion, and I understand why she wrote about the experience.

I would like to thank Miss Fasquel: in France, teachers are sometimes seen as “lazy people”, “always on vacations”, just “reading off books”. She proved that being a teacher was way more than that and she deserved to be known.

Dear Miss Fasquel : I can’t wait to meet you in November at the TESOL France convention. Also, I honestly think you should translate your book in English, because your adventure deserves to be share.

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