Is TAPIF a “real job” ?

For the past few years, April has been a grab bag of various bittersweet emotions…

In 2014, I was about a month away from graduation, in the midst of several intense theatre projects, and then was accepted to my first year of teaching English in France!
Bitter: leaving school, my friends, my family, my country. Sweet: Uhhh…France?!

In 2015, I was on the last legs of that first contract, pretty sure I wanted to stay in France, but desperately waiting for news of a contract renewal.
Bitter: saying goodbye to Chambéry, unsure about returning. Sweet: staying hopeful…

In 2016, after a year of hustling 3 part-time jobs at home, April saw yet another acceptance to TAPIF!!
Bitter: again leaving behind friends, and a taste of the “real world” Sweet: do I really need to say it?

Which brings us to 2017. After 7 amazing months working in three schools with great, supportive colleagues and funny, sweet students, I am once again preparing to say goodbye. But this time, only for a few months. Against all assumed odds, my request to renew my contract and remain for another 7 month period in the same schools has been officially accepted! I’m relieved to be returning to a job I have grown to love in a city I am still constantly surprised by and with friends I won’t live halfway around the world from!

The very first question I asked almost immediately after getting the news of renewal was: Is it embarrassing to be a language assistant three times?!

I wonder, because this job can sometimes be so laughably easy in comparison to a full teaching position that is doesn’t always feel like a “real” job. I have 12 hours of classes per week, for a 7 month contract, 8 weeks of which is paid school vacation. I am not responsible for evaluating or grading students, don’t have to deal with parents or report cards or any of the millions of other little tyrannies full-time teachers are tasked with. In some of my classes, I don’t even have to prepare anything… I literally just show up and speak English with my perfect American accent.

That being said, I worked very hard this year to be more independent – to propose activities I wanted to do and to be an active member of the schools as much as possible, rather than passively waiting for my colleagues to tell me what to do.

While I always describe myself (I think accurately) as an English teacher, my work contract and credentials still identify me only as a language assistant, a post which requires next-to-no qualifications or previous experience beyond being a native speaker, So while I definitely think I excel in my role and have used it as a learning opportunity, I’m still seen as “not a real teacher” by diploma and certification-obsessed France (And the straightforward French have had no problem telling me this either…).

So when I ask if it’s embarrassing to be an assistant three times, I think I’m really asking whether I’m wasting my time on yet another contract with very limited room for growth and advancement (in terms of career prospects) instead of seeking something with a bit more stability and potential. Whether it’s nothing but a means of putting off for yet another year “the real world”.

But then I remember that it also means another year in France, and for the first time –EVER– continuity. In my adult life, never have I ever worked in the same place for more than one school year. Never have I ever lived at the same address for more than a year. Never have I ever had the opportunity to expand on a base of work I’ve already begun with the same network of co-workers who helped me begin it.

So this April, I prepare to say goodbye to friends, colleagues and students but only for four short months. Before I know it, I’ll be back in Marseille — the perfect amount of time to enjoy home, work a little and refresh, more ready than ever to turn my “Fake” job into my own “Real” world!
Bitter?? Maybe a little, but from where I stand today, I think I’ve got a pretty Sweet deal! ❂

15 thoughts on “Is TAPIF a “real job” ?

  1. I’ve only had the same job in the same place for more than a year once – when I was a lectrice – and it was such a relief to stay in the same place for once. I think that being an assistant can be tough because depending on the school, there really can be a lot of work involved (I spent so much time trying to plan interesting lessons for a range of levels) but you don’t have the authority of a teacher, and you have to deal with people dismissing you as “l’assistante.” So props to you for your hard work and for following what you want to do. I hope your next year in Marseille is wonderful!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Couldn’t have said it any better: like you, I was accepting to be an assistant for a third year (consecutively, too), and hearing from others who’ve done a third year and had mixed feelings about it, I’ve also asked myself the same questions on whether I’m wasting time or not? If anything, I consider a third year in France as an opportunity to continue enjoying myself, traveling and making friends while also taking teaching more seriously, since I plan to work in this field for a while. Wishing you the best in France next year- perhaps we can meet up!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. TAPIF may not be a “real” job… like you said, you only work 12 hours a week, you don’t necessarily have to prepare anything for your lessons other than your American accent, and you don’t have to grade papers or deal with parents, but I think that living in another country is such an invaluable experience that I totally understand why you’re doing your third year. I’ve been back from my TAPIF year for nearly a year now and I still think about it daily. I make sure it’s highlighted on my resume when I do apply for those so-called “real” jobs because it makes me stand out as a candidate. During job interviews, I talk about it so much because there is just so much that I can pull from it. So my response to people who say that it’s not a “real” job is that sure, it’s not full-time, it’s temporary, and it can be extremely stressful, but honing my language skills, being able to travel and see things that I’d otherwise never see in my life, and developing both personal and professional relationships with people who come from another country and speak a different native language than me… those things all shaped me into who I am today (as corny as that may sound, it’s true), and I’ve become a lot more confident, both personally and professionally, as a result.

    I’m also really looking forward to more posts from you in the upcoming year! Even though I’ve been back for nearly a year now and don’t quite have the *wanderlust heart eyes* that I once had, I still enjoy reading TAPIF blogs, and I’m anxious to see what else Marseille has in store for you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Erin, I couldn’t agree more! In the U.S. having lived and worked abroad is a HUGE advantage both professionally and personally. In France, being an assistant can make you feel a little stuck, since you are often doing the work of a teacher, but without the authority…. but every experience is as much as you make of it, so I’m going to take it and run with it as far as I can 🙂 Plus, the fact that I can reasonably subsist on a 12 hr/week job continues to astound me, when I consider that I could barely survive on my three part-time jobs back home…


    1. I didn’t either, to be honest! I applied with a “why not” attitude and it turned out they accepted me! Seems like there’s a general shift to wanting to retain assistants for multiple years now…? At the very least, it’s exciting to watch how the program has changed even in just a few years.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post. I really enjoy your blog, it’s been awhile since I visited it, so I’m happy to see you’re still in France. I lived in France two years as an au pair and the second year I definitely had to battle with feeling like I was wasting my time, but ultimately I’m glad I stayed. My French got even better, I developed closer personal relationships and I started to understand the little idiosyncrasies that define France.

    I’m coming back to France to do TAPIF for 2017-2018 and am so excited. I look forward to your posts. Good luck!

    I had no idea it was possible to renew a third time (I thought the limit was two years). Is there a maximum?


    1. The official word is that the maximum is 2 years… but I guess that’s more of a guideline than a hard rule 🙂 How fun that you’re coming back to France!! I look forward to reading your take on your tapif experience !



    You have your whole life ahead of you!

    There’s no rush!

    However, as long as you are staying . . . you might want to collect a bit of data so at the end of this year you can say you “know that students gained in English skills as evidenced by . . . ”

    Just had this convo this morning. I wish I knew what I want to be when I grow up. And now that I’m nearing retirement it’s time to make serious plans for the future!


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