What should you do when you're not teaching with the British Council's English Language Assistant programme? We asked Faye Briscoe, who is on a teaching placement at a primary school in France.
English language assistants spend 12 hours per week teaching in schools. My longest day finishes at 15.15, and on Wednesdays I finish at 11.15. That means the day is still young when I leave class, and I have plenty of time to travel, socialise and learn about French culture.
Here are five ways to make the most of your time outside of teaching:
1. Travel, travel, and travel
By using your spare time to travel, you create valuable experiences and can practise your language skills along the way. Thanks to the short working hours, it is possible to have one day off during the week. I do not work on Fridays, so I try to take full advantage of that by using my three-day weekends to travel. I have learned so much about how French culture can differ from place to place, especially when it comes to food. I have already been to Montpellier, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Béziers and Bolquère, despite not having been in France for very long.
Plan your trips, so that you can travel cheaply. If you choose to go to France, I would recommend purchasing a Carte Jeune, a discount rail card for young people which gives you a third off train fares.
2. Practise transferable skills in and out of the classroom
Unfortunately, I would be lying if I said you only worked 12 hours per week, and when you come home the working day is finished. In fact, you need to dedicate quite a lot of time to planning your lessons to keep them interesting for the children. This may sound like a huge chore, but do not worry. With practise, it becomes easier and you begin to develop better ideas each week. Lesson planning has helped me improve my time management, which is a valuable skill in any job. You train yourself to meet deadlines every day, and become naturally more organised as a result.
I have also found that my presentation skills have improved, as I practise these every day when I teach. I have learned how to present information clearly and concisely, so that it's easier for the children to understand.
On top of that, I may have been the least creative person in the world before taking on this role, but the job teaches you to use your initiative and think on the spot. Planning lessons forces you to be creative, as you want to make the lessons engaging. Then, if what you planned isn’t working during class (and sometimes it won’t), you have to think quickly and create games to keep your students' attention.
I have also developed skills outside the classroom: a huge one is communication. I practise this every day with the family I live with, or when I go to the shops or sort out appointments. If you can’t communicate through words, you have to find another way to do so. You quickly learn to adapt, become more independent and better at solving problems.
The great thing about this experience is that you constantly practise valuable skills without even realising that you're doing it, and they start to feel natural.
3. Live with natives
It can seem overwhelming to try to build a foundation for your career, plan lessons, learn a new language and experience the culture all at the same time.
Don't worry; it is possible to create a balance. The teaching itself allows you to practise skills regularly that look great on your CV, and there's an easy way to fully immerse yourself in the culture and improve your language skills: live with a French family. Thanks to my host family, I practise my language skills every day, experience the culture, and still have time to plan lessons and think about my career. Each day, I converse in French, eat French food, and learn a lot about the French way of life. I would definitely recommend living with a local family if you truly want to improve your language skills. It is the best way to experience the culture firsthand, and it is usually a cheaper living option, leaving you with extra money to further enjoy your time abroad.
I use my extra time to socialise. There will definitely be other language assistants in your area, so you will never be alone, and you will always have a travel partner or group. I have met so many new friends, both French and English, simply through joining Facebook groups.
This is another reason why living with a native family is a good idea. It expands your social circle even further, as you will meet other members of the family and friends of the family. It can allow you to make good friends and practise your language skills at the same time.
5. Make the most of any opportunity
I try to grab every chance I get to travel or try something new. You are only here once, after all. However, as well as using the holidays to travel, you could consider using your time to do things that will boost your CV. For example, while you are abroad, look out for British Council emails about various things to do, such as extra work opportunities with flexible hours, or events that you can take part in. I took on a research project about French food culture, which has been great practice for writing a dissertation. You can also search for volunteering opportunities. It is important not to be shy; you're here to gather new experiences and stretch yourself. Even if the time commitment seems overwhelming, it will be worth it.
Don't worry about doing everything at the same time; just the fact that you are working abroad is an excellent attribute on your CV. Above all, the programme will increase your confidence. Being a language assistant pushes you to practise skills that you perhaps hadn’t considered before, or didn't think you were capable of doing. Before I came to France, I had no teaching experience. Now, I stand in front of a class of French children and teach them English. That is truly rewarding.
Every year, around 2,500 language assistants from the UK teach English in 14 countries around the world.