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Teaching in a French University


A few years ago we lived in France and I was offered a part-time post at the local university. ‘Great’, I thought, ‘What could be easier? All those students raring to go. All with a good basic standard of English. A doddle’.

What a mistake-a to make-a!

It should be straight forward. I have an experienced colleague who has all the materials from the previous year and we teach the same content to parallel groups of students taking English on different courses. Mostly it is speaking and listening activities. (More highly powered tutors teach the grammar, linguistics, phonetics etc.) Some students are on English only courses, some do 2 languages or English + business. I have a group of second years for ‘cultural studies’. We do stuff like reading about conkers, making them and playing a game. In addition I have one group of business studies students and …………………one group of sports students.

The first year sports students are something else. They have no idea of why they are doing English for a full morning a week when they are going to be footballers. Of course, not all of them are aiming to be footballers. Some of the girls are gymnasts and athletes, some play tennis, but most of the boys just fall into the stereotype. Some of the girls actually want to learn English, so I try to teach them something, but when half the class is lounging around giving off the ‘what a waste of time this is’ vibes it isn’t easy. Nor when they arrive half way through a class because they are hungover from the weekend. 8.30am Monday morning is not the ideal time for young sportsmen, or their tutor come to that.

Typical events:

It’s the first class and not everyone on my list is there. The language specialist class lists come with photographs but not the sports student’s. I am convinced there are some students who never put in an appearance. I rapidly discover that most have a very low level of English and an attitude to match. Lesson planning is going to be tricky. In the end formal lessons are the best option. They won’t play games properly. They won’t do information exchanges … they just look at each other’s information! So worksheets it is.

8.20am one Monday morning I arrive and wonder where everyone is. It turns out the room has been changed but no-one told me. It demonstrates the importance of English in the university sports curriculum. There is no sanction if students don’t bother to attend and there is no necessity to pass the end of year exam. In any case there is no curriculum or guidelines, so it’s up to me.

I would like to use an OHP for next week’s class. There isn’t one and there won’t be one, so a rethink is required. Is there a TV/video I can use? No. Back to square one.

I take Shawn the Sheep playing football and we watch it on my laptop. They enjoy that, though some of them have trouble with the questions eg How many goals were scored? How many penalties?

I have the students sign in as they arrive. It isn’t till the end of year exam that I realise I have had identical twins in class. They sign each other in and take turns to attend class. Such mature behaviour!

11.20am one Monday and almost all the boys get up and leave…’ We ‘ave a football match, madam’. That’s the first I’ve heard of it but what can you do?

I wonder if the football fanatics consider that international matches are refereed in English? And that it perhaps is a good idea to learn some.

The tutor who had the same class the previous year taught her group using the rules of the various games but that seems rather boring, for me as well as for them, so during the last half term I try getting them to do a presentation about their particular sport. Some are really good and some are dreadful and, of course, some never turn up to do a presentation at all.

The end of year exam presents problems. I would like the girls who have worked hard to have an exam worthy of the name but I also would like the reluctant learners to be able to get a mark of some sort. In the end most of them turn up and sit through the exam but when I get home one paper is missing. Then the penny drops; the twins again. I can only work out which paper is missing because they sit alphabetically for the exam and, since the twins are last in the alphabet, it’s obvious. After an initial panic on my part I go into the office the following morning and tell their course organiser. I don’t want to leave myself open to accusations of incompetence. He doesn’t seem very bothered. In any case some have done rather well so I feel Ihave achieved something.

I could be depressed about my lack of skills but, from what other people tell me, no-one ever enjoys teaching English to the sports students at that university because the sports department appears to have little or no regard for the subject. There are no sanctions so if students choose to miss class, pay no attention, come in hung over, refuse to do any work, etc etc etc there is nothing you can do. Not much fun really but at least they paid me.

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About ijkblogger

Clergy wife for 30 years, mother of 4, grandmother of 5. Newly addicted to blogging. I suppose I always wanted to write but didn't know how to get started. We're all supposed to have a book inside us but I'm unlikely to be the next JKRowling.

4 comments on “Teaching in a French University

  1. Ursitoare Botez

    Good post! We are linking to this great content on our site.

    Keep up the good writing.

  2. Catherine

    Yikes! Would you say that these were your worst students ever? Or perhaps your worst employer?

    • ijkblogger

      I’m sure there are worse. The employer was OK, just typical sports department I suppose. The second years were just as bad only more cynical!


      • Catherine

        I’m hoping the course only lasted two years !

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This entry was posted on 19/03/2012 by in classroom management, musings and tagged , , .

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