After Emily’s account of working as an Emergency Services Officer in the Australian desert, it’s back to Europe again with an update from Alex who graduated with a BA Hons in French and Maths last June:
‘Just even writing this, I cannot believe that it has already been eight months since I graduated from the University of Stirling. As much as I am missing seeing the Ochils and Wallace Monument every day, the last six months have been awesome. I am just over halfway through my British Council placement in France for the academic year 2019/20 and it has been fantastic. I was allocated to the Académie d’Amiens and more specifically, two high schools in the town of Soissons in the north-east of France.
Although Soissons has a small population of 30,000, about two-thirds of the size of Stirling, there is just as much history to be found in this part of France. Under the reign of King Clovis I in the late 4th and early 5th Centuries, Soissons was under the rule of the Franks, after the Battle of Soissons in 486 AD. And when Clovis died in 511, it became the capital of what we know today as north-east France. All of this history can be discovered in the Musée de Soissons, which is just 2€ entry (bar the first Sunday of every month when it is free!). There are two abbeys and a cathedral all within walking distance of the centre of town. I live a two-minute walk away from the cathedral, in fact I can see it from my kitchen window! You never get tired of hearing the bell chimes every 15 minutes (from 8am to 10pm) and looking at this amazing piece of architecture.
I feel incredibly lucky with the allocation of my schools. One school is a 15-minute walk from my accommodation, whilst the other is just a 20-minute bus ride from the centre of town, and the buses are less than 1€ per ride. I work with four different teachers and they are all fantastic. Personally, I think it’s beneficial to see different styles of teaching and approaches to assessments and language learning. Sometimes I work in groups of between 4 and 8 students outside of the main class, or I will stay with the main teacher and we’ll work on an activity together. I have even had the opportunity of teaching full classes myself, particularly with presentations on Anglophone culture or certain points of grammar.
In both of my schools with the 14-15 year-old students (3èmes), we have been doing débats citoyens every week, debating a wide range of topics such as:
- “Footballers deserve to earn the salary they receive”
- “Capital punishment should be reinstated for the most serious of crimes”
- “TV reality shows teach us about life”
- “Art is necessary for the development of man”
- “Teachers in the USA should be allowed to carry firearms in the event of a mass shooting”
This is a great way for the older students to become more confident and spontaneous at speaking in English. It also provides them additional cultural exposure to the Anglophone world that they might not see in class.
On top of my British Council contract, I managed to gain an hour a week through the Soissons Town Hall of doing English activities with primary school students in an after-school club. Although I prefer working with 11-16 year-olds, this has been a great opportunity for me to work with children between 8 and 11 years old, and discover the level of English children have before attending high school.
I have been very lucky in where I live too! I was offered accommodation by one of my teachers in a boarding school in the centre of Soissons. Turns out that I live with 6 other assistants, with all of us coming from different parts of the world; England, Northern Ireland, Spain, Mexico, the USA, and the Bahamas! We get on really well and they are a huge part of the reason why this experience has been so good. Having other people there with you every single day makes it so much easier, so I would suggest (if possible) new assistants try to live with other young people to make you feel more comfortable in your new surroundings.
And since I only work 13 hours a week (British Council – 12 hours, Soissons Town Hall – 1 hour), I have had a lot of time to travel. In fact, each académie in France will encourage you to “profitez de vos week-ends et voyagez!” Since October, I have so far been to (in France) Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Rennes, Amiens, Reims, Rouen and Saint Malo, and I will heading further south during the warmer months! I have also journeyed outside of France to both Belgium, to the cities of Brussels and Ghent, and the Netherlands, visiting Rotterdam. Therefore, I would advise the same to anyone thinking of doing an assistantship: take advantage of your weekends and 2-week half-term breaks and travel across France and the rest of Europe! I would recommend buying either a SNCF Carte Jeune or a Carte Régionale (for each Département in France), which gets you 30% and 50% off rail fares respectively. Flixbus is also an absolute gem if you’re looking to travel cheaply!
So, where does this leave me after this experience? I have decided after this experience that I would like to become a secondary school teacher and am in the process of applying for my teaching qualification. Whether I teach in England, Scotland or elsewhere, who knows! All I know is that I want to make a difference to students’ lives, and the British Council experience certainly does that.’
Many, many thanks to Alex for this great update and best of luck with the interviews for teacher training that are coming up! We look forward to hearing how the rest of your time in Soissons goes.