What I've Learned After a Year As a Lectrice in France
I finally have a minute to breathe after my first week back during my second year as a lectrice in France. So, I thought I would reflect a little bit on what I've learned during the experience so far.
A quick little recap: a lecteur (or lectrice, in my case) is a native speaker of English, usually with at least one year of a Master's degree under their belt, hired to teach for a maximum of two years at a French university. Lecteurs can teach a variety of different classes – as I am in the LEA (Langues Étrangères Appliquées) department, I teach everything from Oral English to Interpretation to Scientific and Technical Communication (!).
Here are the top three lessons I learned after making it through my first year, as told through song titles.
1. "All By Myself"
Picture Bridget Jones belting this. I don't mean to disparage the university or my department at all, but I've found that as a lectrice, I've had an enormous amount of freedom when it comes to lesson planning and, well, everything.
Of course, my coworkers are happy to chat and give me advice, etc. when I ask, but I have a lot of flexibility when it comes to my curricula. I can choose whatever topics I want to talk about in Oral English, for example. Some highlights have been our units on The Paranormal, True Crime, Internet Stardom, Gender & Violence, and more. I like this because it means I'm not forced to cover certain topics that I – and the students – can no longer stand hearing about (hello, COVID). I also can decide my strategy when it comes to grading, which I perhaps wish had a chouïa more structure, because this is actually my first experience evaluating students in this way. Sometimes I also wish I had a little bit more info than just "have them do presentations" in my Scientific Communication Class. But it does allow me to get creative! For instance, I introduced a project on scientific misinformation in mass media, during which my journalism background actually gets a workout.
It's all about being able to adapt, asking the right questions, and being confident in what you propose!
2. "Don't Wait Too Long"
I've come to understand that my number one issue is procrastination. If I can feasibly wait until the very last minute to do something... I will. This has been a big problem during my first year as a lectrice for a number of reasons.
First, of course, my mental health. Constantly stressing and running around and losing sleep does a number on your brain, people! And secondly, the quality of my work. I'm definitely proud of my lessons and my performance, but I know that if I just started some things a little bit earlier, maybe I could have found better activities, come up with better questions, or made the class more interesting, engaging, profound, inclusive, scholarly... Then again, coulda, shoulda, woulda. I can't get caught up in regrets. The only thing I can do going forward is try to kick that procrastination habit! A method that has really helped me over the past year is the Pomodoro Technique. Have I greatly improved so far this rentrée? No. Do I still have hope for myself? Yes.
3. "Count On Me"
I feel as though French students, although institutions may try to provide help and guidance, don't always feel very supported in their education. It may be because French universities are more of a place to simply come and learn, as opposed to college in America, for example.
So, I really made it my overarching goal to be understanding, comprehensive, all-ears, willing to look for solutions, etc. In other words, I really tried to earn the respect of my students by making sure they knew that they had mine. I attempted to give different opportunities for them to take control of their own experience: choosing what topics they wanted to talk about, offering them a chance to give feedback, having them animate peer-led discussions, and more. I really didn't want to stand at the front of the room and talk at them (even though I did kind of like the "on stage" aspect of teaching – I felt like a stand-up comedian sometimes, and they definitely responded pretty well to my lame jokes and weird faces). It can be hard to toe that line as a young teacher, because bumping up against "friend" can be dangerous.
But my philosophy is, the more a student feels comfortable and enjoys coming to a certain class because their opinions and feelings are taken into consideration, then the better they will learn and improve. Of course, you will always have students that don't subscribe to the same world view, but as long as all of my students learned something and felt heard during the year, that's a win for me.
Would you like to be a teacher? If so, what subject? Why or why not?