January 12, 2012
Emma Verrill, who is currently teaching English in France, shares her guest viewpoint in this second post of a three-part series on the MIUSA Blog. Click here if you missed her first post, “A la troisieme, c’est la bonne!”
I consider myself lucky to be teaching high school in France. My students are attentive, respectful, and determined to learn new things from “the American,” and I rarely have issues with behavior. My biggest challenge is “the gap”: where my level of French stops and their level of English begins. This language gap accounts for miscommunication and inability to be firm with the students at times. When I mispronounce or mix up words, how can I blame them for the snickers and giggles that are sure to keep them paying attention? This is not constant nor does it inhibit my teaching ability, but it creates a mutual vulnerability that results in a greater respect between me and my students.
This is a learning experience for everyone. I am not a certified teacher and the only instruction I have received is from trial and error. Talking at them doesn’t work and giving long-winded explanations doesn’t work either – making activities as interactive as possible is the key.
One of my favorite hands-on classes from the first semester of my teaching assistantship, focused on “Intouchables,” a film which has become a sensation in France. It is based on the true story of a paralyzed widow who hires a driver/caretaker from the outskirts of Paris. The film, inspired by a true story, follows their relationship and what they learn from one another.
My 15-year-old students saw the film as a part of their civics class and their head teacher arranged for a follow up English project where myself and another disabled person who is a peer, met with small groups to provide the opportunity to ask us questions. I loved being able to use my experiences to help the students understand the limitations a person with a disability encounters as well as encouraging them to think thoroughly about the opportunities that a disability creates, such as this hands-on lesson that may have not happened or been as rich otherwise.
The students were respectful, engaged, and intent on gathering as much information as they could. In a way, the mutual vulnerability from the language gaps helped us be more open to filling in the cultural gaps. The biggest challenge also creates the greatest rewards.