That's A Wrap! An Honest Recap of my Experience as an English Lectrice in France
I've spent my entire adult life – all four years since graduating from college in 2019 – as an English teacher of some sort in France.
The words "J'enseigne l'anglais" finally roll off my tongue, and I've based a large part of my identity on this post-grad job. So of course, now that it's finally time to move on to something new, it feels more than a little unnerving.
After two years as an English assistant in a French high school, through Fulbright and TAPIF, I embarked on a two-year contract as a lectrice at the Université de Haute-Alsace in Mulhouse. I'm still employed through the end of August 2023, but I just taught my last class of the year, which got me reflecting about my experience. I'd like to share with you why my early retirement feels so bittersweet.
Being a lectrice was a great experience. I've spoken about it before, but I had a ton of flexibility and freedom, which can be a bit of a double-edged sword.
The best part of the job, for me, was without a doubt building relationships with my students and seeing them progress. Progress comes in many shapes and sizes – visibly increased self-confidence, simply raising their hand more often in class, or even a mispronounced word pronounced correctly the next time around... I did the best I could to encourage my students and let them know that I could see improvement and that I was proud of them, because they don't always receive the best support within the French higher education framework.
I am so grateful for all of the learning and laughter that I shared with my students over the past two years. I tried to think outside the box as much as I could and offer them opportunities to speak about relevant, but original, topics in many different ways. My dream came true when a student asked me incredulously, "How do you come up with this stuff?"
I'm not a teacher by trade – I never studied education, and I don't have any formal training in the field. But I learned on the job, attempting to vary the activities and structure of class to allow for different learning styles: speaking in pairs or small groups, sharing in front of the whole class, interactive games, etc. I tried to consistently operate in a way that led me towards my ultimate goal: helping students feel more comfortable speaking English, no matter how we got there.
Check out some of my favorite lesson plans from my time as a lectrice! Below you'll find some of my favorite theme ideas with an activity or two for each one.
Dystopian Tech (introduce by playing with ChatGPT together; put them in groups and have them create their own Black Mirror episode idea)
Love is in the Air (matchmaking: write dating app profiles for people who are 1. the perfect match or 2. doomed from the start; create your own reality TV show about dating & write the rules to practice modal verbs; agony aunt advice columns)
Mental Health (mental health platitudes + discussion about toxic positivity; how can we be happy?)
Music (how has TikTok changed the music industry; translate your favorite French song into English and share during speed dating; defending different music genres)
"That Girl" (discussion about pros & cons; great topic to discuss daily routines and grammar points like simple present vs. present continuous)
Family (DIY Family: pass around envelopes with different real & fictional characters, have them work in a group to create the "perfect family" made up of 4 members – 2 parents, 2 siblings)
Toxicity (discussion/debate about if the word "toxic" is overused or not)
Internet Stardom (I showed them a bunch of random photos related to people who have gone viral on the internet, they discussed what they had in common & the pros & cons of going viral; they did role-play presentations where internet-famous guests were interviewed on a late-night talk show)
Travel & Tourism (travel pet peeves, disrespectful tourists, planning a vacation for different groups, would you rather? etc.)
True Crime (why are people so obsessed with true crime? is it fair for the victims? we actually did a mock trial for serial killers... kinks needed working out but an interesting idea)
Success & The American Dream (discussion about burnout/hustle culture, your definitions of success; create a vision board as a class for the American Dream...)
Movies (silent movie: play a clip without sound, class describes what's going on and a backwards-sitting student has to guess the movie – for example, American Psycho; discussing classic movie tropes; presentations where they combine elements from different movies --> we ended up with creations such as The Na'Vi Singers in Wonderland, and Black Minions at the Witchery School... it was hilarious)
Overall, it was fun – and, yes, sometimes emotionally draining – to stand in front of a class of students each week, get to know their personalities and strengths, share opinions and ideas about topics that I hadn't even considered before, and make (many) (lame) jokes. I believe that, although I was the "teacher," my students truly helped me progress in so many ways as well. I gained confidence, and I think my time as a lectrice allowed me to figure out just exactly who I am as a person.
That's why I even teared up a little thanking my students (my L2s in particular, who I've had for two full years in Oral English). I couldn't help myself! The sweet feedback and the little notes and gifts that I received at the end of this year also warmed my heart. All of my students are really special, and I can't thank them enough for everything they gave me, material and otherwise.
THE NOT ALWAYS SO GOOD
But even through the very best moments, I won't lie... I always felt a little bit of dread that made me question whether I was made for teaching or not.
Especially in my first year, when I was completing a Masters at the same time, I woke up every morning with a pit in my stomach. I didn't even work that many hours per week (between 11 and 18 in the classroom), and I have the utmost respect and awe for full-time teachers who are a lot more overworked than me, but it's a big deal to be responsible – at least in part – for students' success and whether or not they pass or fail the year. It was a little discouraging at times to feel somewhat unsupported.
I lived in constant fear of having to handle different and often mundane administrative nightmares. What if I had to accuse a student of cheating, or if the tech in the room didn't work, or if I mixed up my students' names, or if a fight broke out in my class, or if a transport strike threw a wrench in my final exam plans, or if a student didn't like their grade and made it very known? For God's sake, what if a student DIDN'T ENJOY MY CLASS?
Every single one of these situations occurred, and did it kill me? No. It was uncomfortable in the moment, and these kind of cases always raised my heart rate and made me lose sleep... BUT I also grew in self-confidence as I handled each issue to the best of my ability. It didn't really make the challenging and stressful moments any easier to face, but I did learn to tell myself, as I have always tried to, "This too shall pass." And it did.
Now that all of the moments – the highs and the lows – are behind me, I'm nervous yet excited for the future. I'm moving on and I've finally got the guts to do something I've been wanting to do since high school. I've applied for cooking school in Alsace!
Maybe I'll come back to teaching in some capacity in the future, but for now, I'm going to try and explore a different passion. Wish me luck!
Have you worked as a lecteur or a lectrice before? If so, how was your experience? If not, would you like to work as a teacher in France?