So as predicted, as the weeks go by, I become worse and worse at maintaining an online blog. Firstly, sincere apologies to my dedicated readership (mum) for this recent lag in blog-related activity. It would be agreeable to claim that it this is due to some sort of crazily-busy lifestyle filled with exotic social and professional endeavours that leave me with barely enough time to even check my Facebook messages, let alone blog about life, but in fact I’m just rather lazy. I hope to throw myself into blog-writing pursuits more frequently in the future; we shall see if time permits.
This coming week marks the last seven days of term at the university I’m working at, before the holidays, known around here as “Toussaint”, or “Too-san” to you and me. As often happens, the term has sped by, and it seems, as such, a suitable occasion to report on the various highs and lows of working as a foreign lecteur in France, and thereby present some thoroughly-formed musings on the topic.
For those of you unfamiliar with the French term lecteur, it essentially refers to someone who works in a university environment in a role that can otherwise be described as a language assistant. I am, however, keen to promote the term lecteur over language assistant because it sounds impressive and exotic. Moreover, in using the term lecteur, people often mistake you for a lecturer, which although a completely different thing, also sounds rather impressive, so let them be mistaken, say I! Besides, the work of a lecteur does appear to vary considerably from that of an assistant. Here, although my role has a fairly low amount of teaching hours (not unlike an assistant), there is still a fairly chunky amount of accountability that goes with it. For example, this week I alone am responsible for the administration and grading of 242 students for the oral and aural component of their degree for the semester. How I, a fresh-out-of-college 22-year-old, who, just months ago, was bumbling his own way through a series oral tests, has now been entrusted with the power to decide who passes a university exam, is beyond me. Such responsibility is all the more concerning/baffling given my students have born witness to many a dodgy grammar mistake of my own when reverting to French to explain something “more clearly”.
But indeed, so it shall be. And my students are understandably quite nervous. As I went through the guidelines of the controle they’ll be sitting, I saw fear brought about in their eyes, particularly at the moment I described how well/badly they would have to perform in order to pass/fail. The worst, for me, is knowing that I might not be passing all 242 of them. How awful is that? Indeed, I am realising that although sitting the exam is more nerve-wracking, marking it isn’t going to be a walk in the park either.
So, when I’m not busy casually deciding the fate of hoards of students, I’m trying my best to impart wisdom and knowledge in a fashion commonly known as “teaching”. This can be a troublesome task when one doubts one’s own level of knowledge and wisdom, but alas I try. The goal is to inspire, to enthuse and in some cases, to prevent students falling asleep/into a coma during the weekly session we have together. Fortunately, when teaching I tend to be as energetic as Tinkerbell on crack, so I don’t struggle too much to keep them paying attention, although I have to admit I have battled with what is a definite difference in classroom etiquette between the UK and France. What is this difference to which I elude? Essentially, French students like to talk. And I mean, really talk. Not in the good “It’s English conversation class, so let’s talk in English!” way, but in the bad “The teacher’s talking in English, let’s have a full-blown conversation about something totally irrelevant in French, and not even whisper” sort of way. Most students are only a mere few years younger than me, but as far as manners are concerned, some are time-warped in adolescence. Worse still is that when dealing with students of this level, discipline doesn’t really come into it. I mean, you can’t treat adults like children, even if they behave as such.
On a more positive note, some of my students are fantastic. I have one first-year class whose level of comprehension is way above any of my second-year groups, and aside from being shit-hot at English, they laugh at my bad jokes/British awkwardness and always respond well to any exercises we do in class. They all take Mandarin as their second foreign language, so they are fairly conscientious when it comes to their studies, and just seem like really fun people. Most classes, however, tend to be a mixed bag. Some students are really enthusiastic and bright; other have spent time in Anglophone countries, and so have a real motivation to practice. Others are so reluctant to speak English that the mere suggestion that they, as degree-level students of Applied Foreign Languages, might make even a mildly Anglophone utterance, is greeted with a level of disdain as if you’d just bludgeoned the Easter Bunny. Indeed, encouraging students to speak in English is at times exhausting, as many are unwilling to do so, and as such, unaware of the amount of practice and the lack of inhibitions key to improving in a foreign language. It’s come as a real surprise the amount of students fall into this latter category (even in second year!), because I cannot imagine why someone would study a degree in English and not want to say a word in English oral class, but hopefully as time goes on, they’ll become more confident and willing to respond, and the need for painfully-awkward silences in class will be reduced. I look forward to seeing their progress either way, because in spite of any negative elements to the role, I really am enjoying this job!
In other news, I just signed a contract for a permanent apartment! So now that this accommodation malarkey has been resolved, I will comfortably create a post soon relating to the general NIGHTMARE that is: finding somewhere to live in the insanely-crowded city of Rennes.