Assistant Spotlight with Anne Donnelly

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Anne is a TAPIF queen.

his is her third year as an assistant. She's currently in Marseille teaching in a primary school, but she's also taught in Chambéry near Grenoble. In the 'related posts' section at the end of this post, check out her two guest posts on working in French primary schools for ALL the tips from Anne!

Honestly, she's such a wonderful resource for all teaching and living in France questions, and I'm SO happy to 'host' her here on Assistant Spotlight! 

Enjoy her rad insights!

Hi, Anne! First things first - where are you from!?

I'm from Arlington, VA, just outside DC.

What made you want to teach English in France? 

I knew I wanted to do something different after I graduated college. I was burnt out from my intense focus on theatre during university and sought to indulge more in some of my other interests: notably languages and travel!! After a very successful first year as a teaching assistant in Chambéry in 2014-15, I knew that teaching English was something I wanted to keep doing, and especially in France!

What level do you teach and how do you like it?

This is my third year teaching primary, and I love it! I have a fair amount of autonomy, which suits me as I had teaching experience before coming to France, but it can still be intimidating sometimes. I love the creativity of planning lessons and activities to practice basic vocabulary and grammar in a way that’s simple but not boring. I have so much fun with my students who are mostly all very excitable and interested. That being said, I definitely struggle with the younger classes - it can be tough to feel like you're making any progress when they still can’t manage to produce vocabulary you've been studying for months! But it’s normal and just part of the language acquisition process! I would love to experience working at a collège (middle school) and to experience the change of diving into slightly more challenging tasks and grammar concepts.

hat are three tips you have for future language assistants who want to teach in France?

1. Avoid setting expectations. Your experience as an assistant will not be the same as mine. It won’t be the same as someone in the same académieas you or even in the same town. There are so many variables and unknowns that make this an exciting and daunting prospect, and the easiest way to stay positive about it all is to keep an open and flexible mindset, no matter what. 

2. Think of this as a job, not a “program” even if you don’t want to teach longterm - TAPIF is sold to American students as a “program” similar to the study abroad “programs” many of us participated in during university. And every year, tons of assistants arrive in France and are hit with the realization that the guidance and support that they got while studying abroad doesn’t exist anymore. No one is designated to find a host family for you to live with. No one will complete your paperwork on your behalf behind the scenes. You’ll have to make a lot of decisions completely on your own. I think a lot of anxiety can be avoided by simply considering this to be a real job (which it is!). Am I allowed to quit, how do I do that? Talk to your boss, like you would in a normal job. What should I do if I need to take a day off? Find out from the school what the policy for employee sick days is, like you would in a normal job. While there are people who will help you in a real emergency, the reality is that there’s no program director who can arrive and solve all your daily problems. 

3. Don’t take anything too seriously - You’ll encounter a lot of cultural differences, whether its a colleague who is extremely rude, the endless complications of French administration, or the fact that stores are never open past 6pm. In the moment it’s easy to equate a bad experience with an entire culture. While I am all about letting yourself feel your feelings, try not to let every little thing get you down! Your colleague probably isn’t being rude because they’re French; it’s probably because they’re just not a very nice person. The administration is obnoxious, but it’s a mysterious labyrinth even for native French people, not a system designed purely to trip you up personally.

As a language assistant, what resources do you find to be useful?

I have a huge list of flashcard games that is a mixture of games that we learned at our orientation/that I knew previously/that I learned from colleagues/other assistants that I consult weekly. I recently updated it with some new favorites on my blog! 

For songs, I love Super Simple Songs for fun and simplified versions of classic nursery rhymes. 

And honestly, I also use Google a lot to find teacher blogs in French and in English with tons of activities and ideas!

What has been your favorite lesson or activity you've been able to do with one of your classes? 

en pals!! I have loved being able to set up several pen pal exchanges between my classes and schools back in my hometown. Even though the students are young, they still get really excited about the idea of exchanging letters with someone in the USA and the work they produce reflects that! It can be a ton of work and takes a solid chunk of time, but it's so worth it in my opinion!

hat are you currently doing or working on in your free time in France?

In my free time, I do a lot of extra hours tutoring - around 2-5 per week. I also teach theatre classes in English one morning per week at a private bilingual elementary school, which has been an incredibly fun challenge. I don't have any long-term projects that I'm currently working on (besides trying to keep my personal blog updated and figuring out what I want to do with my life...), but I love having time to explore Marseille, go on hikes or walks, read LOTS, discover wonderful podcasts, movies, etc. Last year, I worked on an online course to become TEFL certified through International TEFL Academy.

ave you done much traveling since being here? Any favorite places?

I can definitely be a homebody and usually prefer doing local tourism to jetting off on wild adventures every 4 weeks. That being said, I still have taken advantage of our copious amount of paid vacation time to travel a bit in Europe, and am looking forward to hitting a few more “bucket list” destinations in the upcoming year! My favorite places so far have been almost anywhere in Italy (especially Genova and Florence), sunny Lisbon, and road tripping in the Luberon.

Do you have any budgeting advice for assistants in France?

Actively seek tutoring, babysitting, or other side hustles! I sometimes earn up to 80 euro per week in pocket money, and that adds up! But you have to put some work into it yourself; don't expect everyone to come knocking at your door right away. Network with your colleagues - sometimes they will want you to practice English with their kids, or parents of students will ask them to recommend a tutor. Make sure your name is at the top of their list!! 

Take the time to apply for CAF if you’re eligible! It may be a tedious process, you may want to pull your hair out or scream or give up, but having the government essentially pay half your rent for you each month is worth the paperwork. And, I promise you, that’s all it is: paperwork. Sometimes it’s contradictory, confusing, slow paperwork, but it’s nothing more annoying than that! 

lan ahead! Teaching assistants are blessed with a ton of free time and school vacation, and you'll want to take full advantage. When planning big trips, I try to space out booking accommodation and transportation over several paychecks. That way when I finally arrive at my destination, I still have some money left for the fun stuff!!

That's about it! Any last things that you'd like to add or any parting words to current and future teaching assistants in France?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time abroad, it’s to say YES to everything, or to as much as you can! When your colleague invites you to their home for lunch, when your fellow assistants ask if you want to come over for an apéro and a board game, when that random group of strangers on the beach ask if you wanna go to the bar with them… SAY YES! An open and willing spirit will lead you on plenty of adventures and will always make the best memories!

Where can people find you?

Blog: Present Perfect Blog (www.presentperfectblog.com)

nstagram: @amdonn8