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! ❂