Every so often, on various ex-pat sites, there are posts that go a little like this:
“Hi everyone, we’ve sold our house in London and we’ve bought an 8 hectare piece of land and a farmhouse in [insert idyllic and cheap department here] and we’re coming with our two children. I’m thinking about teaching English to children and my husband is going to start a lawnmowing business. I’ve never taught English, so can anyone tell me if a TEFL qualification is needed? Also, I don’t speak much French. Can anyone tell me how I go about starting teaching please?”
And I always want to put:
“Yes. First, gain a love of your subject, of children and of teaching. Foster this for about 10 years as you get a degree in English, then slog your way through a teaching qualification on £3,000 a year. Spend at least 10 years working with children in your native language, gaining a masters and watch about 100 lessons by other teachers, both good and bad. Learn another couple of languages and find out how it is to learn a language. If you are in any doubt as to whether you could teach a language to a complete beginner, find someone who speaks another language, has no command of English, and see how easy it is to learn their language without them being able to explain in your own – at least whilst you’re beginning…”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Teaching is not complex surgery. It’s more like plate-spinning whilst trying to herd cats. That’s a class of 30. The younger they are, the more like cats they are. Or little puppies. They want to pee a lot. They are keen to please but they’ve got no concept of what it is you want them to do. And if you get 5 of them in a row, then you’re blessed.
A class of teenagers is a bit like a class of mixed dogs. Untrained rottweilers sit next to obedient lapdogs; poodles sit next to yappy Jack Russells. And teaching them is a little like getting them to all pull together. You can do it, but put an untrained dog handler with a pack of huskies and get them to round them up, harness them and drive them – well, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Some people are instinctive teachers. Some trained teachers with 30 years’ “experience” are born bank tellers or journalists or artists, but not teachers. But even the best instinctive teacher – like my friend Yasmin – they still benefit from having spent time discussing techniques, ideas, seeing other people, sharpening their practice. They’re the ones who end up like Cesar Millan, able to make a pack of 30 crazy dogs jump through a hoop.
My worst fear about those who pick up a teaching qualification on the P&O ferry from Dover is that it’s a last resort and a way to make easy money. So they think.
But they’re often blessed with unlimited idiocy. Firstly, the Charente is the same size as Lincolnshire – England’s second largest county, with a population a third of it. Lincolnshire is not known for its dense population – and the Charente is even less densely populated than that. Angouleme is about the same size as Lincoln. Lincoln… not even in the top 50 biggest cities in England. Barnsley’s population is twice the size.
So logistically, finding work can be difficult. Not only that, like Lincolnshire, it’s a mainly rural community and speaking English is about as useful to most people as the ability to speak Swahili. And it’s an ageing community. And a poor, rural community. For the majority of old people in my village learning English (and paying for it) is about as useful as paying to learn Russian.
Not only are these people asking for advice blessed with limited sense, they’re also not thinking it through. I am the first to confess I do not have a high opinion of TEFL courses. You can pretty much buy a TEFL qualification and not do any work. There are short courses which last less than 2 months and include about 20 hours of work. They’re fine if you are teaching English to adults who don’t have the same needs as a child. For 200€ and 20 hours of ‘study’ you can have a TEFL qualification. You can see why I don’t rate it. You may know nothing about English or grammar or teaching English as a foreign language, but you can get a TEFL qualification. Great stuff. That’s a little disparaging, because there are some great TEFL teachers out there. But they’re instinctively good teachers rather than trained good teachers.
Also, imagine the following message: “Hi everyone, we’ve sold our house in London and we’ve bought an 8 hectare piece of land and a farmhouse in [insert idyllic and cheap department here] and we’re coming with our two children. I’m thinking about nursing the elderly and my husband is going to start a brain surgery business. I’ve never done any nursing, but I love people and I’ve read lots of diet books so I know about digestion. Also, I don’t speak much French. Can anyone tell me how I go about starting being a nurse please?”
“Hi everyone, we’ve sold our house in London and we’ve bought an 8 hectare piece of land and a farmhouse in [insert idyllic and cheap department here] and we’re coming with our two children. I’m thinking about opening a software engineering business and my husband is going to start an accountancy business. I’ve never done any software engineering, but I can type. My husband can add up and is very tidy. Also, we don’t speak much French. Can anyone tell me how I go about starting software engineering please?”
There are a lot of people who pick up qualifications on the boat and it drives me to distraction, as it does the other, well-trained ex-pats who DID think it through, and as it does the existing population who are also well-trained and a little angry that the auto-entrepreneur scheme is being used in such a way.
It’s getting the French artisans so angry that they are lobbying to get the auto-entrepreneur status removed so that you have to become an EURL or SARL – much more complex and expensive. Whilst it would put off silly would-be ex-pats coming to France (and probably send them to Spain, Italy or Greece instead) it would mean that genuinely qualified people, including the French, would find themselves unable to start up a business. That’s the last thing France needs right now – a more complex self-employment arena – but you can see why so many locals are furious about it. And you can see why I’m so furious about it.
Why, I’m so furious, I might just have to relocate to … hmmm… let’s see… the Atlas Mountains. Does anyone know if I’d be likely to find work there as a shepherd? After all, I eat lamb sometimes and how hard can it be? They let children do it, for God’s sake! I know I don’t speak any bedouin languages, but I’ll get by, won’t I? Plus, I’m sure Morocco and Algeria have got great family allowance and unemployment benefit. And surely I must be entitled to some of that?