Elaine Joyce from Galway is studying French, Spanish and Children’s Studies at NUI Galway. Having always been interested in teaching, she took time out from her studies to gain teaching experience as a Comenius Assistant at the école maternelle d’application Carle Vernet in Bordeaux, France. She was based in a pre-school but also taught at the local primary school and gave conversational English lessons to both schools’ teachers.
“I felt instantly welcome as soon as I arrived at my school. I stayed with one of the teachers when I first arrived and she introduced me to all the staff, the parents and children. Accommodation can be difficult to find in Bordeaux, but thanks to my school I was able to find a place to stay with a French family. The school explained my tasks clearly at the beginning and I described exactly what I wished to get out of my assistantship. We spoke about each task as it came up and worked on it together. I was the school’s fourth assistants so they knew exactly what I would be doing, how they would explain it to me, and how to deal with a problem should it arise.
When I first arrived in each classroom the teacher made sure to welcome me and get all the children to say hello. The teacher would explain that I was from Ireland and would be teaching English. After that, whenever I entered a new classroom the teacher would say “Oh look, it’s English time!” and continue to speak English while I was there. This meant the children saw me as a sort of flag to show we had changed language, and not that they suddenly didn’t understand everything! I’ve realised you have to teach young children in a relaxed manner, so they learn gradually and without pressure. Otherwise they might form a dislike for English and that’s the last thing that should happen!
In the classes I taught simple concepts like colours, numbers and animal names. We practiced questions like ‘What’s your name?’, ‘How old are you?’ and ‘Where do you live?’. The children became very capable and could understand and answer them. We also used a lot of songs - at such a young age songs are a great way to teach, and all the songs had actions so the students could understand what they were singing about.
I also taught the teachers English for an hour every week, and introduced them to Irish culture like Gaelic Football, Hurling, Irish dancing and music. I was invited many times for dinner at the teachers’ homes; this gave us all a chance to exchange cultures and share stories. For the local community it was a chance to experience another culture and see how easy it is to make friends with people from other countries.
At Christmas time we made a Christmas cake with one of the classes, and I also taught the students about the ‘Big Irish Breakfast’. They learnt words like bacon, eggs, toast and beans … and just before I left we organised a breakfast morning where they could taste all the food they had learnt about, and experience a small part of Irish culture!
I’ve greatly improved my understanding and speaking of French as I got to use it every day. I have always wanted to be a teacher but before applying to be an assistant I was a little afraid that if I was to study and become a teacher it wouldn’t be exactly what I had hoped it would be. This experience has allowed me to see exactly what it would be like and I loved it. Therefore it has made my decision for me – I definitely want to be a teacher in the future. Comenius was a wonderful experience and for me it was the perfect thing to do."