A Typical Day As An ESL Assistant

I graduated college to time travel into the past and go back to high school. Only this time, I really have to stay on top of my homework.

Certain days have their ups and downs, depending on the classes, but they all do tend to have the same pattern. However, I have learned to always expect the unexpected.

I could lie and say that I start my day early and alert, maybe with a pot of coffee and a small plate of bread topped with a hefty serving of Nutella. But again, that would be a lie. I am not a morning person and I never will be. So here’s what my mornings are actually like:

I’ll set my alarm for 6:30am, struggle to pull myself from the depths of sleep for another 45 minutes, check my phone and curse, try make myself look like I didn’t just actually roll out of bed and dart out into the darkness around 7:40am just as the sun is peeking over the ocean. It’s a 15 minute walk to school and I’ve timed it perfectly so that I can saunter in through the front gates, hang my coat up in the teacher’s lounge, make a few photocopies if I need to, and walk straight into class by 8am.

I work from 8am to 2pm, with classes every hour. There’s a 10 minute break in between 9am and 10am where I sneak a coffee or two from the machine in the lounge and scramble to put together last minute lessons that my professors may throw at me.

“Here’s a list of all the different kinds of slavery. Can you go through and make sure they understand? Yeah, thanks, okay. I’ll see you in the classroom, right?”

“Yeah, of course. I’ll be there. Just – uh – give me a second.”

* Hastily Google translates all of the slavery related vocab into French so I don’t sound like too much of an idiot in front of my students. Runs off to class five minutes late *

There’s an hour for lunch at 12 and the school comes to a halt. The French take their meals very seriously. There’s no scrambling around or trying to shovel in food while balancing books in the other hand.

Sometimes, if I have an urge to be stared at or mistaken for a student, I’ll go to the cafeteria. All of the students know I’m that American with the funny accent when she speaks French and the kitchen staff just think I’m some ballsy kid who thinks she has staff privileges. Usually, I just eat in the teacher’s lounge or at home.

After lunch I’ll have one or two more classes. It’s not hard to leave the school when I have breaks; the gates open automatically every 10 minutes before the hour. But leaving the premises means wafting through the clouds of cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes from revving scooters.

As a teacher, I’m allowed in whenever I want . . . at least, when they recognize me. There’s no window to the front gate, so I can’t see who’s working behind the desk when its closed. I just pace back and forth until they finally have enough curiosity to entertain me. I’ll hear the window slide open and I’ll smile sheepishly in their direction, knowing exactly how the conversation will turn out because it’s the same thing every. single. time.

They always apologize and I get the usual “oh, I thought you were a student.” Well, I shouldn’t say they. It’s always the same lady. And I know, because I recognize her. By this rate, she’ll finally let me in on my first try sometime during my last week.

I don’t have set rooms, even though I have a schedule. Sometimes it’s easy to find a room, but usually they forget and I end up with a forgotten chemistry lab that’s somewhere down a dark hallway, through the weighted doors behind the cafeteria that lead outside into the cold, and to the left. A good ten minutes of my time each period is spent leading a straggle of giggling French goslings while trying to find a someone with a key.

I’ve asked for keys but, since my contract ends in just over two months, I won’t be holding my breath.

Today was Monday. After grumbling through my hasty morning ritual and high-tailing it to my 8am, I led a group in creating a role-playing skit on “how to take an order.” After that I held discussions on what makes a television series popular and how cliffhangers work. For my 10am, I had to improvise when I couldn’t get a room, as usual, and took my class outside to spend an hour chasing flyaway papers in the wind. I did an exercise on American English versus British English and watched the same scene from Friends 10 times over the course of two classes to work on listening comprehension. I introduced different genres of American music, showing them music videos, ranging from Blake Shelton to Panic! At the Disco. In exchange, they gave me French artists I need to listen to.

Class today went as well as classes can on the first day back after a glorious and relaxing weekend. I did walk into wrong classrooms multiple times while searching for my students, trip over a trashcan mid-lecture and got laughed at, and I had to shoulder my way through narrow halls teeming with raging hormones and excessive PDA.

My last class on Mondays is always the chattiest and some of them really enjoy going at each other, reverting to the primal, irritating-as-a-way-of-flirting method. As long as you speak English, I’ll say.

“Aley! (They mean Haley) Elle a volé mon stylo!”

“Je ne comprends pas le français.”

“Euuuhhh – she steal my pen!”

“Passé, Jules.”

“She a stoled my pen!”

Okay, good enough. We’ll get there. One day.

It took a few months, but one of the quiet girls in the back finally raised her hand and bravely, with a straight face and a heavy accent, asked:

“What does ‘what ze fuck’ mean?”

It was a pretty normal day, if you ask me.

I guess all of those irritating speech classes that I was forced to stutter my way through actually paid off. Every day is a presentation. I have to be able to keep a bunch of fifteen-year-old kids engaged and somewhat productive. Some days, I seem to be giving those presentations to the back wall, but that’s just all in the job.

On the other hand, all of my students are now obsessed with Pentatonix so my work here is done.

3 thoughts on “A Typical Day As An ESL Assistant

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