Legos Should be Round, and Other Things I’ve Learned as an Assistant

One of the best aspects of the TAPIF [Teaching Assistant Program in France] program is that it provides assistants from all over the world with the opportunity to meet each other. The subjects we toss around usually revolve around the same few things: Plans for the vacation, what we did last weekend, and the latest installment of, “You won’t believe what my students told me last week.” Personally, I love hearing these stories. We all seem to have a lot of them in common.

For every happy story, there are a few that also reveal the frustration we experience. Some assistants, myself included, expected to understand their students better than most, given that we were in high school not too long ago. We often receive a rude awakening. 

Julia Gueron, 02/15/2012

I think I can speak for most when I say that I try to make the best out of every situation. After all, so far away from home and the usual friends who serve as soundboards we can vent to, how else to go about things? So, I’ve tried to compile a list of ideas that I’ve heard from other assistants and have tested myself. Keep in mind, I’m a lowly assistant, and I’m no Piaget!

What to do if my students don’t understand a simple grammar rule that I’ve repeated 50 times!?

This is quite common. Whether it is explaining that actualité doesn’t mean ‘actuality’ or ‘said’ is not ‘sayed’, it’s important to not internalize this error and take it personally – they’re not listening to you, they just don’t see how applying this rule will help them now. I tried once to add a dose of humor:

After 2 weeks of working with a class and explaining a simple, but serious, grammar mistake ad nauseum, I was still disappointed to see practically every student repeat the error. There’s a proverb that goes something along the lines of, “You wouldn’t know something if it were right in front of you”. So, to test this out, I created a paper headband, wrote the grammar rule in large letters on it, and taped it on my forehead. The students laughed and I laughed. Not a soul continued to make that mistake, and I hope they won’t in the future. Sometimes, I’ve found you just need to make a fool out of yourself.

My students keep on being disruptive and I feel ‘la moutarde qui monte au nez’

Keep your calm and remember that your students themselves are brilliant but the conditions of the moment are simply not conducive to learning. At 14 years old, you could have threatened to launch a grenade at me but I wouldn’t stop talking in class of my really cool plans for the weekend. Often, I’ve found it best to stop talking and wait for the troublesome portion of the class to quiet down. Not only does this calm you down and save your sanity, but it also gives the attentive pupils the hint to tell those that are disruptive that they’re holding the class back. I find students often respond more quickly to their peers than they do to figures of authority.

Yes, sometimes they’ll talk in class, repeat mistakes or give me blank stares. I’m sure I drove a few teachers insane in my day. If there’s anything that I’m most grateful for since I’ve started, it’s the mere fact of conversing with students whose imaginations and enthusiasm seem endless. At a time in my young adult life where my responsibilities will only get heavier from here on out, I can’t help but smile seeing ‘my kids’, and hope they will remember me after I am gone.

Image credits
1. Wikipedia


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Julia Gueron

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One Comment

  1. Hannah Charbit Feb 22, 2012 at 4:53 PM - Reply

    Great article! You show how hard it can be to teach, especially when students are not really willing to study. I guess you have a lot of patience and good tips to share your knowledge with your class! That’s such a great quality. My sister is 15 years old, and I remember helping her to do her homework last year. Sometimes, it was very hard for me to stay calm! ^^’I ‘ll try next time while thinking about what you “sayed”! 😉

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