Tips for new French Teachers


Tips for new French Teachers

Are you a new or newer French teacher? I’ve put together an interview-style post for you with some frequently asked questions and tips for new teachers. I began teaching in 2007 and have acquired extensive experience in the classroom. Here is my best advice for all new French teachers! I hope that you find it helpful and motivating.

1.    What were your fears/challenges going into your first years of teaching?  

When I first began teaching full-time, I was covering a long-term absence that began in the middle of the school year. I had no access to what had already been taught and I had no time to prepare. This was my first time crafting a program for FSL learners and I hadn’t yet taken an AQ course for teaching French. I felt lost. I was also suffering from imposer syndrome. I was a new graduate and really felt underprepared. 

  How did you overcome these?

I first established consistent routines for reading, speaking, writing and listening. I also searched extensively for resources. I approached the school board resource centre and the city in which I worked had a French resource centre. I found a number of published teaching kits with guides and activities. I found these very helpful for teaching me how to structure a lesson as I grew as a teacher.


2.    What is your strategy for a successful year of teaching?


Establishing routines! I have a routine for reading, writing, speaking and listening skills that are either used daily or weekly. My students know what to expect and it helps with classroom management. Also, the repetition helps with language acquisition. 

For example, I use the Prof Du Jour routine daily to give my students the opportunity to practice speaking. Students verbally answer a set of questions each day. I scaffold this depending on the experience level of my students. 

For writing, I use a photo of the day routine, where we list either nouns or adjectives or verbs that pertain to a photo I display. This gives us experience with French-English dictionaries and helps with vocabulary acquisition. 

For listening, I play a song or video each day.

For reading, I will place a mixed-up sentence in a pocket chart or write it on the board and we work to unscramble the sentence together.

3.    Can you share 3 tips that reduce stress and overwhelm when preparing/planning for the year?


1.     I start long-range planning in the summer. I know not everyone knows their teaching assignment that far in advance, but being able to start the outline for the year really helps me. I am able search for and gather resources and it takes a lot of pressure off the month of September which is generally a very busy month.


2. If you are teaching more than 1 grade, think about how you can modify the activities to use with more than a single grade. How can you make them more or less challenging? This cuts down on the amount of planning you have to do if you can reuse your ideas.


3. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.... yet. When you are starting out, don’t feel like you have to plan everything from scratch. Use pre-planned unit guides. Over time, you will learn what works well and what doesn’t for you and your students. You don’t have to do it all at once.


4.    Can you share 3 things to STOP doing in order to have a successful year?


-STOP feeling like an imposter. You are a trained teacher and have teaching and volunteer experience. Own it! Be confident and your students will have confidence in you.


-STOP grading EVERYTHING. You don’t need to feel swamped with paperwork, especially when you may possibly be teaching French to over 100 students each day. Remember to use formative and summative assessment strategies. You don’t need to grade everything. Some activities are simply learning opportunities and a chance for your students to practice what they are learning. Use these opportunities to observe and make notes on what may require extra teaching.


-STOP trying to feel that you have to do it alone. Please reach out to other teachers for help. Most DO remember the challenges of being a first-year teacher and want to help. If you don’t have any other French-language teachers in your school, your school board should have a French contact that they can put you in touch with. Ask your administrator team to help you find them, or maybe they can connect you with another French teacher that they know. Don’t be afraid to ask. Also, with social media today, you can easily connect with educators in your own community, province or across the country. I didn’t have this as a new teacher. I get messages weekly from teacher asking for help and suggestions – with planning, locating resources and even interview strategies. Again, don’t be afraid to ask.


5.    What is your morning and after school routine/habits that have set you up for success?


In the morning, I try to get to school at least 30 minutes before students start arriving. This gives me an opportunity to make sure all of my technology is working correctly, and that I don’t feel rushed. 


After school is when I do most of my work. I make sure that my day planner has all of the lessons written out for the next day, I do any photocopying that I need for the next day and organize my supplies. I have found this way I don’t have any extra running around in the morning. 


6.    What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when starting out as a Core French / Extended French teacher?


For many students, learning a second language can be stressful. Simply knowing this and being empathetic to your students can go a LONG way in setting your students up for success.


To help your students feel more comfortable, let them know that it is OK to make mistakes- share stories about mistakes you have made. Also, having visual supports available whenever possible is helpful. Have anchor charts available, allow for vocabulary lists, desk cards with useful phrases- really, anything that will make your students feel supported. 


Also scaffolding can really help. Scaffolding refers to a number of teaching techniques used to gradually increase students toward a stronger understanding of curriculum goals. The use of scaffolding ultimately leads to greater independence in the learning process. Scaffolding involves to use of temporary supports provided by the teacher to assist students with comprehension and skills that they normally would not be able to achieve without the supports. The supports are gradually released as students become confident with the skill. Below, I list some of the strategies you can use in your FSL classroom when implementing scaffolding.

Some scaffolding strategies include:

1.     Simplify. Break the task down into smaller parts and work on smaller skills before requiring completion of a larger task.

2.     Illustrate or model. Provide picture clues, anchor charts or model the activity with students before requiring them to work independently.


7.    What is one thing new teachers can do TODAY to help prepare them for teaching?


Make a classroom management plan. Think of the expectations that you have for your classroom (like raising your hand to speak, respecting the school property, treating each other with respect). Write these down along with “What these behaviours look like to you.” Then, create a hierarchy of consequences or actions you are willing to take if the expectations aren’t met (like a verbal warning, a note/phone call home or administrator intervention). When you begin the school year, go over this with your students, ask them if there is anything they want to add or modify. Then, have each student sign this to agree. Post in a visible place in your class room and place a copy in your sub binder.


8.    Who was/is your mentor/inspiration?


My teaching partner in my first year teaching was amazing! He had been teaching for almost 20 years and, while I was totally type A, he was much more relaxed. He helped me find confidence, and helped me to realize that everything wasn’t always going to go 100% to plan and to have a backup plan and backup backup plan (which may or may not be understanding that some days you won’t be able to achieve your lesson goals, and that totally OK!) 

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