2011 was a really crazy year for me. I was finishing my Chartered Accountancy exams and I was getting married on the 15th of April. Life was really good and I had just bought a new apartment in Belfast. I had a secure job and I was looking forward to ‘the quiet life’. Then, the week before the wedding, my fiancé received an email from the Paris subsidiary of her company, asking if she would be interested in interviewing for a position they had available.
Needless to say, the timing wasn’t great and she was convinced that she wouldn’t get it. We weighed up the pros and cons of her going over such a short time before the wedding we decided it would be a good idea for her to go. We had often talked about moving away together, to experience a different culture, to learn a new language and a new way of life. Until this point, it seemed to be merely a pipe dream.
She went over for the interview, came back and we thought nothing more of it. The wedding day came, it was a wonderful day and then we went off to Marrakech on our honeymoon.
When my wife returned to work, there was an email in her inbox to say that she had got the job and asked if she could she move to Paris on the 1st July. Once again, our lives were turned upside-down as we talked over what we would do. It was such a big risk, we would have to try and rent out our new apartment, I would have to leave a secure job and try to find work in a country that I couldn’t speak the language and we were only newly married.
In the end, the decision wasn’t too difficult, the opportunity to live in a city like Paris is not something most people could turn down I think. But we were sick with worry about how it would all pan out, and what I would do for work. Had I stayed in Belfast, I would have finished my accountancy exams within a year and there were good job opportunities with my then employer to make use of this qualification. Instead, I was turning my back on this and moving somewhere where my future was going to change from relatively certain to having no idea what would happen next.
Leaving My Job
It was a serious move out of my comfort zone and I was doing something completely out of character. We were both putting everything on the line to chase something that was really a little crazy, given our circumstances. The scenario of having no tenants in our house and having to pay a full mortgage when not working was such a big worry. But the temptation to go and experience something new, different and exciting was too much and we threw caution to the wind and accepted the challenge.
It was then that I decided I would do a TEFL course, to give me some hope that I would find work teaching English abroad in Paris, in a country where the language was a major obstacle. I had many years of working in a professional capacity as a finance officer but I spoke very little French and I knew that TEFL was the only hope I had of getting something.
I was quite nervous when I handed in my notice. After a bit of initial investigation, I thought it might have been possible to take a career break, leaving my job open for me to return at a later date. This wasn’t to be, however, and I knew I had to resign. I had been working in the NHS for 6 years at that point but had been promoted in December 2010 and had moved to a new Health Trust. So really, I had only been with that organisation for 6 months. I asked to speak to my manager in private and told him what the situation was. He was very understanding and said that he could understand why I was going.
Walking away from an organisation I had been with for six years was both daunting and extremely exhilarating. Daunting for the unknown, exhilarating for the unknown. The first major obstacle to moving was that my wife had to go on the 1st of July, I couldn’t leave until the 1st September. It meant two long months of being apart just after we got married. And there was so much to organise before I left. I have to be honest and say it was the most stressful time in my life. I was a nervous wreck by the time I was set to move but in hindsight, it has been well worth it.
If I was to give any advice about doing a TEFL course and moving away it would be:
1. Do it! Life is too short and I firmly believe that if you want to leave and be successful, the only thing standing in your way is a lack of self-belief.
2. Be prepared for stressful times if you have attachments or lots of loose ends to tie up before you go. It’s really not easy and you will often question why you are putting yourself through the mill. But it’s worth it.
3. Be prepared for people thinking you’re mad. Opinions on our move ranged from surprise to outright incredulity at the risks we were taking. If you think you are doing the right thing, then do it. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back.
4. Consider what other skills you have in addition to TEFL. TEFL itself will not always open the door and give you the opportunity you desire. Even a person who can speak 5 languages isn’t guaranteed a job, it’s how you can use that skill and couple it with other experience and talents that you have that will push you to the top of employer’s want lists.
5. Consider carefully the type of job you want before you go. Teaching adults is massively different to teaching teenagers and again, this is so different to teaching kids. Know in your head what you want to do and what your strengths and weaknesses in teaching are. Learning TEFL grammar is a must. A teacher who shows weakness in grammar will lose major face with their students.
Arriving In Paris
When I moved to Paris, I had sent my CV and a cover letter to a lot of French teaching schools but I didn’t have a lot of success. I think there are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, I was using my UK address and all of my contact info etc. was for the UK. When I changed my c.v. to my Parisian address, things started to happen. When you are trying to find a teaching job in France, the best place to look (after the list of schools i-to-i give) is to use the online newspaper called FUSAC (Fusac.Fr) There’s an English and French translation for the site. On it are lots of teaching jobs for Paris and beyond. There are two parts of the site, one that has daily updates and the other that has specific adverts that are on the site all month. There you will find a list of schools looking for teachers.
There is a booming market for Business English teachers and this is what I currently do. I teach Business English in Paris and have secured a full time, permanent contract. In addition, however, there is plenty of work with children and babies, should someone be looking for this. Many French parents look for nannies to look after their kids during the day and the requirement is that you only speak English with the children, to give them an English immersion. This type of work can often lead to free accommodation with the family and is ideal as a starter to French life.
A couple of really important things about teaching in France: One is that it is really imperative to be a native speaker of English, so it means automatically, the competition for jobs is narrowed to English mother tongue applicants. Also, a teaching certificate of some sort is nearly always required, with no specificity to whether it be Masters, bachelors or TEFL.
My top 5 tips to getting a teaching job and living in France would be:
1. Prepare a good CV and cover letter in English and get a French mobile telephone number and address ASAP
2. Learn as much French as you can before you go. It’s not a pre-requisite but if you can put a few sentences together, it creates a positive image and shows you are keen to stay and spend a bit of time teaching in the country
3. Know your grammar and be prepared to give a quick lesson at the interview. Even native English speakers may be required to show they understand and can teach grammar before they are even considered for a post.
4. Be prepared to put the work in to finding the job. It’s not easy but those with determination will find the job they are after. There’s a massive market and most companies actually struggle to recruit enough teachers, such is the demand.
5. If you move to Paris or one of the big cities, be prepared to live somewhere much smaller than you are probably used to. Paris is very cramped in terms of accommodation. Don’t let it bother you though, you will be moving to the best city on the planet.
Are you facing a similar situation? Interested in applying to teach English abroad as a foreign language? Speak to i-to-i!
Photo Sourced – www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/