Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Category: education

Why I am taking a step back

2020 is going to be different. I am not saying that because it’s January, or anything like that, it’s not a resolution. It’s simply a fact: this year is going to be very different.

Before you actually start reading, you must consider that these opinions are mine, and that I am not criticizing anybody.

You may remember that I only started within the ELT field three years ago. I started online with the TKT, then I did a French degree in education, which allowed me to work in a bilingual primary school. We all know I didn’t get the job after because I was not native (this is not an assumption, the management explicitly told me so) and I continued, with a CELTA. I started to get involved in TESOL association, to read a lot about Second Language Acquisition, about methodologies… Which led me to start a MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL. In other words, I am still a baby teacher, a rookie.

I admit that my first year of MA was quite disappointing: a lot of theories, not enough cases, and I guess I had another vision of it. Nonetheless, I am quite happy I am doing it (I just finished another Module) despite some setbacks. Alongside my MA, I started my Delta, and well, I have written a lot on this topic already. Saying that Delta didn’t go as planned is the understatement of the year, but it made me realize that my priorities were not straight.

But the thing is, I worked non-stop for the past three years. I went to conferences, I met people, I did some research, I didn’t stop reading and I worked on several projects. I wanted to develop some CPD workshops in Lyon, France, where I have been living. I wanted to develop my academic research, despite not feeling academic myself, because I wanted to show that I was a good teacher. And I wanted other teachers to become more aware of their environment, to create interesting sessions.

Boy, I was a bit presumptuous. CPD workshops are a great idea in theory, but after organizing two workshops with an attendance close to zero, I just decided to spend my Saturdays elsewhere. Attending conferences are great, but expensive, let’s be honest, and is it really interesting and relatable? And if I spent a great deal working on some research, it was not always related to my context, nor my students. I won’t say it was a waste of time, but I could have used this time differently.

I have been teaching in a local college for five months now, and it’s probably the best gig I had so far. The students’ general level is quite low, but the degrees they are studying for is interesting. It’s not 100% academic, which is fine by me, because I am not 100% academic. I seemed to forget that before being a teacher, I graduated with a BA in management, another BA in business and worked six years in real estate. It’s a real added value that I didn’t really use properly, obsessed over the fact that my passport was less important than my degrees. So, when this local college asked me if I were interested by teaching something else than English, I said yes.

Teaching English is, and will always be, what I prefer to do. I love this language way more than I could actually explain it. But I also live in a country which doesn’t fully appreciate other languages, in which teachers are not being recognized, in which native speakerism is all over the place. My MA is not going to change that. If I ever get tenure in that college, or in another school, that won’t be because of it, as the national education system doesn’t accept it. If I ever finish DELTA one day, once again, it will be for me.

I feel better writing these words, almost liberated. I put so much pressure on myself for so long that it feels amazing just to say “I am doing this for myself”. Working in ELT is not easy, it can actually be quite vile and I won’t apologize because I have decided to step back from the whole academic world. What really matters here is the person I am in front of my students, and the quality of my work, not if I transcribed correctly in an presentation.

Writing here is still very important to me, and despite being non-academic, I’ll continue to do so. I still have things to say, even though I am not a part of any TESOL or IATEFL association anymore.

Am I good enough?

I pretty much ask myself that question every day since the beginning of the school year.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, sure you had realized that I was quite busy, that I hadn’t updated in weeks, that my plate was quite full. I started yet another challenge, yay. I have been teaching for more than two years, I’m still a baby teacher, a rookie, after all. So I guess wondering if I am a good teacher is quite normal at this stage.

Let me explain what’s happening lately: I started teaching in a local college (literally right after high school – first year college students!) and well, the experience has been enriching so far. I never really took for granted that students wanted to be in front of me; even when I worked briefly for a language school in England. But this experience is whole new level.

So I was expecting young people in front of me (they are ten to twelve years younger than me after all, I can call them young people) but not that young. I mean, that type of young. I wouldn’t be mean to call them naive, but they are definitely out of this world. Not all of them are like that, of course not. I have also amazing classes who are motivated, focused, and know that education matters. But I also have a class full of slackers.

France is not a huge fan of teachers in general and I am not a huge fan of the French system either. We teachers are basically the official government’s punchbag for quite some time now, and language teachers are considered as useless most of the time. I can’t count how many students have told me “I can’t believe you are French, you never speak French in class!’. Apparently, it’s mandatory to speak your native tongue despite teaching another one, I was not aware of that rule though.

I know I sound dorky by saying that I want to help my students, that their successes matter to me, that I am glad when I hear a struggling student saying “I got it!”. I decided to teach English fully aware that half of my students would probably hate it. But I really mean it, I feel lucky enough to do a job that I love.

But despite that, I wonder if I am enough, if my good will, my good feelings will be enough to prove my point. When marketing and advertisement became more important than education and knowledge, I guess society lost it and will pay the price later. Sorry for getting dark tonight guys, I didn’t want to. I guess wondering is healthier than just accepting facts, but nonetheless, it can give quite a headache.

Here we go again

Temperatures are dropping, days are getting shorter (at least, where I am currently, it might not be your case), it means only one thing: my third year as an English as Foreign Language is starting!

I am teaching a looooot of people this year, and they couldn’t be more different:

-First year students at a local college, who are preparing the French equivalent of an Associate’s degree in Business.

-MA (in Marketing) students at the same local college

-Employees of a petrochemistry company (which is really funny, because I know next to nothing to petrochemistry, and they teach me a lot about it)

-Seniors! Seniors everywhere!

In a previous post, I mentioned that teaching seniors was extremely interesting, but also tiring and intense. Nonetheless, it allows me to try different techniques and methods, like using literature within the class (with B1 students), Project-Based-Learning (with B2 students)… Yes, it takes a long time to prepare all the classes. Yes, it’s tiring because they are demanding a lot. But I am allowed to design my own classes, I can use what I want to use, they are determined and motivated, it’s flexible.

I am not doing a MA and a Delta just to stay an EFL teacher ad vitam aeternam, that would be a lie, as you probably already suspected. I’d like, at some point, to become a DoS, or a teacher trainer, and the Senior Language School (within a company- there are only retired people from this precise company, so I am technically an employee of that company as well) I am in charge of is the best first step I could dream of.

What is this Senior Language School anyway? Two “Elementary 1” classes of 90 minutes (Mondays and Wednesdays) which are basically A0/A1; one “Elementary 2” class of 90 minutes on Wednesdays which are A1/A2; four “Intermediate” classes (two are 45 minutes as it’s only a conversation class – one is quite traditional and the last one is called “Introduction to British culture”), which are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays , for B1 students and the last class is called “Advanced”, but should be called “Project class” (I literally call her the “PBL class” myself) on Wednesdays, for B1+/B2 students. I am designing all these classes, and I, of course, teach them.

So you know pretty much everything about my projects for this academic year. I hope everything will go as smoothly as possible, and I wish you the best for this new year 🙂

A few words about our London field trip

I am afraid an essay would be more appropriate to talk about my seniors’ field trip to London last week, but I’ll try to sum up.

We left on Tuesday late afternoon, without any troubles, the flight went smoothly, we arrived right on time at the restaurant. The schedule had been defined weeks in advance:

Day 1 (morning to mid afternoon)  Group A (the extra teacher’s group)  : British museum/ Group B (my group): Madame Tussauds and the Sherlock Holmes museum. Then, both groups were supposed to meet in Camden. That was the plan.

That didn’t exactly happen like that. Due to traffic, Group B arrived one hour late to Baker Street, causing a major delay. The whole “mid afternoon” element was taken extremely seriously by Group A, which means that at 3:03 pm, I received phone calls saying that Group A was waiting for Group B. That was the only bum note of that day.

Day 2 was utterly different, because I realized that I needed to be more structured. Managing kids and managing adults is not that different after all: “be careful when you cross the street” “don’t walk away from the group” “watch your belongings”… It was funnier than the day before, but we couldn’t do everything we had initially planned. We visited Trafalgar, St James’ Park, we wandered around Buckingham Palace and ended up in Westminster, where we ate in a Pret a Manger. We were supposed to go to the Tower of London, but we all went to Kensington Palace instead.

Some of my students decided to finish the day in a pub, and the others (including their beloved teacher, aka me) went to Motown, a musical about the eponymous label. I was especially glad when I realized that one of my students had spent the entire evening talking to a Yorkshire native (without my help)!

Day 3 was more challenging because everybody was tired, everybody had something else in mind and well, that led to some strange situations. That’s how I realized that managing people was definitely harder than what I expected (I used to manage a small team when I was in real estate, not 12!). I even had to yell so loudly in Victoria Rail Station than fifty people looked around, confused: half of my students didn’t listen to my announcement (“our train is platform 14”) and entered in the wrong train (platform 15)! Fortunately, the employees helped us finding them, but it was a close call.

In overall, they enjoyed the experience, I learned a lot (about patience, mostly), and they all asked me to organize another field trip next year!

We don’t care about teachers anymore

A week ago, I went to Doha, Qatar to participate to a conference (the Liberal Arts International Conference, 7th edition). The conference lasted 3 days and a lot of students volunteered to it, so I was able to talk to a lot of them. I was astonished by several elements:

  • they were motivated to learn, especially another language, they felt it as a necessity
  • they were extremely respectful towards teachers

In France, like in a lot of others countries, being a teacher is not exactly the dream lately. We heard a lot about Milan lately (teachers from the British Council got laid off) and Ireland (teachers woke up one morning jobless), but lately, in France, education, in general, is also taking a step back. Let me explain rapidly what is going on:

  • Elementary schools (primary schools) and middle school (secondary school) are now only one school. Yeah, because you have the same focus and needs when you are 7 and when you are 13, indeed…
  • In high school, only two hours will be devoted to English (same for the second language they are learning, as Spanish or German). TWO HOURS.  May I remind that the average number of students per class is 33? The students would be able to learn more, but that would be a specialization, and that would determine their future, so let’s be clear, they won’t choose it.
  • If the teacher is not here, someone who is NOT qualified will take over. In France, some people are looking after the students (at the canteen, to check if there is disturbance at the library…), and that would be them. I have nothing against them in particular, of course, I had that precise job at some point, but they shouldn’t be teaching. That’s NOT  their jobs.
  • Equality? Which equality? If the high school you are going to is not well ranked, for some reasons (geographical, the options there are not great…) your high school diploma (baccalaureat) will have less value than someone else’s baccalaureat. This precise point makes me wanna puke.

What’s happening though? Let’s save money, here is what’s happening. Money is way more important than education, and creating a gap between public and private schools is not a problem anymore. We don’t care about youth anymore, we don’t care about knowledge, we don’t care about education no more. We care about what it will cost. Educating teachers correctly should be the main priority, but no, let’s put in front of students incompetents, because they did not receive training.

I know it’s quite shocking for a lot of people but guess what? Being a teacher is a real job. It’s not a hobby. Not everybody can do it. Nobody should be able to teach without a degree.  I know that in some countries, being white and having an English/Australian/American/Irish/NZ passport is enough to teach, but sorry buddies, you are NOT teachers. You are a lot of things, but you are not teachers. Being a teacher is not innate, and it’s time to realize that we have to respect teachers, to give them more credit and to promote them way more than what we are doing right now. Without teachers, the world is doomed, sorry to burst the bubble.

Equality is not only a philosophical concept, it’s time to think about it.

© 2020 Helene Combe

Powered by Jonas ChopinUp ↑

Pin It on Pinterest