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Channel hopping

Sarah Muxlow fulfilled a romantic dream of teaching in France

Wednesday January 29, 2003

A year consulting in Lyon has not got quite the same ring to it as a year in Provence, but I still had a great time teaching in a great country.

Having worked in the Loire and Brittany during university holidays, I was more than keen to be heading back to France with a year's TEFL teaching experience under my belt.

I had very romantic ideas of what it would be like living in France. Long hot summers, good wine and good food. I wasn't disappointed, although bureaucratic paperwork and driving made a dreamy year a bit of a challenge.

I was glad I'd had some teaching experience before I arrived in Lyon. While the consultancy I had chosen to work for was seeking qualified teachers with or without experience, the work turned out to be demanding. My knowledge of grammar and ideas of how to plan a lesson were put to the test with a full 30-hour timetable a week.

Classes ranged in level from complete beginner to well advanced. The students, or trainees as they were called, all worked in businesses in and around Lyon.

The clientele - well-educated, experienced professionals - wanted professional, dynamic classes suited to their specific needs. Sales and marketing staff, secretaries and lawyers didn't have time for poorly focused sessions or chat classes. It was time to tighten activities, learn to assess the needs and motivations of trainees, and the problem areas for French language learners, and produce suitable material.

The start of my days varied depending on how far I needed to drive. A one-hour drive was the maximum expected by the company and for long trips, a company car, petrol and motorway fees were all provided. Teaching started at 8am and it was rare to have more than three two-hour sessions a day. I was teaching in a different company each day, which, once in the swing of things, made a pleasant change.

There were no more than six trainees per class, who were at the same level and often in similar jobs. This made course planning and classroom dynamics ideal.

A contract with a company generally lasts a year and is fixed, which means a regular salary and paid holidays, including bank holidays, of which there are many.

Salaries range from £6 to £15 (10 to 25 euros) per hour. The minimum wage in France is £500 (840 euros) per month. You can get by on this, but it won't go far if you want to travel, sample the local cuisine or learn the language.

To support the work, I had monthly team meetings, continual in-house training, teacher observation and client feedback.

It was a little testing to begin with - alone in a company, needing to PR the consultancy while being kept an eye on by the company training manager - but, overall, it was a great place to learn and develop in TEFL teaching.

I found the trainees enthusiastic to learn English. Learning English is thought not only useful for business, but also helpful for traveling. Trainees also appreciated the break for lessons during the working day.

A disadvantage of working for a consultancy is the need to have your own car, and braving the French roads. I have actually seen people reversing on motorways because they have missed their exit. Double parking is also common if there are no free parking spaces outside a café or shop.

As a teacher, I found it important to dress smartly. Looking the part is as important as actually doing the job. Mistakes, blunders and mishaps can all be forgiven if wearing the correct suit.

Failing to learn French is acceptable as long as you complement the French on their country and take a keen interest to learn all about their cuisine. Incorrect pronunciation or even the smallest error when using the French language can lead to complete misunderstanding. I was told that French is a very difficult language to perfect and nothing less than perfection is understood.

Paperwork can also be a drama, and it's worth asking for a list of documents you'll be expected to produce before leaving home. Originals of birth and marriage certificates, qualifications, driving licences are a few of the many items you'll be expected to produce just to rent an apartment.

EducationGuardian.co.uk © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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