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Assistantships - Gina Veltman'12
French and International Studies
Lycée et Collège Rabelais, Meudon (suburb of Paris)
My last day teaching at Lycée et Collège Rabelais brings my mind back to the first day I approached the building, finally finding my way from the RER train station to the high school, lost as usual. I have the inclination to say that over the course of the year, I have learned what not to do. Not in a pessimistic way, but in the sense that by getting lost, one learns the right way. Living and working in a foreign country is a constant learning experience, a long trial-and-error period, but true progress is learning from mistakes, remembering to implement a correction in language or tweaking a lesson plan to help students learn better.
As an English teaching assistant at the lycée and collège, I teach about twelve hours of class per week to students who are the equivalent of middle schoolers and high school seniors. In my position, I was given complete freedom with the students, which means I am now very practiced in creating and finding my own material. Since I am considered a supplementary teacher, my goal was to get the students talking and practicing their language, which I tried to do through fun projects, such as a murder mystery game, or in one class a video-exchange with an American high school. On a personal level, this year helped me to learn effective ways of explaining, the particularities of language learning and classroom management. My assistantship coincided with my courses at New York University in Paris, which allowed me to implement the concepts I learned about how to teach foreign languages. I also sincerely enjoyed my students' personalities and enthusiasm. When my students get excited about an activity I have planned for them, it motivates me to work harder to plan something that will increase their interest in learning the language.
Not only have I learned about being in a school environment, but after spending the year in France my language skills have improved enormously. Every experience, positive or negative, forced me to improve in my communication abilities. Spending time in cafés with friends, listening to my students making jokes they thought I couldn't understand, and pushing myself to make semi-awkward conversation in the teacher's lounge was just as important to my growth as all the practicalities of life in Paris such as finding an apartment, opening a bank account, and dealing with the paperwork nightmare that is inevitable when moving to France. My year in Paris was real life. I am no longer a tourist nor quite a Parisian, but somewhere in the middle. I have learned to blend in by not smiling in public and I fait la bise rather than waving goodbye, but I think I'll still always have butterflies in my stomach and twinkling eyes when I see la Tour Eiffel.