Doing a teaching assistantship in a foreign country is one of the best things you can do whilst you are a student. It is a much better experience than studying in a French University as you get a lot deeper into the culture, and you are tested in a bigger variety of situations. Keep in mind though, that there is ALWAYS A WAY OF DOING SOMETHING.
There are some general pieces of advice I can give you, based on my experience of working in a lycee in provincial France 8 years ago:
SPEAK ONLY ENGLISH - If there is a golden rule, then this is probably it. Getting them to use English is your job there, and this way 'forces' your students to speak in the target language, when they would probably revert back to French and not make the effort otherwise. Any English you do use, is also of help to them, be it direct or indirect.
GET TO KNOW YOUR PUPILS - I always think you earn respect through competence, but actually getting to know your pupils, and sometimes dovetailing lessons to suit their interests will stimulate a lot of enthusiasm from them. They will also respect you more for showing you care about them.
ALWAYS HAVE A LESSON PLAN - Nothing is worse than having a disorganised lesson which veers all over the place. You will be much more effective if your lessons have clear aims, and make clear and defined progress. Always have a PLAN B as well, and don't be afraid to diverge from your plan at times, if the occasion suits.
KEEP LESSONS SELF-CONTAINED - Don't use follow ups. You might not see the group again for a long time. They might not remember that another lesson is a follow up to one they have had before.
FRATERNISING - You can be open and friendly with your pupils, but remember that there a certain boundaries you musn't transgress. I know of assistants who have had love affairs with their students. No no. You are a teacher first and foremost, and by keeping a bit of distance, you preserve your authority.
START STRICT - Some pupils think that an inexperienced assistant is there to be taken for a ride. If you start off strict, and then gradually ease off during the year, you show them who is boss straight away, and also set out clear discipline boundaries which they must adhere to.
SPEAK CLEARLY - Seems logical, but there have been lots of native speakers who use their own accents and word illisions, and pupils have found this hard to understand.
BE ENTHUSIASTIC - Pupils respond really well to somebody who is bright and energetic. Think how a dull and lifeless teacher might have sent you to sleep. Aim to be charismatic and you will get a similar response from your students.
AUTHENTIC MATERIALS - Use a wide range of authentic materials. Newspapers, magazines, radio programmes, music, TV shows, games etc. Anything which is going to make your lessons more memorable. Just remember to dovetail them with the English abilities of the group you are teaching.
FREE TIME - You will probably only be teaching about 15 hours a week, so you get good chunks of free time to yourself. Fill it was interesting stuff and make the most of your time abroad. that also means you get plenty of time to complete academic assignments from your home University. When I did my assistantship, I had to write an 8'000 word pedagogic report, and an 8'000 word dissertation on a subject of my choice. This was much better than slogging my guts out at a French University.
OFFICIALDOM - Try and get all 'bureaucratic' things sorted out as soon as possible (ie, ID card, bank account). Go along to the 'mairie' straight away, with all possible forms etc they could ask for and take a passport and plenty of passport photos. This way gets things sorted out quickly and easily. French bureaucracy isn't all that bad if you are well-organised.
HOUSING - Try and get this sorted out before you depart. Your predecessor should send you a questionnaire with helpful information on it, which includes housing. Organisations such as CREUS or HESTIA can help a lot. You can also stay at the 'Internat' at your lycee (free of charge) until you find somewhere of your own.
HOST FAMILIES - These are a great way of getting to know local people and speaking the language. They are plenty of them in French towns and cities, and they are usually very good VFM. Worth seeking out.
FRIENDS - Try not to hang around with too many English speakers (even though it is tempting). Get some French friends maybe through private teaching, local clubs and societies, church activities etc. They will help your language abilities. Again, your predecessor's questionnaire can help with this.
LANGUAGE ABILITIES - You are going to be surrounded by French in all its forms (heard, spoken, read, written) so your language abilities are going to improve a great deal. You will learn so many useful phrases, and you will learn how to cope in numerous everyday situations. What I did was to try and learn a few new words and expressions each day, and then use them whenever I could. This helped a great deal.
BE PROFESSIONAL - You are there to do a job (whereas my predecessor thought she was there to lark around and have a holiday). You are there to teach a particular school's generation of pupils, so try and help them and illuminate their lives as much as you can.
LOCAL PEOPLE - Some people say that 'the French' are rude and ignorant, but I never found this to be the case. I found them to be friendly, generous, invitational and really good-humoured. In some areas though, particularly smaller towns, they are not used to foreigners, and so may not immediately know how to approach one. If you make an effort to come across as open and friendly though, they will soon take to you.
BE POSITIVE - Don't read much into other peoples' horror stories. Everyone's experiences are subjective, and your's will be unique to you. France is a fine country with plenty to offer, and if you go there with a positive outlook, and an open mind, you will have a brilliant and rewarding time.
Good luck x x
Answered By: The Global Geezer - 5/1/2007