To Teach, or Not To Teach…

Hello, there!

Inspired by “It’s A Britta Bottle’s” post here, I have decided to write about my own experiences in teaching, albeit from a different location and a different perspective. While we are both recent graduates who had majored in English and are doing teaching abroad as our post-grad career, her work in Thailand and mine in France are as different as can be. I do encourage you to check out Britta’s blog, as it is filled with great posts not only of her adventures overseas, but also creative writing (in flash fiction and poetry, particularly her “Hump-Day Haikus”) and occasional musings from a twenty-something-year-old.

…so Britta, this post is for you. 🙂

First off, I am going to be completely honest and tell you that I do not want to be a teacher. I have no desire to teach children or to be involved in the school system. At least, not in the long run. Before having this job in France, I had some experience doing tutoring and small-group teaching gigs while in college, both for middle school and high school students. Never was a huge fan of it, as I would find myself becoming impatient and easily frustrated at the student’s inability to understand the material or, even worse, not care about understanding the material. Admittedly, one-on-one tutoring was all right, but anything involving more than eight students was not my cup of tea.

So you might ask: why am I teaching in the first place?

Part of the reason is due to me being completely selfish: when I applied for the job, the teaching aspect was not my priority- what was important to me was that I would be in France, in Europe, with access to many rich cultures and opportunities to travel (seriously, I’m a travel junkie). Educating students was all but secondary to me. And I believe that the program itself was designed that way, too- to have teaching assistants like me work minimal hours (twelve max per week), but have the opportunity to travel every six weeks. Basically, teaching wasn’t the big factor for me.

Another reason was that I, as a recent graduate, needed a job. While teaching has not been my top choice in terms of profession with an English degree, the program was nevertheless a job, especially being temporary, for me while I figured out what I wanted to do in life.

I know what you’re probably thinking- I’m an asshole. That I am a cantankerous person who hates children and is putting her interests before others, in terms of benefiting from her temporary residence in Europe.

Now, I will not lie and say that none of those things are true. In fact, most are. But so far in my two-plus month stay in France, I have to admit that I’m beginning to open up to the teaching career.

Let me put things into perspective: in my small town in Normandy, I teach at two schools- a middle school and a high school. Twelve hours a week each, on alternating weeks (i.e. one week at the middle school, the other at the high school). Most of the staff at both schools have been nothing but welcoming to me upon arrival (with the exception of a few, who want nothing to do with me, but whatever), and many of the students are polite and well-behaved. My lessons so far have gone decently well, with the classes having learned at least one new thing about American culture; I can say that my recent Thanksgiving lecture/game was fun for most of my students, at both the middle school and high school.

However, there are also many moments that have frustrated me about teaching. One reason is the students themselves: now, at the middle school (or collège) level, they are pretty good-natured and everything, energetic and eager to learn. Not to forget adorable, especially les sixièmes and les cinqièmes (equivalents of sixth and seventh graders in the United States): they are around eleven to thirteen years old, and haven’t hit those terrible teenage years yet. But still, they are very energetic and noisy…after one hour of class, I already feel drained from teaching. Only twenty-two years old, and I already can’t keep up with the youngsters!

I also work with a few quatrièmes (equivalent of eighth graders) and they are getting to be pretty…defiant. Just this past week, I already snapped at a few of them, because they were talking and being disrespectful in class. Not that they’re all bad, but those selected few sour my mood for the rest of the period. I should be fortunate that I do not work with les troisièmes (equivalent of ninth graders), because I have heard that they are a nightmare. Jesus…

As for the high school (or lycée) that I also teach at, the experience is another story. Again, a good amount of the students are well-behaved, but the atmosphere is very different from that at the middle school. While some are attentive and do care about learning, a large majority of them do not. At all. It is a shame, because they already seem complacent in the fact that, after graduation, they’ll head off to work (I teach at a vocational school), most likely work in France (probably within the Normandy region, too), and never need to use their English to communicate with others. They have no ambition to travel, to go outside of France, let alone their region, to discover new things. Really, it’s depressing. Then again, a French friend of mine told me that northerners have the stereotypical mindset of being “stubborn,” or “set in their ways.” I find his words very true, from what I have seen so far from the high schoolers’ faces.

Teaching them, then, has been like pull teeth, aka frustrating. For the whole thirty minutes (or hour, depending on the class) that I’m teaching, I try to coax something out from their mouths- a sentence, maybe even a word, in English. Doesn’t help that one of my classes (les premières, or the equivalent of tenth-eleventh grade) not only don’t speak English, but are super disrespectful to me. Really, I can’t take their shit; I understand French, and so I know when they’re talking smack about me behind my back. They are the reason why I don’t care for children, let alone teenagers. I will definitely have to do something about their behavior the next time I see them. Because I can’t keep going on like this for six more months.

Yes, I am ranting now, but really, this comes from weeks of bottled-up emotions in terms of teaching. I do admit, though, that some of my lessons have worked well and have resulted in both me and my students having fun. And I know that I shouldn’t let the not-so-good lessons get to me, considering that I am here to help the students learn, through the good and the bad.

Again, I do not see myself being a teacher in the long-run; but until the end of this program, I will continue to try and care, and hopefully the students will start caring, too. Because one cannot respect the other if neither side cares about the situation at hand. Granted, it will be a long and difficult battle, but hopefully a battle won at the year’s end, if you can forgive the cliché.

Well, wish me luck. Thank you all who have read this far; definitely one of my messier posts, but hopefully an enlightening one! Quite cleansing for me, too. 🙂

Take care, and stay strong!

— The Finicky Cynic

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10 thoughts on “To Teach, or Not To Teach…

  1. I like the honesty. I’m a 4th grade teacher in the California, USA school system and we all have days like those. I suppose I stay in it for selfish reasons. I enjoy when a kid gets it and grow but I like working 184 days a year for a salary that allows me little vacations here and there. I think if you stay at teaching long enough you either resolve to quit or you find intrinsic rewards in the kids. After all, we’re with them all day on the job.

    1. Thank you for sharing. Very true; the teacher’s life isn’t simple (but then again, no job is), and i do agree that there are two roads that can be taken, either to quit or stay. Depends on one’s mentality when it comes to teaching. Good thoughts.

      Are you originally not from California?

  2. Im reading this, and i cant believe how much i can relate to your post. i differ in the fact that ive actually spent my whole life wanting to be a teacher, and now that ive spent 3 months teaching english in europe i was left with the same question, “to teach or not to teach?” i suddenly have no idea why i went into this major!

      1. No regrets. ive finished here, and im going home in a little over a week. now im just not sure what i should change my major to. lol i think ill major in english and see where it takes me

  3. Good of you to show such honesty on your career path. My male mode side has worked with teachers through volunteer opportunities the past couple of years, and I’ve grown to appreciate the work and efforts they put in on a daily basis. Not only must they deal with the pupils they’re in charge of everyday but also with the school bureaucracy and the influences of parents and other outside forces (it’s those forces that have made education a touchy subject of late, especially here in Wisconsin). Still, it’s clear they also do it for the enjoyment of seeing light bulbs turning on in the minds of their students when they learn something new. Teaching may not be a career for everyone, but even a non-teacher like me knows it can be a fulfilling career if one is truly devoted to it.

  4. It’s interesting to read about your experience teaching abroad in another part of the world.

    Teaching definitely isn’t easy. It’s probably one of the hardest jobs I will ever do. For me, it is completely worth it because of the joy I bring my students (and the joy they bring me) and those small moments when I know I’m getting somewhere.

    1. Definitely agree, Britta. I do try to find those moments where I enact change upon the students’ knowledge of English, however small and rare they are. Perhaps over time, I will start to see more progress, as it’s still early in the teaching year. One can hope!

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