Coffee is a fact of life here in France, but each Tuesday and Thursday, I make sure to get my espresso extra strong. Why? These are the days I head to my student teaching internship at a local middle school here in Nantes, and those kids have a lot of energy.
Personally, teaching has been something I’ve only briefly considered in my life. I’ve been a tutor before, but never had the opportunity to try out an education course or teach in a classroom. This internship has been the perfect opportunity to see what it’s like working in education. The student teaching class itself is offered through my study abroad program, IES, and pairs students up with English teachers in local schools looking for native English assistants. The class at the IES center is 3 hours a week, but each of us teach in our respective schools for 4 hours a week.
My very first day, I was nervous. As I mentioned, it was my very first time as an assistant teacher (there are no prerequisites in education experience for the class) and I had a lot of questions about what to expect and expectations for myself. Miraculously though, I found I wasn’t alone. In the staff room that day I ran into my French native assistant from back at Hope College who I hadn’t seen in over two years. After a few minutes of astonishment and shaky hugs, I learned she had been working at the same school I was about to start my internship! It was such a serendipitous moment to see her, and it reassured me that I could take on this new role with confidence.
There are days that are difficult. Transmitting information is truly only a secondary task in teaching. Classroom management, on the other hand, is key. There are times when entire rooms of kids aren’t in the mood to listen. They’d rather talk to their friends or tap their neighbor with a ruler than do an exercise you prepared. In these cases, it’s important to keep engagement, which is a difficult task when students each have their own interest and levels of understanding. I think one of the hardest elements has been trying to find the best way to earn the respect of the students. At the beginning, I constantly wondered if I was too friendly, too strict, or even interesting to them. Now, I feel I’ve found my balance. Being prepared is also an asset, since it is easier to nudge students back into focus when there is a concrete lesson to be focusing on. In the end though, I always have to remember that they aren’t robots. No one can sit perfectly still and silent for upwards of 7 hours a day, and it is better to play off of their moods and adjust the lesson to their needs than try to fight the energy.
Then again, there are good days and breakthrough moments. One boy stayed after class one day to give me a piece of his chocolate bar. Another day, some girls came up to me and asked my opinions on Marvel vs DC. I’ve gotten many smiles when I walk in the classroom, or even through the courtyard during recess. This past Tuesday I was able to give a lesson all by myself on American cinema, which was a hit. Many students have told me I looked like a famous French YouTuber. I don’t see the resemblance, but they get a kick out of it.
Above all, this experience has given me a much deeper appreciation for the many obstacles and rewards that teaching offers. Teaching has been one of the most surprising experiences I’ve had abroad, and I can only hope I’ve had a positive impact on my students the same way that they have positively impacted me.