Julia Hamilton

On TAPIF

Julia Hamilton
On TAPIF

Kids are really something, y’all, especially when they do their misbehaving in a foreign language. I’m starting to get a foothold in my classrooms, though, so for anyone out there who’s thinking about doing TAPIF or just wants to hear about what I do, here’s a little something about how the teaching assistant life is treating me.

For some background, TAPIF, or Teaching Assistant Program in France, is an extension of the French Embassy and has this whole application process in which we jump through the usual hoops, including an essay, a language evaluation, recommendations, a resumé, etc, all in French, plus an area for us to mark our location and class level preferences. I chose elementary over middle/high school and marked Académie of Montpellier first, Académie of Nantes second. Then we wait to see if we’re accepted, and a while after that we find out the actual location. In my case, TAPIF placed me in the Académie of Nantes, specifically in three elementary schools in Saint Nazaire, a small city outside of Nantes that’s included within the larger Académie. When I meet new people here and tell them what I’m doing, I get a lot of furrowed brows and questions like  ...so why Saint Nazaire? which I understand, as it’s definitely not a bustling metropolis. Turns out it’s just where I landed. Thankfully, the small town experience hasn’t gotten old yet, and the cheaper cost of living here makes our monthly salaries of 780 euros livable, which would obviously not be the case in the exquisite, expensive City of Lights.

On the plus side, I only work 12 hours a week, one day for each of my three schools, four hours per day. Each school decides on its own how the teachers will use me over those few hours, but I generally rotate between classes in 45 to 60 minute chunks doing my best to be the cool American who makes learning fun. I would say I’m about halfway successful. My biggest hangup in this regard is honestly just my inexperience and laziness when it comes to planning lessons, but it’s also taking me some time to acclimate to the wide range of student proficiency and teacher involvement. For example, I have a couple colleagues who run their regular English lessons and just have me help out with games and pronunciation, plus some others who send me away to work with small groups of four or five, and then there’s the majority who just give me a vague topic idea and a full classroom. In total I hop between about twelve different classes, the equivalent of 1st to 5th grade, and it can be a little dicey working out and remembering the language level of each group. I’ve had to just make a list of each teacher, class, and their respective English skills for myself, since two separate classes of the same age could be on totally different levels depending on the teachers they’ve had, even from within the same school.

Fine-tuning these differences has me going to each school feeling something like a stand-up comedian, armed to the teeth with four or five different bits to swap out depending on how my wiggly little audience responds. For instance, last week I started off one class with a song that I immediately realized was way too easy for the students, as their immobile expressions screamed are you kidding us the moment the dinky little xylophone plunked out a tune. As I had intended to use that activity for a solid ten minutes or so, scrapping it meant that I had to stretch out the vocabulary flash card game that followed and just tread water until the end of the class. Then I walked down the hall to a room of students in roughly the same grade, and the song sufficed to fill out and enrich our entire session. They even ran around singing it during recess. It’s getting better as I acclimate, but so far I’ve largely been pulling American flags from my sleeves and rabbits from hats to try to keep these kids informed and entertained and quiet, please, quiet.

Honestly, though, even when they’re acting up, they’re still pretty cute, and since I’m only with each class for an hour max, I haven’t gotten tired of them yet. I know I should scold if I hear them mutter a bad word under their breath or insult a neighbor, but their smushy lil French makes that a real tough job. At one point a teacher made one of her CP/1st grade students walk up to me and apologize for having told his friend mais elle, elle s’appelle caca! when we were learning to ask, “what is your name?” So I had to hold tight to the sternest expression I could muster just to hide how absolutely hilarious I found it all. A handful of them are some little punks, though, so I’m sure the pits of frustration will come eventually. I’ll just hang on to the joy as long as possible.

Meanwhile, I’m honing my nonexistent disciplinarian skills and enjoying the teachers’ chatter during our 90 minute lunch breaks. As for all the extra time outside of the 12 hours I spend at my schools, been taking plenty of long walks along the beach, reading, writing, and working on the whole interning in a bakery thing. There'll be updates on that as soon as there’s anything to say about it. I’m glad y’all are checking in, and for anyone who’s thinking about doing TAPIF, hit me up. Happy to feel like an authority about anything at all as life insists on shoving my own ignorance in my face.

Thanks y’all,