The best English translation of my French job title is “adjunct professor,” which seems much too fancy, considering my lack of advanced degree. Based on what I hear from other lecteurs and lectrices, the position varies somewhat from university to university but, in a coquille de noix, I’m a teaching member of the English department at a French university and also have a hand in some of the language programming and administration.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect before I took this job, so I thought I’d post my experience to help future lecteurs/lectrices figure out what they’re getting into (I previously posted about the process of applying for this type of job, here).
First off, I’ve been extremely lucky to happen upon my situation. I work at a very selective, international engineering university, so my students are worldly, intellectually curious, intelligent, and motivated. (This is not to say that this wouldn’t be the case at a less-competitive school or that my students are never a pain in the ass. It’s just that this is France, where education is relatively affordable, so even getting a masters degree is not much of a financial risk. Most universities are not that stringent in their admission requirements, and the application process feels like a bit of a joke when compared to the frenzy of its American counterpart. My university, however, is a one of the “Grandes Écoles,” France’s set of elite universities, which means that most students who attend truly want to be there and have worked their asses off to clear a higher bar). I have none of the bizarre disciplinary issues some of my lecteur/lectrice friends at other universities do, and I’m free to challenge and exchange ideas with my students in a way that makes my place in the classroom feel more collaborative than authoritarian. I’ve had very few HR-related problems (some of my friends at other universities have had issues with late payments and reimbursements), and aside from some Crazytown workplace drama that has very little to do with me, my coworkers are reasonable and friendly.
There’s a lot of freedom in the English curriculum, which makes the work more personally interesting but also very time-consuming. I have between 14 and 16 hours per week of face-time with students, but spend an additional 15-25 hours planning, creating, and prepping materials, plus a few hours in meetings, correcting papers, or doing the odd administrative task. I only get paid for the face-time, of course. The flexibility and variety inherent to the work, as well as the fact that a low salary goes a lot further in most French cities than it does in the United States, soothes my bitterness over this.
But what exactly do I do during this student face-time? Here’s what the time I spend with students looks like this semester:
Monday: I have four individual “tutorat” sessions in a row with students who have some kind of special learning need and are entitled to one-on-one English classes. What I do with these students largely depends on their interests and immediate language issues. The first student plans to intern in an Anglophone country at the end of the school year and has a special interest in management and organizational psychology, so we work on business English and discuss and analyze content related to topics like leadership strategy and workplace communication. The second student wants to practice grammar concepts featured in the TOEIC, the standardized test every student at the university must pass with a set minimum score to graduate. The third needs to work on filling some holes in his basic vocabulary and grammar; he responds well to games and visual tasks. The fourth currently wants to work on his listening comprehension with more difficult Anglophone content, so right now we’re chipping away at Season 2 of the Serial podcast together.
Tuesday: I teach a film analysis class to advanced (practically fluent) students. I also meet individual students to correct and critique cover letters and resumes, give mock interviews, or practice speaking tasks for a TOEFL test.
Wednesday: I have one session with a small group of students who need guided English reinforcement in addition to their regular coursework. I usually assign them a listening task to do independently and discuss with the group afterward, or we do pronunciation drills. My second class consists of student athletes whose schedules do not allow them to attend regular English classes. This particular group wants as much practice speaking as possible. This week we worked on persuasion techniques and social psychology as applied to situations in which there is a rigid hierarchy or protocol.
Thursday: Again, I have professional development coaching sessions with individual students. With the other English lectrice, I run a TOEIC test workshop, which consists of giving drop-in students practice exercises, tips, and explanations of trickier concepts. At the end of the day we host a drop-in conversation group with a different theme every week. The group is always very international, with students from countries like China, Tunisia, Moldova, Morocco, and Venezuela (and of course, France) making an appearance.
Aside from lesson planning, prep, and various administrative tasks (updating documents, printing sign-up sheets, making posters and flyers, etc.) and the occasional participation in professional fairs, I also supervise students who have chosen to complete a PPH (Project Personnel en Humanités), a personal project on a subject of their choosing that comes from a discipline outside of engineering. This involves advising students on research, writing, citing sources, and presentation techniques before evaluating their final product.
This job has been challenging, intellectually stimulating, and rewarding. I’ve been able to employ my training and professional experience in media and psychology more fully than in many of my other jobs, and I’ve enjoyed the amount of independence I have. There has been plenty of opportunity for fascinating and hilarious cultural exchange, and I’m certainly not about to complain about the school breaks or Fridays working from home/a café. There are some draw-backs, as in every job– the aforementioned crap salary, the totally bonkers French grading system, and some confusion about where I fit in the university community– but overall, I’m glad I took this on. I will honestly miss the work (and my delightful students) when my contract is up.
Plus, it’s kind of sad that I will never again be paid to order fellow sane adults to find a way to convince me, using perfect English, that this tattoo is a good idea, one in-class activity I’m particularly pleased with.