TAPIF Q+A: In the Classroom, Banking, Accommodation in France + So Much More!!

Tapif QA.jpg

I'm so excited about this latest round of Q+A - there were some awesome questions and I'm happy to share some of them below in this post. You'll also find the recording of the Q+A session at the bottom of this post.

Categories you'll find in this post/video:

  • In the Classroom
  • Banking + Phones
  • Accommodation
  • Transportation
  • Insurance
  • Miscellaneous (Immigration appointments, French language skills, medications/ prescriptions + more!)

 

In the classroom

What do the first couple weeks of school look like?

The first two weeks are generally an observation period. It's also a time when you sit at the front of the classroom and receive the third degree from students who get to ask you all sorts of questions (my favorites were 1) if I personally knew Donald Trump and 2) if I owned a gun). Basically, you'll get pretty sick of talking about yourself after these first couple of weeks!

Also, some classes will be super quiet and shy - cross your fingers that you get lots of interested and outgoing classes! So much more fun and less awkward!

And - be sure to have concrete music groups that you like because that's a main question that students will ask you. I'm the kind of person that just listens to all types of music, so I was stumped when they asked for some of my favorite groups... Also, if you're in a high school setting, have at least a little background on the rapper Jul (trust me on this one). 

Do the teachers you work with give you tips on teaching lessons?

For me, I had different systems with different teachers. With some, they gave me complete autonomy to teach whatever I wanted or to "just get the kids to speak English." Others, I had lessons completely planned out. 

What did you find to be the most difficult part about teaching your students?

Honestly, the most difficult aspect of teaching for me was dealing with the kids who just didn't talk or who didn't care about making an effort. It just left me in such a "well, what do I do!?" head space, and it really stressed me out!

On the other hand, even if you have unruly kids, you KNOW what to do - you have a stimulus and you can react to it whether that's saying "OK, stop!" or sending them out of the class. But with kids who just stare at you nervously even though you've really been clear about what you're talking about - that can be challenging. 

Most importantly, it all comes down to the individual relationships you form with your students and your classes. Kids will come out of their shells if you provide a fun and not-too-pressuring environment. 

I'm super worried about non-interested students. How many students were you in front of, on average?

On average, let's say 10 - 12. At the beginning I was overly confident and took on half the class and then got scared so I asked to be given 5 - 6 students at a time, but then as I got more comfortable, I started bringing in more to reach that 10 - 12 student happy medium.

I highly recommend, if you can, to start out with a handful of students at a time by explaining that you want to try to build individual relationships. It's so much nicer when you can just focus on smaller groups at least at the beginning. 

Is the internet in the schools fast or should we use internet on our cell phones?

It all depends. My school's was pretty slow - and there are older PCs in all the classrooms. Kind of the luck of the draw with this one. 

If you have your laptop with you, sometimes you can use your phone's hotspot because we can all use a lil' help every now and then! Otherwise, sometimes there is good wifi in the teachers lounge (salle des profs).

What was your 12-hour per week schedule like - how many days were you at school and for how long?

I worked Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday - so I had Mondays and Wednesdays off. 

And from what I remember, my schedule was

  • Tuesday from 11-12 and then 2-4.
  • Thursday from 8-12 and 2-3 (lunch break is two hours)
  • Friday from 1-6 with one or two gaps in between.

Were you invited to be involved in anything else in your school besides teaching English?

I would've LOVED to have stayed and helped with volleyball and basketball practice, but I had to work with the family I lived with so I didn't have too much time to be involved with activities at school (something that I'm hoping to change this coming year!)

In terms of the other teachers, there would be potluck lunches on Thursdays but I found it a bit exclusive and clique-y sometimes and if you didn't arrive in the first two minutes after the lunch bell rang, you could NOT find a spot to sit. Seriously. And I felt nervous reaching across the table for more bread so I only ever ate like the bare minimum.

Something I was so close to implementing last year was to have a sort of "office hours" session when I had a gap to fill in my schedule just for students who are motivated to speak English (you'll have a few - bless their little hearts!). Plus, it's a great way to further get to know your students in a less academic setting.

Did you ever have to give homework or grade anything?

Nope! That's the beauty of it. Go to work, leave the the classroom, and you're done. No take-home grading and all that stuff. Although I did offer to help one of my teachers make corrections to her overwhelming pile of essays - which I was happy to do in order to pass the time during my awkward gaps between classes.

What did you wear to work?

It's pretty casual - take a hint from the teachers you work with. I would usually wear jeans and boots and a nice top or sweater. I have tattoos on my arms and I always felt more comfortable wearing long sleeves but I'm sure you'd be fine showing your arm tattoos if you have them. 

No shorts, super short skirts, flip flops, etc.

Banking + Phones

Any Tips on opening a bank account in France?

Although I'm not able to remember ALL of the specifics, it's all pretty straightforward. (See below for what you'll be needing). 

As with all things involving French administration, just bring everything that is required of you (everything!) and you'll be golden.

How do you take money with you to France? Should I bring hundreds of dollars in cash or...? 

You don't have to bring wads of cash with you! For me, I bank with Bank of America and they are partners with BNP Paribas in France, which basically means that there aren't foreign transaction fees when withdrawing cash (euros) from BNP ATMs.

In terms of having money to open the bank account in front, I don't believe it's necessary to have a standard amount of cash to open your account. What you WILL need is what is known as an RIB slip which you'll receive from the school(s) where you work which basically lets the bank know that there WILL BE money direct-deposited each month into the account you're wanting to open. So that will do the trick.

What you'll need to open your French bank account:

  • IB slip from your school (you will receive a few of these usually on the same piece of paper and you just cut one slip off to bring with you to the bank!)
  • Your proof of residence (carte de séjour in your passport/visa)
  • Proof of a French address (can be a utility bill or a rental agreement - what I used - an attestation d'hébergement signed by the family I lived with which was a statement saying that I, Alex Morton, lived at their home at so-and-so address)
  • (In some cases) A birth certificate - although I never needed mine.
  • A W-9 Form for Americans which my French bank printed out for me and had me sign (needed just to let the IRS know you're opening an account overseas)

What do you recommend as far as a phone while you're in France?

I recommend seeing if you can UNLOCK your phone in your home country - or if it's already unlocked, then that's great - and then just getting a French SIM card when you're here. Some of the major phone companies are Free, SFR, and Orange.

If you can't unlock your phone, I'd recommend just buying a cheapish smart phone here in France with a French SIM card. 

Definitely you should have a phone, though, so you can communicate with the teachers you work with as well as with the friends you make while here!

Accommodatio

What are the best sites to use to find a room or an apartment?

Le Bon Coin (French Craigslist) or Appartager for finding a room to rent. Both are pretty reliable sources for finding an apartment!

I think I'll be spending around 500 to 600 euros each month for accommodation. Will the rest of my salary be enough each month?

So, you're going to be spending the majority of your monthly salary on housing in this case. You're going either to have to be extremely frugal and strict about your spending habits (not going out to eat as much, not going out often for drinks with friends) OR you're going to need bring with you savings from home OR you're going to need to find private tutoring clients to supplement your income. 500 to 600 euros for accommodation leaves you about 200 to 300 euros left over each month (read: not a lot).

I personally would think about bringing money from home or supplementing your income with babysitting and private tutoring.

I keep seeing things about financial aid from the French government for housing. Did you use that? Is it easy to get? Do you have any personal experience?

Yes - so that is called the CAF (caisse d'allocations familiales), but I didn't apply for it because I lived with a host family and didn't have to pay rent, but I had a lot of friends who applied for it.

It all depends on how much you make and how much your housing costs. You send in all your paperwork, and theoretically you receive a certain amount of money each month to go toward your housing costs. 

Just a note, however. A ton of people came to France just expecting the CAF immediately because it really does seem like it is a seamless process. But sometimes it can take a reeeeally long time for the CAF money to kick in, and people were beginning to get stressed out last year because it's difficult sometimes to pay a majority of your salary on your rent without any outside help (help which you were expecting to be there relatively soon after applying for it!) So, just something to keep in mind if you are planning on applying for the CAF!

ransportation

Do you have advice on taking the train in France? Can you walk me through the process of buying your ticket all the way until you descend at your destination?

If I were to be taking the train, I would:

  1. Buy my train ticket online before my trip. But you can also buy tickets at the station using the electronic ticket machines or going to the window.
  2. I've never stamped my ticket at the yellow box before (known as composter les billets). I don't know if I'm completely screwing up, but I never do it and I never get in trouble for it.
  3. Get the carte jeune (discount card for youth under age 25 or 26)! It's normally 50€ for the year but sometimes they have promotions for half-off!
  4. In the train, you find your car and seat and sit back and enjoy the ride.
  5. When the ticket-checker comes by, just show your ticket and your carte jeune and you're good to go.
  6. Once you reach your destination, get off the train and enjoy your trip! Make sure you're ready to get off, even before the train comes to a full stop because sometimes there is a lot of people-traffic and it can be difficult to get down the aisles and to the open doors!

(Specific to Paris) Any advice on buying the Pass Navigo for transportation or is there something better?

So when I was last living in Paris a few years ago, the Navigo Pass was around 65€ per month (and I think it may be a little bit more now), but from what I understand, schools will be able to partially reimburse transportation costs - just save your receipts each month on your monthly transportation costs and pick up a form (most likely from the secretariat in your school's office).

Insurance

Is it necessary to have travel insurance before entering France?

I didn't. I can't speak for everyone, but I don't think so because we receive our French insurance pretty soon after starting work. But if you would feel more comfortable being officially insured, then you should absolutely do what's best for you. 

Did your health insurance cover you for when you travelled outside of France or did you need outside insurance for that?

I never thought about it (I probably should have!). I believe that your French insurance only covers you when you're IN France. 

Miscellaneous

What does the immigration appointment at OFII entail?

Anywhere in the 3-month window after arrival in France, you'll receive a letter telling you when your appointment will be at your académie's  immigration office (l'OFII). If you need to reschedule, it's not hard - just give them a call!

As always, when you show up for your appointment, you just need to have EVERYTHING they ask for and then you go into the waiting room. When they call you back, you take a chest X-ray (not scary).

I was actually missing a document (an identity card from someone in my host family) and then I had to go home and come back after the weekend with the identity card. (The woman also made me cry by insulting my handwriting and just being an all-around mean lady but I'M OVER IT, OKAY).

How can you get any medications and prescriptions to take with you to France? Is the best way to do this to have a parent pick up your medications for you each month and mail them to you?

So, I don't think this is legal to mail medication overseas. I may be wrong about this, but I don't think this is a good idea (disclaimer: it may in fact be legal, so double check!) 

A lot of times, in France, doctors have the same medications as in your home country but just under a different name so maybe some research is in order here.

For example with me, when I was leaving for Fraance, I had a medication that I needed to refill every month, so I just went to the pharmacist and asked for 7 months of the prescription up front. If not, however, I would ask for an extra month's prescription and then making an appointment with a French doctor (English-speaking if you need) and explainging what madication you need and then they will be able to prescribe that medication for you to pick up regularly in France in order to prevent the complications of having your medication shipped to you each month.

I'm 29 and I want to go to musuems but the free passes are for under-26 year olds. Is there a way to get some sort of pass for older assistants?

Yes! By working as teaching assistants in French public schools, we are eligible to receive a pass d'éducation which is proof that we are teachers in France and it grants us FREE access into all French national museums. So, if you're in Paris and want to go to the Louvre or the Orsay, you get it freakin' FREE. It doesn't really work for regional museums, but I still whip it out just in case I get someone in a good mood who let's me in for free anyway!

To get the pass d'éducation, go to the secretariat at your school and ask for one and bring him/her a passport photo (which you can get a metro station or something!) and she'll just drop it in your cubby pretty soon after!

What was the regional orientation (stage) like?

It was during the first week of October (you'll get an email telling you exactly when and where - don't worry it will come!)

So you arrive in the morning to a university and everyone stands around awkwardly small-talking and then the people open the door and you have to find a packet for you in like a sea of unorganized packets on a table. So that takes about an hour.

Then people from your academie's rectorat talk to you for about 4 hours all in French about opening a bank account, immigration appointments, etc.

Then lunch at the cafeteria and socializing with assistants (I met some of my best friends during the time I was in France during this little lunch hour - so be open to meeting new people!)

After lunch, break off into little groups of people (10 to 12) in whichever language you'll be teaching. Introductions and mini workshops of teaching English with a French English teacher.

inish and go get drinks in town with new friends!

Cultural differences - What not to do?

Ha! I'm not sure - off the top of my head.. Maybe don't eat on-the-go. French people are very serious about their meal times and doing things comme il faut. Maybe also don't be too loud in the metro and bus!

Did you improve your French language skills during your stay in france?

100%. You're speaking French with your colleagues, with other assistants from other countries, and just living your French life (opening your bank account, finding an apartment, etc.) - your French will improve so much, it's astounding! 

How much free time did you have to travel?

A LOT.

We are set to teach for 7 months. And in those 7 months, we have 2 MONTHS of paid vacations. 6 weeks on, 2 weeks off, 6 weeks on... It's amazing.

Plan ahead. Take advantage of that time off. It's truly a beautiful thing.