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Teaching MFL - what's it really like?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by FrauSue, Sep 12, 2011.

  1. FrauSue

    FrauSue New commenter

    You've already got a very positive reply, and I would echo that. We do seem to moan a lot on here (it's more like venting steam, really!) but there are so many positives as well.
    What I love about languages is that you can theoretically teach any content, as long as it's in the target language. You can talk about holidays on the moon, or the ethics of medical research, or what you'd do with a million pounds, or invent a whole alter-ego who went sky-diving in Guatemala at the weekend ... as long as it's in the correct language, that's fine. It can be really nice at KS3 and GCSE to let the pupils just be a bit daft with the topics and bring in some interesting vocab, to help them escape from the mundanity of the school day for an hour. Whereas at A-Level I find that we often discuss topics that the pupils haven't thought about in English (e.g. the value of community service over prison sentences), so that you get the feeling of contributing to their personal and social development as well as their linguistic development.
    Teaching is hard work, and the paperwork can get you down, and the target-setting/grade-chasing culture in some environments is frustrating. But you get the feeling of really helping to influence the future in some way and of genuinely being useful and needed, and that side of it is lovely. Talk to the teachers you observe on your school visits too, but it sounds like you are in the right frame of mind to give it a go. Have you had a look at the TES jobs page to see how many and for which languages there tend to be vacancies in your area? That might help you to make up your mind too (although at this time of year there aren't many jobs advertised).
    Best of luck in your decision making!
  2. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Hi. Language teaching can be very rewarding and very creative. It is very tiring and you have to be good to get the students on board in a subject area they often find challenging. The target culture is a little wearing, to say the least, and we teach too many lessons, meaning that teaching is always something of a compromise. You have to be 100% on form to do the job well. I've been teaching in selective schools for 32 years and have never regretted it.Good luck!
  3. henriette

    henriette New commenter

    It is the best job in the world if you have good subject knowledge, love teeneagers and have a sense of humour!
    In the first 5 years after Uni I was funnelled into Sales: 8 jobs I think in 5 years.
    Then I trained to be a teacher: 2nd job in 21 years!
  4. Thank you. I have had a good convo with another school today who will hopefully invite me in for the day, and then even more hopefully let me stay and watch a few more sessions.

    I did look at the TES jobs site, and the Guardian Education one, and was struck by how many more vacancies there were for Spanish than anything else. My degree is French and German... but I am confident as a linguist and have Italian and Latin too so wondering whether I can get myself up to a good enough level in Spanish within a few years...

    More later - thanks everyone for the replies.
  5. henriette

    henriette New commenter

    If you are anywhere in the South Berkshire area, I would be more than happy for you to come and visit us at my school. PM me if that is useful/convenient.

  6. gradyoldlady

    gradyoldlady New commenter

    Hi Kedi
    I would agree with all the other positive comments. I just wanted to be honest about what I have encountered in training after the age of forty. Whilst I am now finally employed, when I was going for interview, I did come up against the question of how good my languages currently are, given that I had completed my degree many years ago. If I were you, I would join language speaking groups locally to ensure that you can prove you have a c<u>urrent</u> working knowledge of the languages you intend to teach. This can only help you in your job if you decide to go for it and will help in future interviews as well as your PGCE interview. Good luck - it is worth it!
  7. sam enerve

    sam enerve New commenter

    ...sometimes it's the best job in the world and a real privilege....other times it's like being trapped inside a washing machine on the spin cycle...
  8. Random175

    Random175 New commenter

    I trained to be a teacher with a family, although they were older than yours are now. I also was an antenatal teacher. It does not compare. There is much more work involved and certainly as a trainee or NQT 3 hours a night is no exageration - your peers may well be working until stupid o'clock but you will have to make time for your family and you will be absolutely knackered. Some years on I am still here and I have no regrets, I love my job.
  9. Hi Random,
    Really interesting to hear that you were also an antenatal teacher. You say it doesn't compare - what, not even a little bit, or do you just mean workload? I am guessing that if I make this journey I will at times be dreaming of having sixteen keen adults to deal with instead of 30 reluctant adolescents. But having taught a full day of antenatal yesterday, my impression is that skills like group management, drawing out the quiet people, reflecting questions back to the group, watching everyone's body language, giving clear instructions, keeping half an eye on the time at all times, using aims and learning outcomes, etc etc, are probably all transferable skills. Would you agree?
    And did you keep up your antenatal teaching at all or have you stopped it altogether? Do you get to do a bit of birthy stuff for pshe, get involved in girls' pregnancies at the school, or anything like that? I am deliberately going on an NCT study day fairly soon on teaching teenagers - thought it might add to the transferable skills thing! Where do you get your oxytocin fix these days?
    Would be great to talk more.
  10. Surely if you've been reading these forums you'll have seen they are an endless series of complaints about how unending teachers' work is, how their "Conditions" seem to allow their duties to be open-ended and how dictatorial HTs will use threats to impose their will which, in addition, apparently has more to do with ticking boxes than maximising pupil achievement.

    As you're a Fr/De graduate, you should be able to discover (I'm retired from MFL and studied/taught in several Continental countries from 1960s on) how different schooling and a teaching career are there. Since their pupils do at least as well as here, that must mean much of what we do is futile.

    On the basis of the RIGHT to EQUALITY of SEN students (in FE) whose INequality of ability meant they still struggled to read/write English, their advocates demanded that they should also have FL lessons. I asked if they could tell me how it would be in the students' best interests to hamper them in acquiring the essential skills of communicating in English by diminishing the number of hours dedicated to it and using them to teach a skill in which they would never achieve a useful competence (Few English pupils do:
    in contrast to the schools I taught in on the Continent, whether the subject was English or another FL); they were resentfully unable to come up with an answer, but that hasn't stopped the waste of their time in schools. And, yes, I would have wanted my children, had they been intellectually impaired, to have had this logic applied to their education.

    Why do you think it will be any less grim now and that you'll be any happier than your father? When I returned from teaching overseas in the mid-70s, I went into FE because it was already the only way of guaranteeing a classroomful of students intent on learning. It also gave me, like my Continental colleagues, a fixed number of weekly contact hours, and no other paperwork than necessary to do a professional job (I went on overseas "INSET" courses in my holidays every year, but they were fun and FREE). Otherwise I'd probably have gone into translation or interpreting.

    I wouldn't go into teaching now. (Neither would my brother, who's recently retired from a very good school, because he couldn't guarantee he'd have the same good fortune.) If my children, both good linguists, had been really keen to be teachers, I'd have suggested they go to France, where my 3 grandchildren (monolingual on arrival) are in primary school, the 6 and 8 year-olds up to standard in the 4 skills (the youngest is 4), without their teachers having the plethora of paperwork imposed here without a scintilla of research to show that it is essential to maximal progress.

    It will be interesting to know if you go ahead, and how you feel after a couple of years. Good luck.
  11. Random175

    Random175 New commenter

    That is one very important part. Adults (and I did teach young mums as well) will stop talking when you start. Children in schools do not. Adults in your classes will infer much from what you say. You will have to instruct children when to put their pen down, and when to pick them up and explain things very very clearly. Adults are greatly motivated to be there. Children are not. You need to create a learning environment whereby they want to learn. There will always be those that don't or days when they don't want to learn or be in your classroom and it won't be personal to you but it will feel that way if you let it. Children have not learnt any manners. Adults have. There is nothing more fun than winding up teachers, playing tricks to avoid learning and nothing more important to talk about than what is in their brain at the moment.
    I use most of what I learnt as an antenatal teacher in form time to be honest using active listening or being a mentor. I also use most of what I learnt in understanding how many of our vulnerable children have become the teenagers they are.
    Then there is accountability and all the scrutiny. And the greatest shock to me of all was how much children in groups lie....through their teeth. I mean barefaced lieing, and all the paper work you have to fill out to evidence you have done the right thing when they have misbehaved.
    And then there is the workload. Yes you have just taught a full day of antenatal classes. How many times have you taught those particular lessons or carried out those activities in one week and over a year. How much work do you have to mark tonight? Finally are you judged on results? You are in schools.
  12. Interesting you say that. I taught a taster Spanish class to a group of adults that were secondary school teachers, and they expected to be hand held all the way through, even telling them when to write down notes on their books. They complained because at the end of the lesson I did some catch up of the simple questions and answers we learned to introduce themselves and they said "they didn´t remember", which is fair enough, when I asked them to look at their notes they said they had made none, because I hadn't asked them to!
    I still remember the first adult lessons I taught in the UK, I was very surprised to see that people would turn up to a course without a pen or even a notebook, also surprised me that grown up students would call the teacher to say they couldn´t come to class and could I keep the notes for them. Of course, now I know this is the way things are done here. People are used to get their school stuff from school, they expect the teacher to tell them exactly what to write down, even the date! and for some reason it is okay to bother the teacher for notes, instead of asking a classmate in the first instance.
    It's a cultural thing I suppose, in Spain, nobody would not even think of wasting the teacher's time calling him to tell him he can't come, he would have the common sense of asking a classmate for the notes, and if an adult turns up without a pen or a notebook other students would think he's a bit soft in the head... and as for waiting for the teacher to dictate what notes you should be writing... well let's not get into that....
    Maybe it's just a matter of different cultures and how different people perceive different behaviour, however I can't help but suspect that this learnt behaviour starts in school. My Literacy students in secondary school ask me every time "what date do we write on the notebook, miss?" So , I have started to tell them they should know it and they shouldn´t have to wait for the teacher to tell them what the date is. Maybe it's a bit forward, but I'd like them to be independent adults and not turn into drones.
    Then of course as Random and others said, there is the issue of paperwork, much of the workload of the teachers is based in building up resources by typing up stuff in PowerPoint slides and matching it to pictures found on the internet. While most teachers in the continent would not waste their time re-inventing the wheel, they would use professionally made textbooks and build their teaching and activities around them. Why in this country we insist in sending our kids home with a bunch of poorly photocopied "resources" is something that escapes me...
  13. Sorry about the paragraphs, Safari doesn´t seem to like them!
  14. Use HTML. I can't type the actual signs as they won't appear, so ( = less than symbol and ) = gtr than.

    Open para is (p), close is (/p), (i)italic(/i), (b)bold(/b)
  15. Hello Kedi!
    I would think long and hard before making such a huge decision. I trained last year and am now in my NQT year. I wish I had taken more time to investigate ( although you seem to be doing a great job). I inititally chose to become a language teacher for the love of languages that I have and feeling that I wouldnt be fulfilled if I didnt use my languages everyday. In the actual classroom the language taught is very repetitive and basic ( unless you are working at A-level) and will not be enough to satisfy your " language hunger". You can teach in target language with top sets, but I find that speaking in target language with low ability students causes a lot trouble ( poor behaviour, loud sighs, refusal to do work cos they dont "understand"), so you wont use half as much target language as you would hope.The workload is greater than I could possibly have imagined and what has been the most difficult is not being able to finish work at 5 or 6 oclock. Knowing that when you go home you still have hours of work ahead of you planning your lessons, thinking of extension work, making worksheet for low ability then one for high ability is really hard. Whole weekends are a thing of the past.
    Behaviour is also an issue to consider. Kids these days are not easy to handle. I'm a very strong character and used to watch teachers struggling and think that would never happen to me! How wrong was I? Even though my behaviour management is good, I come home so EXHAUSTED from it at the end of the day that I wonder if it is really worth it especially when you open your paycheck and see how little you get for all the hard work. Sometimes I simply feel like a babysitter.
    Finally something that I have missed which I never realised I would was adult contact. You spend all day long with immature kids, and even when you have lunch or break you are likely to be on duty or holding detentions. I REALLY miss working with adults and having civilised conversations and banter.
    Positive side: - Holidays ( although I reckon if you add up the hours you do per day it works out the same as a normal job.
    - the lovely kids who want to do well and who do well.
    Unfortunately, had I know what I know now, I wouldnt have become a teacher and I am actively looking for another job which will promote more of a work-life-family balance!
    However, some people absolutely love it! Its such a personal decision but just thought I would tell you about my experience!
  16. musiclover1

    musiclover1 New commenter

    You need to make up your own mind about this. I wouldn't do it to get to speak the language - you can find other opportunities for that - but do it if you want a a challenge, if you're bored with the antenatal teaching. I have three small children and have just gone back to full time teaching. It feels like running a marathon. The hardest part for me is that I feel that if I act like the real me the pupils will take advantage because the real me gives kids the benefit of the doubt, doesn't readily dish out punishments etc. I had year 9 this afternoon and 50% of them didn't botherto bring their homework to the lesson. They wouldn't have acted like that for a stricter teacher. All that chasing up of homework etc really gets me down.
  17. Thank you people. All your insights are very helpful. I have asked all the MFL teachers I've been seeing 'would you do it again?' and am met with a variety of answers and qualities of silences!

    I have a few more sessions booked in with different schools in the run-up to half term, and I will keep asking the questions. I am enjoying helping out walking around the classroom even if it's basic language, but am now itching to have a go at standing up in front of a class to see how I feel about that... I have also been taken on as a volunteer in a local school starting after half term to help year 12 French as they didn't have enough hours in their timetable. Nothing like doing a load of truculent year 8s, I know, but still will be eye-opening.

    More later, especially if I go ahead (I have found my O-level and degree certificates in the attic, and to go foraging up there among the dust and spiders, I must be keen!)


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