Teach English in France, Interview with Roni Weiss

Teach English Abroad
Teach English in France, Interview with Roni Weiss
Teach English in France, Interview with Roni Weiss

How long have you been teaching English in France?

I have two jobs currently. One is as an English language assistant in the French public schools. The other is in a school teaching Business English. I started the first job on October 1st, which is the start date for everyone for that job. I started the second job during the first week of December. My first time working in France was last summer.

Please tell us about your jobs?

Language assistant: I work in two middle schools in Vaulx-en-Velin, which is in the Lyon metro area. In theory, I work 12 hours a week. In reality, this fluctuates (meaning, sometimes it is less) if teachers have tests, etc. I have a lot of vacation, actually.

My vacation schedule: Oct 24-Nov 5, Dec 19-Jan 4, Feb 13-Mar 1 and Apr 10-Apr 26.

Vaulx-en-Velin does not have a great reputation. In 1990, they burnt the city down. My students are mostly of North and Central African descent. It has been an interesting adjustment, but after a few weeks, I found my groove. I work with kids ages 12-16.

The main way to get this job is via a big application process that you mail to the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. Another way is to be a local recruit, in which case you need to contact the local Academie (equivalent of a school district) directly.

Business English: I just started, but what I can say is that they have proven themselves to be very flexible, so far. They asked me when I could work and have yet to pressure me to add more hours than I am comfortable with. My students are business people at multinational companies. So far, it is very similar to the job I had in Chile, with the exception that classes can be up to 3 hours with one student at one time. Most of my classes are one-on-one, while a few are multiple people.

Have you taught English in other countries?

I have taught English in 4 different countries (in chronological order): Italy, Taiwan, France and Chile. I have found all of my jobs via the internet, with the exception of my current English Assistantship job, which was something that many people in my English immersion camp job had been doing and recommended.

My jobs in Italy, Taiwan and initially in France were all in English immersion camps. My job in Chile was my first time professionally teaching English to adults.

It was interesting how vastly different the English immersion camps were in the 3 different countries.

Italy: There were a group of native English speakers that worked with the Site Director to come up with a schedule, part of which involved a final performance by the kids. There was no set curriculum, but everyone went through a 5-day training course at the beginning which gave us a sense of what they wanted the program to look like. We had cheers and songs that we taught the kids every day. As English Tutors, we usually lived with host families, but sometimes lived in other situations, such as the company apartment in the outskirts of Milan or a shared room in a bed and breakfast. One important note was that this was a day camp. We ate lunch with the kids. We were done with camp before dinner.

Taiwan: This was also a day camp, but the English Assistants were put up at hotels and taken via taxi to the camp. This was my only immersion job where the kids (only at the highest level) were not allowed to speak their native language to one another. The curriculum was more set. We had classes in the morning, lunch, then a group activity, such as a mock-exercise involving the kids booking a ticket and taking an airplane.

France: In this job, every day had a theme centered around the US, such as “Wild West and Native American Day”. This is the only camp where we had “camp names”, which we decided. (Mine is ‘Ace’.) This is a residential camp. We live at the site with the kids. There are 3 different types of counselors. ESL counselors, who run 2 hours of classes in the morning, Activites Counselors, who run 2 hours and 45 minutes of activities in the afternoon and Daily Life Counselors, who are fluent in French and oversee the kids during bedtime, wakeup, teeth brushing, etc. We eat meals with the kids, making sure they are using English to ask for items, etc. In addition to the above schedule, we also have Congress, which is where the kids see skits, learn songs and cheers and hear about the day’s schedule. There is also an Evening Activity, which is a camp-wide event, usually some sort of competition.

In all of the jobs, I have worked with a lot of people that don’t seem to know what they are in for. Camp life is a lot different from ‘normal’ life. A lot happens, quickly. It helps to really like kids and to truly be flexible to be able to succeed at an English immersion camp.

How did you find your first teaching job?

I found my first job the way I’ve found most, via the internet. My sites of choice have been eslcafe.com and tefl.com. I know other people that like seriousteachers.com and anyjobanywhere.com

How easy is it to find English teaching positions?

I have found it fairly easy to find jobs that I want. I have only been rejected once, which was for the JET program in Japan, which seems to be at least as competitive as they claim, if not more so, based on the rejection of myself and others that I know. It is even easier if you’re willing to work anywhere. South Korea, China and SE Asia in general have no shortage of jobs. South America is pretty chock-full, as well. Contract lengths vary. My current job is the longest contract I have taken (with a contract of Oct-Apr). Year-long contracts are the norm in a lot of places, but I have always found ways around it.

Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?

I was trained for 5 days during my initial orientation at my first job in Italy. That TEFL training has taken me through all of my positions. At this point, I have built up enough experience that I think I could get most jobs that I am interested in. I do not have a teaching certificate back home. I don’t have a CELTA or any other sort of TEFL certificate. My bachelor’s degrees from the University of Washington are in English (with a Literature Emphasis) and Drama.

How did you get your first work visa?

I have only gotten one work visa, and that is with my current position working for the Ministry of Education of the French government. I have always had contracts. I have never looked too hard at how legitimately they fit into the myriad tax codes of the local government. All of my jobs have been explained to me as reasonably official. In Chile, I was in the process of getting a work visa, a process that was not completed before I left, although I was required to do various paperwork.

It used to be that you could not get outside work while working as an English language assistant in France, but they changed that within the past couple of years.

Is it possible for teachers to arrive without a work visa and look for a  job?

It depends on how official one wants to be. There are plenty of teachers that do tutoring under the table. In Western Europe, I don’t think one will have much luck with just showing up (in regard to getting a totally official job). In Southeast Asia or South America, I think you would be fairly welcomed. It is more a matter of how comfortable one would feel showing up with no guaranteed income and the potential to be paid in a less than legitimate fashion.

Are you an EU citizen?

I am not an EU citizen. My grandmother was born in Poland. I have tried to get EU/Polish citizenship via that, to no avail.

Are teachers without an EU visa at a disadvantage?

Teachers without an EU visa are at a great disadvantage. That doesn’t make it impossible, as my experience proves. English immersion camps and the French Assistantship program are good methods.

What is the cost of living in France?

Wow, as for cost of living, I am the totally wrong guy to ask. I spend as little as possible and I got fairly lucky with housing (after a month and a half of not having somewhere permanent to live and moving around to 12 different places). I live in the Lyon area, but not exactly close to where I work. A bus ride to a metro to another metro to another bus is how I get to school. It takes me about an hour. I pay 49 Euros a month for a dorm room in a high school. My understanding is that the only way I have this is because I work in the assistantship program. If I were to have shared a room in an apartment, it seemed like 250-300 Euros was a going rate. Depending on the situation, one might be eligible for government assistance (CAF), which is a higher amount for people under 26. Students also have more options for housing.

I don’t drink alcohol, so I can’t speak to how much drinks really are. Nor do I eat at restaurants. In the end, I generally am saving up money, while others seem to be spending a lot of it going out. My expenses:

  • Rent 49 Euros
  • Metro card; 22 Euros for students, 46 Euros for others
  • Groceries run me; 40-60 Euros a week, but I probably could be eating a lot cheaper than that.

How much money can the average teacher expect to save?

Saving really depends person-to-person. I make 780 Euros (give or take) after tax for the Assistant job. Rates at private English language institutes seem to range from 9-15 Euros an hour. Private lessons seem to be 10-20 Euros an hour, depending on a variety of factors.

Do you recommend France for other English teachers?

I would highly recommend teaching English in France. The lifestyle is a lot different than the States or Canada, which some people take for granted. It definitely requires adjustment. The students vary greatly. At the immersion camp, they are mostly kids from wealthy families, with at least half from the Paris area. In the assistantship job, it varies greatly, depending on placement.

Business students tend to be more similar from country to country, with cultural differences sometimes coming into play.

How long to you plan on staying there?

I will finish my Assistant contract at the end of April. After that, I will work at the English immersion camp through the end of July. Depending on circumstances, I might return to either try the assistantship job again or continue my work with the Business English school.

What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?

My biggest piece of advice for teaching English abroad is to figure out what you are doing it for. If it’s for the money, definitely don’t do immersion camp. If you need to have a certain lifestyle, don’t settle for a country that won’t provide that. If you really don’t like kids, don’t work with them. There are plenty of ways to teach English abroad without working with kids.

Know exactly what you’re getting into before you go. Ask any question you may have before committing to a job. And always contact other people that have done the job, to know what it’s like from the perspective of someone that was where you once were. Look over your contract very carefully, knowing if you are required to go to meetings or do paperwork. Know about your overtime and what days, and hours of the day they will be having you work.

Once you get there, use whatever resources you may have at your disposal. Ask people for help if you need it or if you’re confused about something. Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t accept random changes that you never agreed to.

Most importantly: Don’t give up too quickly. If you arrive somewhereand it’s difficult, that’s normal. If you’re really, really miserableand feel like you’ve done everything you can, don’t force yourself to stay. With all the times I’ve moved and all the different jobs I’ve had, I still give myself a 2 month adjustment time. Sometimes things go quicker, but sometimes it takes that long. It took about 2 months for me to settle into my current situation and now I’m starting to feel like I’m thriving.

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Information on Teaching English in France