December 15, 2018

What it's Like to be an English Lectrice / Lecteur in France


A lecteur/lectrice (male/female) is a university teaching assistant in France. The direct translation of the word is actually "reader," so if you want to refer generally to teaching assistants, you'd use assistant(e). 

As you might know, I've been traipsing around France for the last four months. Before I graduated with my Bachelor's in May, I decided to spend the 2018-2019 academic year as a lectrice at l’Université de Bourgogne in Dijon. 

Since it's the end of first semester, I wanted to detail my experience--both as a way to reflect, and as a guide for those hoping to teach in France.

How I Got a Lectrice d'Anglais Job:

Since my alma mater (Amherst College) has a partnership with l’Université de Bourgogne, I bypassed the formal application process that unaffiliated candidates have to undergo. Each year, Amherst sends a graduating senior to Dijon to be an English TA, and l’Université de Bourgogne sends a master's candidate to Amherst to be a French TA. 

When your home university has a partnership with a French one, your university controls selection, so the application process can vary quite a bit. Personally, I had to create a sample syllabus for a course on American Culture and Civilization. This syllabus is a lot more involved than the kind of classes you'd be teaching, and the level is much too high for undergraduate students, but my home university was looking for evidence that we could teach a creative and thought-provoking class. Also, though all the classes English TAs teach are conducted in English, my application needed to be in French (our language skills are taken into consideration). 

I named my course Marginalized Americans: The Quest for Equality and Belonging Since WWII, and divided the semester into three sections: The Quest for Equality, Hysteria Against "The Other," and How to be "American"?. I included works such as the Hidden Figures film, Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese-American Internment Experience, and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Each work had a paragraph description, and my sample syllabus overall was 4 pages single-spaced, including a one-page introduction. Your French department might keep "winning" applications, so be sure to ask for examples.

Once selected, I then had to send in my French CV to l’Université de Bourgogne, and that was it! 

If you're applying as an unaffiliated candidate, you'll likely have to send in a resumé and cover letter, either directly to the university, or to a recruiter. It also pays to know people working in the university--one of the lectrices this semester was unaffiliated, but got the job because a former lecteur recommended her. 

One thing to note is that qualifications for affiliated candidates are often looser--you don't need a graduate degree, or even experience in teaching. There are 6 English lectrices this year, and 4 of us only have a bachelor's and one of us hadn't even taught before. 

A Typical Week of a Lecteur d'Anglais: 


This is my actual first semester schedule. As you can see, I usually only taught half days, and I had one day off. My total number of teaching hours amounted to 14/week. It sounds awesome, but you might also notice that I start at 8am Monday through Wednesday. Next semester, I have a similar schedule, but I have much longer Fridays, get two days off, and teach only 11 hours/week (I couldn't escape a single 8am though haha).

Most lecteurs/lectrices are contracted to work 200 hours across the entire year (teaching only, not including lesson planning). Some classes are counted 1 hour of class = 1 hour of teaching, and others are 1.5 hours of class = 1 hour of teaching. I don't really understand the pattern, but you can safely assume that you won't be required to spend more than 300 actual hours in front of the classroom a year. Since I taught over 100 hours the first semester, I was given a lighter second semester. 

If you want to take on extra classes, you totally can, and you'll be well-compensated for it (I think the pre-tax rate is 30-40 euros/hour). But, you'll only get the cumulative extra pay at the end of your contract, in August.

You might also notice that I have a class highlighted in purple--halfway through the semester, the university decided to create a new first-year group since some teachers had 40+ students in their classes (students in the same group attend the same classes together). You should be prepared for random changes to occur (often for the worse). No one was super happy about the change--the students originally had Fridays off, and teachers had to stay later on Fridays. Even more frustrating, a lot of classes only saw marginal decrease in size.

It's hard to complain about schedules though because we do really have it good, especially compared to a 40-hour work week. Even better, we get academic breaks: 1 week for Toussaint (All Saint's Day) at the end of October, 2 weeks for Christmas, 1 week in February, and 2 weeks for Easter. We also have a one-month break from mid-May to mid-June since exams end in mid-May, but we have to proctor makeup exams at the end of June. 

How Lecteurs Are Paid:

Our salary is definitely on the modest side. Our post-tax salary is about 1208 euros/month. If you've decided to buy a transportation pass, you get reimbursed 50%, so you can expect a monthly deposit of 1222 euros.

While this might sound like near poverty-level pay, this amount is actually a living salary in France. For one, rent is cheap (at least in Dijon). I pay around 325 euros/month (utilities and housing taxes included) to live in a conveniently-located, new apartment with two French students. You can also qualify for government housing subsidies ranging from 60-200 euros/month (though the process is very slow and some people never see this money). I'm able to buy groceries, travel moderately within the region, pay for a private gym membership, and still save around 300 euros/month. 

We're also paid same amount each month regardless of vacation. So while I may only be working two weeks each April-June, I get paid the same amount as if I worked the full month. We're also paid July and August, though our work officially ends at the end of June. 

On the flip side, you do have to fund your own startup costs, from getting your visa ($150) to your plane ticket here ($400). We also aren't paid until the end of the first month, so you should have at least $2000 saved to use.

If you're considering the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) for assistantship jobs in high schools and middle schools, know that you'll be paid much less--about 790 euros/month. I was accepted to TAPIF as well, but I ultimately took this lectrice job instead since the pay is more livable, and you get more independence in the classroom.


The Classes Lectrices Teach:

While we're called teaching assistants, we're actually in charge of our own classes. We're historically only supposed to teach conversation classes, but you may also be pulled into other topics. This semester, I also taught translation (French-English) and Grammar & Translation (French-English and English-French). I was definitely the least happy about the Grammar & Translation class--I felt totally unqualified to teach grammar as a native speaker, and also unqualified to do English-French translation. There were also writing classes and listening comprehension classes that I didn't teach. Next semester, however, all of us will really only have conversation classes. 

One thing to note is that all classes are only once a week, from 1-2 hours each. So we often teach many different groups of students and see 200+ different faces per semester. This can make planning a little harder as different groups have different levels of English and enthusiasm.


What French University Students Are Like:


Some of my students are fantastic, and we laugh a lot together in class (and even once went outside for class!). Others of them can barely understand what I'm saying, and are totally disrespectful. I once asked a girl to put away her iPad, and she literally responded with the equivalent of "how fucking annoying" in French. 

That being said, most of my classes are fine, though phone usage and motivating the students to speak English in groups can be a problem (there seems to be "problem children" in almost every class). Regardless of how many times I remind them and threaten to take off participation points, the majority of students will continue to speak French during group work. I've been told that it's really just a culture thing, but it's surprising given that these are students majoring in foreign languages, who refuse to speak the foreign language they're studying. I've found, however, that speed dating and role-playing exercises get them to actually speak English. 

Overall Impression:


This job is definitely a decent recent grad or gap year experience. You get to experience teaching at a university (though the system is very different from that in the U.S. We found out our courses the week before classes started, so we had to plan from week to week, rather than making a syllabus). You also get enough free time to pursue personal projects, reflect on your next steps, or even take a second job. 

While pay is modest, it's enough to live by. And while students can be awful, they can also be pretty awesome. There's one group that I'm actually sad to be saying goodbye to at the end this semester.

One thing I want to point out is that you will spend most of your days speaking English, so don't take this job primarily to practice your French. If you do want to practice French as an English lecteur, I recommend rooming with French locals. 

It can sometimes be isolating to live abroad, but it's nice to have a team of lectrices with whom you can plan courses, vent, and hang out. I'm an introvert when it comes to large social gatherings though, so I haven't always enjoyed the French social scene.

Regardless of my gloomier days, I'm happy with this job and am looking forward to next semester's adventures.

Until next time,

What it's like to teach English in France | {imperfect idealist} #teachingabroad #teachinfrance #france #lifestyle

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