I can’t believe it, only a few more days and my TAPIF contract is over!
Now that the program is nearly over, I’ve been reflecting on my experience as an English Teaching Assistant in France.
While I know many TAPIF participants have mixed reviews about the program, I can say with certainty that I really enjoyed my experience.
Looking around and talking to other assistants, I do feel like I have had a more positive experience than most, and a lot of that had to do with luck.
Teaching assistants can be placed in up to three schools, whereas I was only placed in one. And I was placed in an excellent high school, one of the best in Bordeaux. The facilities were great (teacher’s staff room, computer and printing access, coffee machines, etc.), the teachers were extremely supportive and appreciative of my help, and the students were very respectful.
I believe a lot of the TAPIF experience depends on your school placement and the teachers you work with, and I got extremely lucky in both departments. However, I also think a participant’s attitude, goals, and what they’re aiming to get out of TAPIF have a lot of impact on their overall experience.
Many people who participate in TAPIF are looking for a way to be in France, and TAPIF is a great way to do that. You get visa support, a monthly salary, and as far as social aspects go, it’s very easy to meet other assistants.
With that being said, I can see how people who are not interested in teaching will have difficulty with TAPIF. After all, you are providing some form of teaching in one way or another and if you don’t find that to be a valuable use of your time, it can seem like a waste.
If your placement or schedule ends up being tiring, then whether or not you’re a huge Francophile, you may find yourself wondering if TAPIF is a valuable use of your time.
I will admit, even as privileged as I got with my school, there were days where I felt exhausted. While the TAPIF salary is decent if you break it down to an hourly basis, you work very few hours overall and as an assistant you have no say over your schedule. So, even if I was only working for two hours one day, I may have a class that started at 8 am and another one that started at 2pm. It was very rare that my classes were back to back. This led to me feeling as if I had worked more than I did, because I would have to hang around the school most of the day with my schedule.
Many prospective assistants see the program’s brochure and read that they will only be working 12 hours a week. This means many assistants (including myself) don’t initially realize their schedule could be all over the place, so they end up thinking they will have a lot of free time, when this is not always the case.
However, I think that the biggest difference between my outlook versus other assistants’ outlooks is that while I have flip flopped between career choices over the past few years, teaching has always been something I’ve considered and something I’ve enjoyed.
While other assistants found TAPIF to be a waste because it wasn’t helping them with career advancement or the salary was frustrating (it ends up being around 780 euros a month, meaning that most assistants have to pick up another job such as babysitting or tutoring) I knew this would help me on my CV if I wanted to go into teaching, especially in France.
So even when I had some tiring days or a very unmotivated student, there was still the reminder that this was a valuable experience for me, someone considering a career in teaching, especially teaching English as a foreign language.
If you have no interest in teaching whatsoever, then I would definitely not recommend TAPIF! I think it is a great way to be in France, but if you’re just doing it to be in France, you’re bound to get burnt out.
I definitely enjoyed my TAPIF experience more towards the beginning of my contract, as I was working with students on actual lessons versus these past few months, where all I have been doing is preparing students for the bac.
Last semester, I would come home to JP with stories every single day about “my” students. I was able to recognize faces more as I was consistently going to the same classes and I felt very excited about the prospect of teaching.
I was also constantly working with teachers in the classroom, which I really enjoyed as I was able to observe each teacher’s different teaching method and get to know them better. Like I said, I got very lucky in this department. The teachers I worked with expressed genuine concern and appreciation for me. Almost all of them took me out to lunch or coffee when I first began, and when they talked to me they weren’t just asking about how the students were doing, they asked about how I was and always remembered what was going on in my life. Moving to a new country and being surrounded by this type of supportive staff environment made the transition so, so easy.
I will admit though, I did lose that a little bit of that initial excitement I felt when it came to my lycée this semester because my only task was listening to students’ presentations. I didn’t really interact with teachers as much (they still made an effort, but it was harder to find time to see them as my role really just involved listening to students’ presentations).
Nonetheless, I found it fascinating to be able to work in a French high school, observe different teaching methods and interact with French high school students. It’s actually made me lean more towards teaching, and I will be getting my TEFL Certification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) in a couple of months! (My class starts this week!)
With all of that being said, I’m not sure if I would participate in TAPIF for an additional year. Like I said, I think it was a great experience and it’s something I will never regret. But, being an assistant you don’t hold a huge amount of power in the school. You are there to assist, you’re not a teacher, your position is temporary.
Being an assistant once was enough for me, I’ve discovered I would rather have a more permanent role in a school. I want to be able to recognize my students, know their names and feel like I’m there to stay.
But, I do think TAPIF was a great stepping stone. I was able to get a feel of a French school and navigate my way through a lycée. It gave me a good enough exposure to working in a French school while not feeling overwhelmed.
So, for me, TAPIF was worth it. I experienced a new culture, a new education system and met some amazing students, teachers, and fellow assistants (now good friends) along the way. I hope any of you prospective TAPIF-ers will have as great of an experience as I did!
P.S. Be sure to revisit the blog in a couple of days because I have some exciting news 😉