April 1st, 2015: I woke up in the morning to a text from my friend Giulia: Attention aux poissons sur ton dos! I arrived at school and every child had a little paper fish on their desk that they “sneakily” tried to tape on people’s backs. In France, April Fool’s Day is Poisson d’Avril, and these fish are part of the practical joke tradition. Later, I heard about a teacher who tried to trick her kindergarteners into doing worksheets meant for 5th grade, another who spent an hour teaching his class Chinese, as a “new school initiative”, and another who announced a fake pop quiz. We decorated fish during art class!
April 1st, 2014: I was in my Sound Design lab, listening to others give presentations. My phone was on the table and I noticed with considerable embarrassment that it buzzed at least three times during my classmate’s presentations. I looked at my phone and saw the email I had forgotten I was waiting for: my acceptance into TAPIF! Luckily, it wasn’t an April Fool’s trick. At the time, I had decided to wait until the last possible moment to accept or decline; I originally wanted to wait to hear back from some of the other internships and fellowships I had applied for. But about three days later, I replied to Carolyn Collins officially accepting the position.
This week, the new group of TAPIF hopefuls has been notified. I want to give a hearty Félicitations to all the newly accepted assistants. And if you’re on the waitlist, don’t despair…a HUGE portion of the waitlist ends up being accepted each year as assistants drop out or schools make additional requests. For those denied, try to stay positive and remember that your dream doesn’t have to end here!
As much as I’ve enjoyed keeping this blog for myself, I also would like for it to be helpful to you, my readers! I want to share with you some lessons I’ve learned and pieces of advice. Today’s topic: What the hell do I do now?! You’ve got the acceptance but all of the details are still up in the air. Here’s my advice for things to pass the time.
As sad as it makes me to think about, I will be packing up and leaving this place in a matter of weeks, but I hope my experience can help usher in a new year of assistantships, exploring, and sharing.
- Practice Patience. The two things I tell everyone considering the assistantship are that every experience is unique and cannot be boiled down to a list of “things to expect” and that the most important thing to have is patience. You’ve already waited three months between the application deadline and the results, and now you have to prepare to wait a lot more: three months until you find out where you will be, weeks to hear back from your future principal or colleagues, days or even weeks with nowhere to live, possibly your entire year in France before receiving your medical card or housing subsidy from the CAF… For me, the trick to not getting frustrated with all of this seemingly useless waiting has been to realize that EVERYONE is in the same boat, even French people. Once you accept that this is just the way things are, you can move on to more important things, like worrying about what you’ll do with you 8 weeks of vacation time!
- Use social media to your advantage! Join the facebook groups for your académie and eventually for the nearby cities or departéments where you’ll be living. There will be commenters that drive you crazy and some solicitors who post hourly about Erasmus parties, but the connections you will make will be invaluable. The same goes with blogs! I not only followed basically every existing TAPIF blog, I also looked out for new assistants like me. I was able to meet up with two people who also live in the DC area along with having a few email exchanges. One girl ended up being my roommate. So, I’m not kidding when I say that making these connections online is one of the easiest ways you can help yourself before, during and after leaving for France.
- Work over the summer to save up money. You won’t be paid until the end of October, so you will definitely need some savings to get started. This shouldn’t be news, as TAPIF is very frank about the assistant salary. However, my advice is to try as much as possible to get experience working with children, especially if you’re going to be a primary assistant and especially if you don’t have much experience already. If you can, work at a summer camp, as a babysitter, as a tutor. No book or blog post can prepare you to be left alone with 10 8-year-olds, it’s something you only get better at with practice. Add in the fact that these 8-year-olds will probably understand only about 5 words that you say in English, and you’ll be glad to already have some classroom management skills under your belt.
- Along the same lines, don’t forget that you’re going to France to teach. As wonderful as the fringe benefits are (tons of down time to travel, practice your French, meet your future lover, etc) in my opinion you will be happier in your life if you are happy at work. And one way to be happy at work is to spend some time preparing yourself. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a TEFL course or even do anything that out of the ordinary. But maybe spend 30 minutes thinking about what you’re likely to be teaching (greetings, the weather, numbers, days of the week, colors, clothes, body parts, American traditions and foods, etc) and some accompanying songs, books or activities.
- One of the most rewarding activities I was able to launch at my school was a pen pal correspondence between my CM2 class and my mom’s 5th grade class in DC. Seeing the kids excitement while reading their letters and the effort they put into writing them is really worth it. So this summer, reach out to anyone you know who is a teacher to see if they would be willing to start an exchange with your eventual classes: family, old high school teachers, TFA friends, facebook, anyone! It’s a really special activity that your students will appreciate and remember.
- Enjoy your last few months at college, if you’re about to graduate or your remaining time at your job, etc. Revel in the fact that your response to all those pesky questions about your post-graduation plans is now “I’m moving to France.” There’s really not much more gratifying than that!!! ❂