A Cliché Study Abroad Story: My Teaching Internship

Miah Tapper
December 9, 2019
Cards from Students

There are a lot of cheesy clichés you may have heard about study abroad. Things such as: 

To study abroad is to EVOLVE

The further you venture away, the more you will meet YOURSELF

The less you close yourself off the more your mind will OPEN

You get the picture. These sayings, or similar ones, are heard so often nowadays that they probably become a little expected, unsurprising, not needed to be highlighted. However, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I may have had dozens of quotes like these posted on my dashboard before studying abroad because I believe that such things, like all the over-sung Frozen songs, are overstated more often because they are too true/good. 

At the end of the semester, I haven’t been let down. However, one big cliché really stands out to me; one that greatly transformed my study abroad experience and gave it the most meaning. It is this:

My internship abroad changed my life.

I remember reading something along these lines in a previous IES Abroad blog, which eventually influenced my decision to enroll in the IES Abroad teaching internship program. And yes, my internship abroad changed my life. Even while my language goals didn’t benefit much from preparing and teaching English lessons for local schools, the experiences I gained through interacting with french students and teachers brought me automatically so much closer to French culture, and helped me to get out of the IES Abroad American “bubble”. 

The 3 Opportunities I seized to teach in France

1) My first toe-dip into the waters of teaching began with the stage pédagogique (teaching Internship) class with Madame Grenon. This course was an amazing, supportive introduction to the world of teaching. Throughout the semester Madame Grenon exposed us to great teaching examples and resources; one day, we watched a heartfelt documentary of a passionate teacher during his last year before retirement, while another day we listened to the experiences of an actual teacher in Nantes.

Even with this toolbox of teaching advice, I found myself with many difficulties at the beginning of the semester. While my sixième (6th grade) class was incredibly enthusiastic, my quatrième (8th grade) class never stopped talking and even threw stuff during my class! The professor of this class reassured me, saying that quatrième classes are normally some of the hardest to teach. Nevertheless, I was, in short, devastated. The experience would push me to do my big class essay on “how to remedy demotivation in the classroom”. Thanks to this, I began making powerpoint presentations more interactive by including worksheets and questions, encouraging teamwork rather than competitive work that can push some students to the background, and switched up the types of work creatively each class. Class performance greatly improved.

2) Native English teachers are in high demand in France, and many families ask IES Abroad for students willing to teach their children for a bit of cash - these paid jobs were posted on the IES Abroad message board. When I asked IES Abroad about it (I suggest doing this quickly - the jobs are first come first serve!) I managed to score a job with a small three-year-old and his mom for the whole academic year.

This experience has been immeasurably valuable to me. Being invited to another family home allows me to get another perspective on family life outside of my host family, and teaching one-on-one allows deeper relationships. While at first the son was very shy, didn’t want to speak much English, and even ran away, after playing hide-and-seek a couple of times and drawing some cool Lightning McQueen (his favorite character), his mom now tells me he looks forward to when I arrive! I have so much fun singing, dancing, and drawing with them that I couldn’t imagine my study abroad experience without this little job. 

3) An English teacher at the University of Nantes looking for an English speaker to teach a low-key, fun English afterschool program at her daughter’s school posted to IES Abroad students on Facebook, and I, unable to refuse the opportunity, took the bait! This job is also paid. The kids in the program range from 7 years old to 12 years old, and they all have little to no English knowledge. With their (verrryyy) short attention spans, this makes teaching a class entirely in English difficult, to say the least. In fact, I find myself relying on my rudimentary french skills each class to give necessary instruction and discipline (they can be very naughty)! However, I find accordingly that this is the experience where I have learned the most - to not let the kids’ behavior get to me (my skin is now much thicker), to give instructions with much more energy and emphasis, and to be sharp and attentive immediately to all misbehavior (otherwise things can get out of control very quickly!)

All in all, I would encourage anyone to do the internship, no matter how nerve-wracking or daunting it seems, you might be surprised at how quickly you develop confidence amidst a room of students once you realize you have something very valuable to give them - a native culture and language experience.

Some tips 

Play to your strengths! Whether you are very artistic, good with technology, love music, can stimulate good conversation, or have creative ideas, use these in your lessons! If you think about it, all of your favorite teachers had probably different teaching styles, and that’s because different teachers have different strategies that work for them! The more experienced we become, the more we can form a more rounded toolbox of strategies. 

Also: These were my experiences, internships vary widely for each teacher and school you intern at; keep an open mind to more easily adapt to where-ever you get placed. 

Finally, if you are even just thinking that you would like to do the teaching internship (the selection process is very open), make sure you bring supplies for your lessons from America! A children’s book, magazine, or even American coins could really help stimulate interest for a lesson. I wish I had brought some of my favorite children’s books to read to the classes. 

The Last Class

For the last class of my quatrième students, they gave me a surprise party. I was overcome with love and gratitude for my students while they formed a ring around me, each sharing something they enjoyed about my English class during the semester. Right now, their cards hang above my desk, reminding me that all my hard work this semester was so incredibly worth the effort, and inspiring me to continue to pursue similar experiences.

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Miah Tapper

<p>My name is Miah Chu Won Tapper. I come from a large family with two younger brothers and three younger step-siblings, whom I live with on the small island of Oahu, Hawaii. I’ve always had a passion for traveling but until now I’ve only traveled the world in books. As a French major, I’m so excited to be able to continue the adventure in Nantes, France.&nbsp;</p>

Home University:
Kenyon College
Kailua, HI
French Language
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