TEFL Success Stories – Part 12

France – Erin

I’ve spent the last year teaching English in France in two different areas: general English in a public high school and business English to company employees. Of all the countries in Europe, France unfortunately ranks as one of the worst in foreign language learning. The Ministry of Education has only recently awakened to the realization that speaking and listening skills are a necessary component of a foreign language, but they still play a secondary role to reading and writing. As a result, a French student studies English for 7 years without really being able to communicate in it.

I first served as a teaching assistant in the countryside, brought over by the French government to encourage the students to speak English and to make it fun. Basically, the teacher was responsible for the curriculum and grammar – and then I worked with individual groups of students every week to help them take the grammar and vocabulary that they’d been learning in class and make them use it orally. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the students did too because they got to relate English to their lives. Plus, they discovered that if they wanted to hear about the United States from a real American, they had to figure out a way to put a sentence together – it was a motivator.


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In general, the teaching style in France is fairly strict and rigid. Teachers scold their students if they get an answer wrong and most classes are conducted lecture-style where the teacher speaks and the students take notes. If a student speaks, it’s usually to answer a question, give a summary of an article, or give a description of a picture – and topics remain intellectual. There are few roleplays, pairwork or games. So the students loved having a change of pace and the chance to do something ‘non-intellectual’ because they were after all high school kids. The problem really is the way teachers are trained to teach, which is influenced by a curriculum that places heavy emphasis on writing and reading.

The particular program that I did, the ‘teaching assistantship’ program. This is one that I highly recommend for people who want to live in France for seven months without the painful process of trying to find a job in France (which I’ll get to later), or who want to get their feet wet in teaching. It requires no prior teaching experience and only a moderate level in French.



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If you want to wing it on your own in France, you’re in for a challenge. Unless you’re an EU citizen, you’ll face a very tough time getting a school or a company to sponsor you for a work permit. Currently France has something like a 10% unemployment rate, and it legally has to give priority for any job to an EU citizen. Basically, if the government sees any justifiable reason why an EU citizen can do the job you want, you’ll probably be denied a work permit. That is, if you can find an organization to sponsor this permit, which costs them money. (As an EU citizen, you’ll have your pick of private language schools or you can do freelance work without having to worry about residency issues.)

Having said that, it is possible to get a teaching job in France as a non-EU citizen, just very, very hard and it takes dedication. What I did to find my current job teaching in a financial consulting company was to convince the Chairman of the company that he needed in-house English instruction. This will obviously work better with companies that are international or planning to go international in the near future. The other alternative is to try to find a private language school to hire you (in which case they’ll definitely require some kind of certification and/or experience). The third option, to work as a full-time teacher in a public school, generally takes years of education in the French system and is off-limits to non-EU citizens.





In terms of the differences between teaching high school students and employees in their 20s, I found it much easier to teach adults. There is a difference in level obviously, but the biggest difference is in motivation. Employees in a company generally realize that they need English in their jobs and so they make an effort to speak and ask questions and do their homework. Right now I’m teaching a range of employees, from financial consultants to salespeople, and even if they don’t use English in their daily jobs, they recognize that being able to speak English will help them land future jobs.

I would recommend France as a place to spend a couple of months teaching, if you want to try it out through the assistantship program. Otherwise, you’ll need a certification and/or experience (and some persistence if you’re not European) to get something more permanent.



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Some Things You Should Know About Teaching English in France

Get a TEFL Certificate

 The first thing you will need is an accredited TEFL Certificate to be considered for an English teaching job in France.  Some schools will consider a teacher with a lot of experience that do not have a TEFL certificate, but the better and more reliable schools will insist on a TEFL certificate.


Choosing the right school

There are plenty of academies or private language schools out there, including around 300 in Paris alone, but the reality is some are much better than others, and some are worth avoiding completely.  Do your research and ask to speak to other teachers before accepting a teaching position.  Look out for corporate crooks. Chains of language schools are usually an easy option for getting a quick teaching position, but will not necessarily be the most intellectually stimulating, and will often work out as the worst option financially.  It’s easier to concentrate your job searches around the established academies, as they often have the biggest staff numbers and turnover of teachers. However it might pay off to spend some time looking elsewhere.


Know your salary

In terms of pay, €1,200 after tax per month is the absolute minimum wage you should envisage in Paris, although slightly less could be feasible elsewhere in France.  Make sure the job you get allows you this salary, or the time to do other teaching work to supplement your salary.  Remember that the French take, on average, 5-10 weeks holiday each year and you may not be paid during the time your students are on holiday, depending on your contract.


Consider travel time for classes you will be teaching

A love of travel is why most English teachers end up doing what they do, but travel can also cause many to give it up.  Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region is a huge area, and academies will soon have you travelling to teach at companies far and wide, and your time spent on a [regional] RER train will normally not be paid.  Make sure you find out during the interview how much travel will be required and how it is remunerated. If you teach for three hours but have to travel for five, your day works out much longer, and your hourly rate takes a big blow.


Get your CV out there

Sending a CV is still the best way of getting a job at a language school. The best time to send them off is June and July, before the new term starts. This is when a lot of teachers move on and schools are desperately hunting for new recruits.


What about a work visa

France is a country in which many ESL teachers envision themselves teaching. Although France appears to be the ideal teaching location, its inclusion in the European Union (EU) makes obtaining a work visa quite difficult for non-EU citizens and the process is lengthy. Typically, a sponsoring employer must prove that there are no qualified EU citizens who could fill the position in question. Given that the UK and Ireland are members of the EU, native English language ability alone is usually not sufficient to support this claim. Applicants must prove that they have additional expertise that makes them unique among EU candidates.


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Class sizes are limited, so don’t wait, make your reservation today!