Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The glamourous life of a professeur d'anglais à Paris

On this wonderful day off for Veteran's Day (or Armistice Day), I would like to take some time to reflect on the misery of my job. People usually think that living in Paris means that one leads a glamourous and magical life; however this is not often the case for the unfortunate, young American who finds themselves with little to no career opportunities, except to teach their native language. This is what I do because France HATES foreign degrees and has diplomas and certificates that correspond to EVERY job. So, I teach business English at companies in Ile de France. I teach to small groups of 1-3 people, at all levels and I have to teach them English that will be useful at their jobs. So, what are the pros and cons of being and English teacher in Paris? Read on to find out.

The Good:

  • I have a job.
  • I have job security. Everyone needs English lessons no matter what the economic situation because English is generally the international business language. And companies in France are required to pay for training for their employees, and more often than not that training is English training.
  • It is an easy job to find. If you are a native English speaker with a college degree in anything, you can basically find a job teaching English somewhere in Paris.
  • I have a CDI (permanent contract). This means I have a job for life if I want it and it is going to be really hard to find me. It also means that I can move more easily, get loans, etc. I basically get to feel like part of the successful, working world in France.
  • I get to meet lots of new people.
  • I get to explore various parts of Paris and the surrounding area.
  • I get to learn a lot. I learn about working in France, different companies in France and around the world, various French vocabulary (ranging from horses to finance), different views and opinions on different subjects, etc.
  • My language school provides books. This makes lesson planning a little bit easier.
  • Every day is different. I see different students every day, go to different places, and talk about different things so it is always interesting.

The Bad:
  • Paid by the hour. This is how it is with pretty much all the private language schools in Paris, except Wall Street Institute (who pays a very low salary instead). It sucks. Also, since I am paid by the hour I only get paid for the time I am actually giving a lesson. I do not get paid for the time I spend on the metro going from company to company from one side of Paris to the other. I also do not get paid for the time I spend at home preparing lessons, doing paperwork for my job and responding to work-related emails. This really sucks.
  • No stability. Because I am paid by the hour, I do not get paid when my students cancel lessons. They can cancel whenever they want and as long as it is earlier than 24 hours before the lesson, I do not get paid. And they cancel a lot. In October, at least one fourth of my lessons were cancelled (probably closer to one third) and so I lost out on a lot of money. It just hurts thinking about the money you are losing each time someone tells you they need to cancel. It also sucks never knowing how much money you are going to make each month. It makes it hard to budget and hard to know how much money you can spend on things like rent and bills. Plus, on days like today, it is a day off in France. My students were all happy to have a day off. While I was happy, I was also worrying about the money I was losing by not having 5 lessons this week.
  • No paid vacation. Goes with the being paid by the hour. While most French people get at least 5 weeks of paid vacation a year, if I take vacation I don't get paid. And in August all of my students are on vacation which means I get very little money in August. This vacation situation also sucks.
  • The metro. I spend about 20 non-paid hours a week on the metro. I will soon know the entire Parisian metro by heart, and not by choice. It is quite boring to spend this much time on the metro. I can't do anything except read or listen to music. I lose 20 hours a week to the metro which is time I would rather spend relaxing or preparing lessons. Also, when there are metro problems I am late to lessons and I can't do anything about it. And god forbid there ever be a major strike. I can't even imagine how much money I would lose because of a metro strike preventing me from doing my job. And I am sick of running through the metro to try to do impossible trips with limited time (like one hour to go from rueil malmaison to ivry).
  • The schedule. I work insanely long days and when I get home, instead of relaxing I have to prepare lessons. I know most English teachers in Paris tend to complain about not getting enough hours at their job and needing to work 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet. But at my company I do not have this problem to worry about. I teach 35 hours of lessons a week. Add to that the metro time and preparation and paperwork time and I am working at least 60 hours a week and only being paid for 35 of it. So much for those short work weeks and long vacations that the French are known for! I work 12-14 hours a day BEFORE I come home to prepare lessons and do paperwork.
  • The students. This is not the case for all of them. And I think I am actually quite fortunate because right now almost all of my students are amazing. However, I do have that one horrible bitch and I can't imagine what I would do if I had more students like that.
  • The preparation. I HATE coming home from work and having "homework" to do. It sucks. And I hate having to work so hard to plan lessons. I just want to take everything from the books and save myself some time, but some of my students don't want to work out of the books because it reminds them too much of being in school.
  • Low pay. In my opinion the pay should be higher because I am helping people learn English so they can perform well at their jobs and get promotions and raises. But I get paid poorly. Especially when there are cancellations.
  • Lack of organization. The language school I work for is not very well organized at all, which just makes more work for me. They send me lessons to start which are at the same time as lessons I am already doing which means that I then have to contact the students and arrange new times to see them or push back their start dates. I also look like an idiot because of this, and sometimes my future students get angry.
  • The down time. It is horrible when someone cancels a lesson in the middle of my day or a group whose lessons were in the middle of the day ends and I don't immediately have anyone else to start with because I end up with an hour and a half of nothing to do and not enough time to go home. So I just end up sitting around Paris trying not to spend money (since I don't have a lot). This was ok when it was warm out, but now that it is getting cold, it really sucks to sit around in the cold for that long with nothing to do.
Well, I think that about sums it up. So what do you think, does my job sound glamourous or not? Do the pros outweigh the cons? I don't think so which is why I am going to start looking for a new job ASAP!

6 comments:

  1. Michele, life could be better!
    I used to settle for this kind of training center job and then I discovered private business universities. they pay around 50€/hr and with your qualifications, they would probably snap you up in a heartbeat.
    If I were you, because it doesn't hurt to try, i'd send resumés to every private business uni in the city -- for example, ESC. Send the CV to the "responsable de langues" because the staff turnover is incredible and they often find themselves needing teachers mid semester or in between terms.

    Also, there are better training centers as well! Who are you working for, Berlitz, Inlingua, Exelangues..? I work for a school based in Lille (because that's where I am) but I know they hire teachers in Paris to serve their customers there. My school is called Loquendi and we have a salary that is much higher than Wallstreet (i've worked there too). If you do your 25H/wk + 10 preparation and research on average over the course of the year, you get your full salary every month. Then at the end of the year if you go over you get paid more for those extra hours. Plus we've got benefits.. paid holiday, mileage, some people have cars, computers and company phones.

    You really shouldn't settle for this situation. I was so depressed when I was doing exactly what you are doing, and now I do half uni and half training center because I like both jobs.. not because I have to.

    I just realized I sound like a bad advertisement, but know that there is better for you out there and don't hesitate to contact me if you want to bounce around some ideas or need some encouragement. :)

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  2. Thank you so much for the suggestions. I'm definitely going to have to look into some of the private business universities in Paris. It sounds like it could be more interesting. And I do need to look around at least for a better center to work for. It is really depressing doing this kind of work with no stability, no security (except the CDI), no vacation and such crazy hours. I don't know how long I'll be able to take it.

    The biggest problem is I don't really want to be teaching at all. It just said yes to this job because it was the first one to offer me a position and after 9 months without work, I was desperate! But I personally can't imagine teaching my entire life. I knew that before and I'm even more certain of it after the assistantship and this training center experience. However, if I can find a better situation, I feel like I could do it at least for another few years. But currently it is just, as you said, depressing!

    Thanks again so much for the advice. I really appreciate it. I think that when I get back from my 2.5 weeks of unpaid vacation in the US, I'm going to really start looking for something else. Wish me luck and I'll let you know how it works out!

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  3. Hi Michelle,

    My husband and I are thinking of moving to France and I was wondering if you could give us any tips about job searches. We both have MAs in TESL/Applied Linguistics. I'm a permanent resident of the U.S and he is American. Since neither of us knows French, the biggest issue seems to be finding employment information in English.

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    Replies
    1. look on the fusac website, or do a google search: english speaking jobs in paris.

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  4. Hello Michelle, I have the exact same questions as the previous Anonymous user has. Are you still available to advise? Thank you!

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  5. Hey, I love this post. I've been working for the past month as a business language teacher in Paris, but I work on the phone only so it solves that problem of running around and losing time.

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