Why do I love teaching so much?
I first got started teaching back in 1999 after I finished high school and one of my first opportunities to start making some extra money was to tutor Spanish and French to other students from my former high school. I still remember the first family that hired me to tutor their son in Spanish. At the time I had taken 4 years of Spanish, 2 years of French, and a semester of German at the local community college. Being the only nominee from my high school, the school district had given me an Excellence in Foreign Languages award. The discoveries I had made because of my language studies were and continue to be incredible. Thanks to one of my high school French teachers, I went to Europe for the first time in my senior year and I completely fell in love with Paris, which inspired me to continue learning French at the university so that I could eventually move there. The ability to speak a foreign language is an incredible skill that creates amazing opportunities and being able to help struggling students figure out how to navigate and take the reins of a foreign language to bend it to their will has always inspired me. I want to share my joy, curiosity, and passion for languages with my students so that they can discover the world.
4 years later I was dependent on my parents for living expenses in Paris, and though at first they were able to afford it, eventually it became unsustainable as the euro-to-dollar exchange rate went from $1.06 to around $1.23. My expenses stayed the same in euros, but my parents had to increase what they sent me. At some point it was time for me to become self-sufficient, so I went back to teaching, but this time I began teaching conversational English to French-speakers. I put up tons of flyers around the Left Bank and started getting phone calls from people who were interested in taking lessons with a native-speaker. We met at cafés and students’ apartments and homes. I met a ton of people and had to memorize dozens of digicodes to gain access to different apartment buildings.
I remember one occasion, I stopped by an association that organized after-school activities, and decided to ask if I could post a flyer. The conversation ended up becoming a job interview, since they decided to hire me to teach a weekly initiation English class for children ages 3-6. It was a lot of fun and the kids were delightful. We learned the alphabet, the colors, names of animals, basic greetings and phrases, and sang lots of kids’ songs. I still remember the little girl who would ask when it was “l’heure des mamans”, the time when the mommies would come back to pick them after each session. Those kids are probably teenagers by now and who knows if being exposed to a foreign language had a positive impact on their studies. I like to think that it did.
A year after that I found an advertisement from the French Ministry of Education in the Versailles Academy for a part-time English teacher, 9 hours of classes per week at two elementary schools out in Sèvres, a suburb about 10km southwest of Paris. That was my first and last experience teaching large groups of children. They were in CE2, CM1, and CM2, which are the French equivalent of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. I had about 6 classes of about 20 students each. I would go to each class and their main teacher stayed in the room, and I’m so thankful they did because I had no sense of authority at all. I had so much more private one-to-one tutoring experience and I always felt frustrated that I couldn’t give each student my individual attention so that I could adapt to their specific needs. I also started to learn the importance of properly planning the lessons before heading to the school. Too often I improvised lesson plans or planned them at the last minute while on the 30-minute train ride from Paris.
I also learned quite a lot about French education and how it differed from American education. For example, I would copy vocabulary words from the lessons onto the blackboard. I may or may not have included a title for the lesson and probably included the date, but I remember always answering the same questions, “Monsieur, should we underline the title?”, “Should we write it in red ink?”, “Where should we put the date?” Most of the time what I really wanted to say is, “I don’t care what you do, just copy it down in your notebook already.” The American attitude of encouraging students to be independent thinkers was a completely foreign concept in that school system. After I finished teaching my English lessons, I would head back to the Sorbonne for my own university lessons in French literature and it was scary to see the same mentality of the 20-something students who would religiously pull out their rulers and red-ink pens to underline whatever the professor had just written on the whiteboard. I can still recall the ripple effect of the pencilcase zippers being opened, rulers placed on desks, and straight perfect lines ever-so-carefully and precisely drawn on the ruled A-4 paper. Whatever the teachers told them to do, they did it. I knew then that classroom teaching was not for me.
My teaching contract was not renewed and so my job search continued. At the end of 2004, I found an ad in the FUSAC, a France-USA Contact magazine filled with lots of classified ads. That’s when I discovered BLS (Business Language Skills), the language school where I taught Business English for the next 4 years. Despite my limited knowledge of teaching Business English, I had at least worked with lawyers and doctors who needed help with job interviews in English and wanted their CVs in English corrected. If my private tutoring had allowed me to discover dozens and dozens of English conversation partners, teaching at companies opened the doors to international business for me. Eventually, I would meet AirFrance flight attendants and ground staff and hear the behind-the-scenes stories of air travel, and even teach Chanel employees at 31 rue Cambon. Whenever I went there, I felt like the completely fashion-oblivious assistant from “The Devil Wears Prada”. I sometimes had to pinch myself and remember my first French lessons and wonder how ever I got from “Bonjour. Comment ça va?” to “Bonjour. J’ai un rendez-vous avec Madame Boulanger pour son cours d’anglais à 10h.”
Learning languages and teaching English has truly opened doors and now I’m no longer teaching in-person lessons, but rather virtual lessons via Skype. Now I’m meeting students from all over the world: Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela to name a few. Not only do the students come from so many different cultures and backgrounds, but their interests and goals are quite varied and it’s truly inspiring to help them improve their English so that they can make their dreams of traveling and studying abroad at prestigious universities a reality.
English isn’t just a language or means of communication, it has become a currency and passport that is accepted around the world. I am very lucky to say that I am a native speaker, but I am very honored and appreciative that so many come to me for advice and tips to learn how to improve how they speak English so that not only can they speak and understand it better, but they can pass important exams so that they can go on to accomplish even greater things. I never imagined that when I first got started with Spanish 21 years ago that I would end up living in Mexico for 8+ years or having kids born in Mexico and raising them trilingually. If I had never been curious to learn more and to want to travel and explore, this lifestyle would have never been possible. I love teaching because of these wonderful unique experiences I have had and because of the possibility of empowering students to experience those same opportunities for themselves. I love helping others and teaching languages is an incredible way to have a positive impact on the world.