Tag: Secondary Education

From a Paris living room to the ‘anywhere box’

As lockdown measures and confinement and a range of different restrictions continue to be implemented across the globe, it’s particularly welcome to receive news and updates from former students (current students are also very welcome to get in touch!) who find themselves dotted across the world. Like everyone else, they are adapting to the current circumstances and thinking about the impact on their plans (professional and personal) and we’re very grateful to them for sharing their thoughts with us and for finding the time to send through new blog posts.

2020 Apr David V Pic IIIToday, it’s the turn of David, whose travels in Colombia and Sicily regular readers will have followed over the past couple of years, and who has sent the article below with some photos of an empty but sunny day in the Parisian suburbs:

‘If you had asked me where I would be, at this point in time, seven months ago after my last blog update, my living room in Paris would definitely not have been at the top of my list! Before I tell you how I ended up here, however, I thought I could perhaps tell you about the joys of teaching!

As mentioned in my previous piece, I decided that I was finally ready to start my teaching qualification after a couple of years of experience. My course at the University of Glasgow consists of teaching theory as well as teaching practice as a language teacher. My first placement was in a school in Paisley where I saw first-hand how much work teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. As one of my colleagues said, you aren’t only teaching them a language, but also teaching them how to learn it. I hadn’t realised how much planning was involved in order to stay on top of the workload. Some teachers’ capacity to juggle classes made up of pupils with completely different levels is mind-blowing!

My second placement was in a school in Clydebank where I learnt to become more independent as a teacher and create my own resources for my lessons. Located to the west of Glasgow, an area that includes some of the most deprived parts of Scotland where many pupils live in very challenging conditions. However, the school showed me how being part of a community of teachers and parents could create more opportunities for underprivileged pupils by working together. Overall, the course at Glasgow has been challenging but ultimately rewarding as I have learnt to adapt to difficult situations inside, and outside, the classroom.

Looking back at my undergrad years, I am grateful for the flexibility of the courses offered at the University of Stirling as well as the range of topics that we had the opportunity to study, from French Canadian cinema to Latin American literature. The exchange programme was also one of the reasons I decided to travel and work abroad… How time flies!

Now, to come back to my living room in Paris, it turns out that, due to the unprecedented measures taken by the Scottish government, both face-to-face classes and my third and final placement have been cancelled. This means I will go straight into teaching as a probationer in August! I have opted for the lucky dip option by ticking the “anywhere box” to quote the General Teaching Council, so will be sent wherever I am needed in Scotland. As a result of the pandemic, I decided to return home since I wanted to be with family over Easter.

2020 Apr David V Pic IIThere were only about 30 people on the plane as most people had cancelled their trips and the French government announced yesterday that there would be a further two weeks of “confinement” during which we are only allowed to leave our homes for an hour a day in order to buy essentials such as food and medicine or for daily light exercise within a 1 km radius. It is quite an odd experience having to fill out a form before leaving the house as the police may stop people to check that they are sticking to the rules but then desperate times call for desperate measures! It seems that the U.K. is not at that stage yet. However, having been in touch (not literally of course!) with friends from Sicily and Colombia, everyone is following WHO guidelines and staying at home to avoid any risk of transmission.

So that’s it for now and remember: lavez-vous les mains!’

Many, many thanks to David for sending this update – good luck with the remainder of the course and we look forward to finding out where the GTC send you next year! Keep in touch and stay safe.

‘You might get knocked back a few times but your time will come!’

We’re on something of a roll at the moment with posts from former French at Stirling students, allowing us to paint a great picture of the variety of routes degrees involving languages can take you down, from financial crime analysis to tour-guiding and TEFL, from British Council Language Assistantships to the emergency services, via some thoughts on how to find ways to keep your language/s going after graduation… Today’s post takes in translation, postgraduate studies, proofreading, subtitling and teaching, courtesy of Stewart who graduated with a BA Hons in French and Spanish in 2015:

‘It’s been over 3 years since I graduated from Stirling now. A lot has changed in my life in that time. Some for the better, some for the worse. When I left Stirling, I had grand plans about what I could do with my degree and the places it could take me but life has a habit of getting in the way and putting unexpected obstacles in front of you.

When I last wrote for the French At Stirling blog, I had just got a Master’s in Translation from Heriot-Watt University. I was maybe naïve but I thought it would be relatively easy to get a job but for whatever reason it didn’t work out that way. It can be tough when you keep getting knocked back to stay positive especially in the age of social media when you can receive almost daily updates on how well friends and former classmates are doing for themselves. I was never the most optimistic guy at the best of times!

As time wore on, I eventually found success. Out of desperation I had applied for two translation jobs at the same time and got interviews for both. One based in Scotland, one based in Spain. I nailed both interviews too. The Spanish one was done over Skype and conducted in 3 languages. I was quite proud to come through that in one piece. I was eventually offered both jobs. Decision time! Guess which one I took…

2020 Mar Stewart H Bute Palm Trees
Bute Palm Trees

Scotland won the day. If you read my last blog you probably understand why. Although I study languages and like to travel, I’m very much a fan of home comforts. I come from an island which a lot of people my age refer to as “The Rock”. It has a declining and ageing population. Most young people leave when they go to university or to find a job on the mainland and don’t return. There are still times when I can’t wait to leave yet when I am away, I can’t wait to come back. It must be an islander thing!

Anyway, I was now working as an in-house translator. I gained experience translating medical and legal documents and met some new people but after some time, I started to realise it just wasn’t for me. I found myself staring at a computer screen all day and was living on my own. Life’s too short to be stuck doing something you don’t enjoy.

2020 Mar Stewart H Do sth different

After I left that job, I moved back home to mull over my next move. It was April 2018 and the FIFA World Cup was just around the corner. I’ve always been a massive football fan and I got the opportunity to combine two passions of mine in football and languages. I worked as a remote translator, proofreader and subtitler. I was able to watch all the games and then translate interviews with players and coaches all from the comfort of my own home. This was the dream but there are only so many World Cups! I liked the flexibility of being freelance and being back home, but I also found myself wanting to get out more and meet new people.

After a few months, I decided to apply for a PGDE in Secondary Education at the University of Glasgow. I was going to become a teacher. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. My dad had been a Geography teacher years ago and I was struck by how many of his former pupils had got in touch when he passed away showing just how big an impact he’d had on their lives. I’ve also always felt at home when studying for some reason. It gave me a purpose knowing I had some test or exam to pass or a deadline to make. I feel in retrospect I missed that drive when I left university.

The course at Glasgow gave me a good grounding in what it takes to become a teacher. I did 3 placements throughout the year giving me a taster of what to expect when in front of the class but nothing can truly prepare you! Luckily my decision to choose Argyll & Bute paid off and I am now teaching French and Spanish in the same school where I first learned languages as a pupil all those years ago. It has been a steep learning curve and there is never a dull day, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Will I still be teaching in 5, 10, 30 years’ time? Who knows! Life has a habit of getting in the way, but I will give it my best shot while I am still doing it.

I know I wouldn’t be in this position were it not for my time at Stirling. I still keep in touch and meet up with some of my old classmates who are all doing different and exciting things with their own lives. I would advise any current students or recent graduates who are looking to make that next step and find a job to stay patient. You might get knocked back a few times but your time will come!’

Many thanks indeed to Stewart for sending through this great update! We’re really pleased to hear that things are going well with the language teaching and look forward to future blog posts.

From Stirling to Soissons: History, Travel and Bell Chimes

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.

2020 Mar Alex Soissons CathedralAlthough 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.

2020 Mar Alex Soissons AssistantsI 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!

2020 Mar Alex Strasbourg

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.

From Tour-Guiding and TEFL to International Marketing: ‘Language Skills and Cultural Knowledge’

2020 Feb Kitti MarseilleTime for another great update from one of our former students – after Paul’s tales of financial crime analysis, this time, we’re delighted to have news from Kitti who graduated just over two years ago:

‘My name is Kitti and I studied French and Global Cinema and Culture between 2013 and 2017. I really enjoyed my time at Stirling, I met some wonderful people, I learnt so much and I had a lot of fun. I spent a semester in the South of France studying at Aix-Marseille University. I was having a hard time with the accent, so I promised myself I would move back to a different part of France once I graduated.

2020 Feb Kitti Bordeaux TourShortly after graduating I moved to Bordeaux. I loved this gorgeous city from the moment I arrived. Everyone was kind and welcoming and I found the accent much more understandable. I started working on the reception of a youth hostel, and soon a local tour company hired me as one of their guides. I enjoyed every minute spent tour guiding. I learnt so many interesting things about the city and I met a lot of different people. I spent six months in Bordeaux, after which I returned to Scotland and started thinking of going into French teaching, even though I wasn’t 100% sure it was for me.

I completed my application, but I already had a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, so I thought why not make some use of it and gain some experience before starting the PGDE course. I applied for a few TEFL jobs and I landed in a role in Madrid, Spain. I worked in two schools, a nursery and a so called ‘business vocational school’, which is similar to colleges in Scotland. I loved both of these jobs. However, I started giving evening classes for teenagers in a language school, which I didn’t enjoy as much. I found working with teenagers much harder than working with any other age group, and I started asking myself if teaching French in high schools is really the right path for me.

2020 Feb Kitti Cadiz

After returning to Scotland five months ago, instead of going for the PGDE, I decided to give myself a little more time to figure out what I really wanted to do. Since I have teaching experience, I got a job in a primary school, where I support children with learning difficulties. In the meantime, I kept wondering and asking myself what should my next step in life be. I do love working with children but I felt like there might be a more suitable path for me, so I kept searching for career options.

Recently I was accepted to study for a Masters at Edinburgh Napier University. The course is called International Marketing with Tourism and Events and it starts in September. I am over the moon and cannot wait for it to start. All modules sound as if they had been tailored to my interests. When I first read about the course, I couldn’t believe how perfect it all sounded. The year is split into three trimesters, two will take place in Edinburgh while the third one in Nice at IPAG Business School. I am most excited about studying festival management, as I hope one day I can work on film and music festivals. I am equally looking forward to working in settings where I can use my language skills and cultural knowledge. In the end I am happy I decided to take my time to figure out what I truly wanted, I am certain it will pay off. I just hope I will find the southern French accent easier to understand this time round.’

Many, many thanks to Kitti for finding the time to send us through this post and photos. We wish you all the best for the Masters next year and look forward to updates over the months and years ahead.

Advanced Higher Workshops on Campus

2020 Feb Sheena Pic IAt the end of last year, French and Spanish at Stirling were delighted to get the chance to host a workshop for Advanced Higher pupils on campus, organised via SCILT (Scotland’s National Centre for Languages). Particular thanks to Sheena Bell of SCILT who helped to set this up and who has very kindly sent us through this blog post about the day’s events:

‘Every year, SCILT holds a series of workshops for Advanced Higher Modern Languages pupils to support them in completing the course and preparing for the exam. This year, for the first time, we held a workshop in the University of Stirling. This made it more accessible to pupils from Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire councils (and beyond!) and meant that they could attend more easily. We were delighted to have over 40 in attendance; pupils were able to hear tips and advice from experienced teachers and SQA markers, and work on strategies for developing their skills. It was all the more enjoyable because of the beautiful surroundings of the university! The event gave pupils the chance to have an experience of university at the same time as they were considering their UCAS applications, and they also benefitted from an introduction to Languages at Stirling from Peter Baker at the beginning of the workshop.

Many thanks from us at SCILT to Dr Baker for all his support and help with arrangements. We look forward to being back again next year.’

Thanks again to Sheena for taking the time to write this post and we’re also looking forward to welcoming more pupils this year!

2020 Feb Sheena Pic III

School Visits, Language Blogging & Tips for French at Uni

Regular blog readers will know about our Schools Days and our Language Ambassadors and our students who spend a year working as English Language Assistants. We’re also always looking for new activities and new ways of building connections with a wide range of schools to give us further opportunities to work with secondary teachers and pupils. With that in mind, colleagues from French and Spanish worked together a few weeks ago to organise an event for a local secondary school and we’re very grateful to Peter Baker, Lecturer in Spanish, for having sent us this update:

‘On Wednesday 20 November, Higher and Advanced Higher pupils of French and Spanish from Bannockburn High School attended a series of lectures, workshops and a library visit hosted by lecturers in French and Spanish. The day started with an introduction and a lecture on the historical memory of the Spanish Civil War in Spain by Peter Baker, followed by a tour around the University library. This was followed by a lecture on essay writing at university hosted by Hannah Grayson in French. We finished the day with a Q&A session about the expectations of studying Modern Languages at Higher Education, the transformative experience of the semester abroad and about future employment with a degree in Modern Languages, with the presence of Aedin Ní Loingsigh and Peter Baker.

We would like to thank Claudia Marqués-Martin and Derek Monaghan for organising the day with us and for coming along to support the pupils, and for the very positive feedback we received on all aspects of the day. We would also like to give special thanks to the pupils themselves who showed great enthusiasm and exceptional good behaviour whilst they were with us. We would encourage them to let us know if they decide to study languages at university where they end up and to come visit us if they are ever on campus – and especially if they choose Stirling as their place of study!’

Many thanks again to Peter for sending us through this post and to all involved for what sounds like a great day.

Blog readers might also be interested in a couple of other schools-related pieces of news. The first is that one of our current English Language Assistants, Eilidh, has added a new article to the Language Linking Global Thinking blog she’s running while she’s in France for this academic. The LLGT scheme is an initiative that is run by SCILT (the Scottish National Centre for Languages), the British Council and Project Trust, working with the UCMLS. It involves pairing up students on assistantships with classes of school pupils back in Scotland to and those assistants then keeping in touch with the school to tell them about the experiences and to give the pupils a clear sense of the benefits and opportunities that come with spending time using a language other than English.

And the second piece of schools-related news is that the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France has posted an article on their blog with tips for preparing to study French at University from Cristina Johnston and Hannah Grayson. The article is available here! Bonne lecture!

Language Ambassadors: Encouraging Pupils to Learn Languages

Over the course of this Autumn/Winter semester at Stirling, we’ve continued to develop our work with secondary schools, sometimes focusing primarily on French, sometimes working in collaboration with our colleagues in Spanish, always underlining the advantages that come through studying languages. We’re hoping to post a few more updates about these activities over the coming weeks and, to start with, we’re pleased to be able to post the following article, co-written by Laura, who is in the final year of a BA Hons in English Studies and French, and Michael, who is in Year 2 of his BA Hons programme in Professional Education (Primary) with a specialism in Modern Languages. Laura and Michael’s day saw them representing French at Stirling as Language Ambassadors at Williamwood High School in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire.

For Michael: ‘When I was asked to be a part of the group of students going to Williamwood High School I was keen to accept the invitation. I thought that it would be a worthwhile opportunity to speak to high school pupils just beginning to think about their futures, about the possibility of going to university, and hopefully to encourage them to study a modern language. On the day of our visit, we represented the University of Stirling at a careers fair organised by the school’s modern languages department and got to speak to three groups of fourth year pupils who attended the fair. We started off each group with a presentation about the modern language courses offered at Stirling and the different pathways they could follow. Specifically, we covered the standard four-year degree structure; the possibility of a year or semester abroad; popular joint degrees with a modern language; and how a joint degree with Primary or Secondary Education differs from other courses. We were able to go into some depth about the differences caused by Education as a few of us, including myself, are doing a joint degree with Education.

At the end of the presentation, we had time to take some questions from the pupils. Most questions were centred on the countries and places you could go on a semester or year abroad, and what it was like to live in a foreign country. Other questions focused on the student experience and campus life. Our group from Stirling was comprised of second, third and fourth year students so we were able to give the pupils a number of perspectives.

All the pupils listened well and told us they found our presentation interesting. I myself enjoyed hearing about the experiences of the older students in our group. I was also glad that I could make studying languages at university something for the pupils to consider when thinking about their plans for after school.’

As for Laura: ‘As well as thinking about the content of what we presented it is also relevant to emphasise the reason why we did it. In my opinion, when we are young, we tend to think that our future is still very far away, and that we have got time to think about our future jobs; but when it comes to learning languages, it is never too early to start, and schools should always encourage students to study languages and show them the  different pathways they can follow after their high school. This is basically what we did at Williamwood High School.

From another perspective, I am a Catalan student in Stirling doing English and French and I found the idea of going to a school to talk about the language degrees opportunities, the importance of speaking more than one or two languages and the life in university all very important. Not only were the themes in our presentation important, but also the fact that we are students and we explained to them this information from our point of view and from our own experiences helped the pupils to think that they can also accomplish their career goals if we are also doing it.

When I was in high school, I was already doing English and French as foreign languages alongside Catalan and Spanish. Everyone kept telling us, study languages is always very important in life and for your future, but we were never told why it was important and what pathways we could take if we wanted to focus on languages. In order to motivate students to do and to accomplish something, I think it is important to show them examples and to have people explaining their own experiences as a way of motivating and encouraging students to follow similar pathways. Besides, schools should promote the idea that learning languages opens many doors in life and especially in terms of employability; in this way, they see that learning languages is not pointless and they can set their goals easily with examples.

Although I already had my future ideas very clear, unfortunately, my own school teachers did not prepare me for this, and this is why I accepted the invitation straight away so as to show students that what they are doing right now really matters for their future by illustrating my experiences as an example for them. It was important to present them the wide range of choices they have in terms of languages courses and degree combinations but also the opportunities the university gave us such as the mandatory semester abroad specially in the French case, it gives the chance to students to discover the real francophone culture that was represented in the textbooks and the news.

All in all, I think our message is clear: we want to encourage students of all ages to learn languages, to take advantage of all the opportunities that the French department (and Languages more broadly) in Stirling offers and to never stop learning languages.’

Many, many thanks to Laura and Michael for having taken the time to put together this blog and to them and all our Language Ambassadors for the great work they continue to do. And thanks to the pupils and staff at Williamwood for the warm welcome!