Let me describe a typical day in the life of a Language Assistant in the TAPIF program. This is part of an excerpt from my journal:
Today is Wednesday. As of Sunday at 8:30pm, I had ZERO classes scheduled for the week! I had to reach out to my prof référent to be like “uhhh… what should I do?” He emailed everyone reminding them to fill in my schedule, but made sure I knew not to worry about coming in Monday because it was already late.
Anywho, I’m scheduled for an 8am Tuesday. My coworker drives me to work that day as she lives near me. We barely arrive on time so she tells me she needs to make copies for her class, and gives me the keys to open the classroom. I ask for the classroom number, and I go on my happy way.
Because no students are in the courtyard anymore, I’m power walking. I get to the classroom door and I don’t recognize the students lined up waiting. I just figure that I haven’t met them yet.* They’re all looking at me funny, so I just say “hello” awkwardly and go to unlock the door. Now mind you, this colleague has 7+ keys on her key chain and had told me that she had no idea which one would open the door. So I’m trying each key, one by one, with no success.
I look at the schedule on the door which displays what teachers are there at what hour… my coworker is not listed for this time. But as the door is locked, I assume it’s a mistake because no one else is there with this class! I proceed to keep trying each key. At this point, these unfamiliar students have been mocking me and laughing their a$es off for a solid minute.**
Then some man walks up. Presumably to get into his classroom, meaning I am attempting to open the wrong freaking door! He asks me something along the lines of, “do you need to use this room?” I respond simply, “C’est à vous?” I’m already flustered and all these teenagers are still cracking jokes and laughing so I don’t even remember what he says next or if I even understand him. I try to tell him I’m supposed to work with the English prof and ask if this is the right class. He all of a sudden gets super exasperated and just storms off! This conversation took mere seconds. Clearly, I was in the wrong place but not once did he just say “oh hey, maybe you’re at the wrong room.”
I’m so flabbergasted that I don’t know what to do. He’s down at another room starting to unlock it, but these lined up kids aren’t following him so I’m still confused. Is this his classroom? If it is then why is he unlocking a different classroom? Now all these students are really cracking up. “Elle ne comprend pas!! Tu ne parles pas français??! HAHAHA!” I called down to him, “Mais, c’est à vous?” over all the commotion from these Lycée Pro buffoons who are still laughing. The man completely ignores me!
Finally, a student I know calls me from behind with a hesitant voice. I’ve never in my life been so happy to hear someone call my name. I turn around and see a line of students that I do recognize and I’m like “Ohhhhhhhhh!” as I finally understand that I am, in fact, standing at the wrong classroom door. As I scurry over to these familiar faces, already red in the face from several minutes of sheer confusion and embarrassment, all the students that have been mocking me this entire time erupt into a new chant – “Ohhhhh! Ohhhhhhhh! Ohhh!”
I confirm that they are all waiting to go to English class and try to unlock the door. By the time the teacher finally arrives, I still haven’t figured out which gosh forsaken key to use!
*It seems like not recognizing the students should have been a dead giveaway, but unfortunately even mid-January I am meeting classes that I’ve never worked with before. I work with 3 teachers in the Middle School for grades 6-9 (6-3 in the french system), then 4 more teachers in the High School for grades 10-12 (2, 1, T in France). It’s a great day if I can remember more than 10 students’ names.
**This particular morning I was working at the Lycée Professionnel. This is like a specialty high school, which has a reputation of having a lot of misbehaved students. I have great students in my English courses, but unfortunately I do notice a big difference in the behavior of Lycée Pro students compared to the students in general high school.
I find myself in a constant limbo of being frustrated with my job as a language assistant and happy with it at the same time. Personally, I adore my students! And, my coworkers are really amazing people. For this, I feel I have truly lucked out with my school assignment. There are plenty of horror stories that I hear from other language assistants involving Prof Référents who are MIA, students who are flat out rude or unmanageable, teachers giving language assistants the whole class so they don’t have to do anything, etc. I am constantly thanking ‘my lucky stars’ that I am able to have fun with my students and that my overall norm is a pleasant classroom experience.
Of course I have students who won’t try, or don’t care, but I try to find a way to get them to participate. I don’t take that personally, because I took language in High School; I saw plenty of examples at their age that regardless of how amazing teachers are, sometimes there will still be students who frankly don’t give a crap. As an American, I have a bit of an advantage with most students because they find me exotic (LOL) and interesting and therefore are more inclined to listen to me.
Despite having been here for several months, I’m constantly feeling lost! Some teachers change classrooms. If they don’t tell me which room to go to, I’m just walking around like a lost puppy checking each room until I find them! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve confidently approached a classroom door thinking yeah it’s totally this one, only to see the Math teacher or someone else there and have to turn on my heels.
I totally understand that each teacher I work with has a lot on their plates. In the situation from the story above, it was an honest mistake (she told me class F004 when really the class was in F007). The problem is that if they don’t tell me the correct hour or correct classroom, I legitimately do not know where to go or when to show up. I’ve showed up to canceled classes more than once because the teacher has forgotten to tell me that it was canceled!
After the above story, I actually had one of the best days at work. My LP class surprised me with really good questions during our activity. Then I worked with an especially enthusiastic high school class who had me cracking up for an entire hour. Finally, I finished the day with a couple classes of 6th graders, who never cease to make me smile. 🙂 In most aspects I adore my job, however, there are a lot of moments when I’m like WHYYYYY PEOPLE WHYYYY!!