This past Friday, I taught my first undergraduate class here in Paris. In French. For three hours. In French.
While it is very good for me to spend more and more time speaking French, I couldn't help but cringe a number of times during the morning, as my accent is truly bad, particularly when I am reading something. I really felt for the students. But I remembered many of my professors were from foreign lands, and I often had to manage the strong listening required to really get past the accent. I think half of my class of about 30 students did well with that. The other half, well, I am not sure they were really awake.
Being in front of a group of students has a different feel than speaking to a group of professionals. I am used to a stronger degree of attention being paid to me. In France, so I am told, quiet conversation with your neighbors while the teacher is speaking is rather normal. I found it highly irritating, to be frank. Even with several "s'il vous plais", it continued.
Happily there were several students who were very interested in what I was presenting (Journalism 2.0, Citizen Journalism, etc.) and we had some good interaction, especially in the second half. What I have also learned is that teaching in France (at least in the earlier grades) tends to be "teacher speaks, students don't". I knew this going in, that I shouldn't expect too much discussion or debate, although I should encourage it when possible. While this was true for the most part, we did have some good questions and discussion, especially when we got into the ethics section.
I am going to make some changes to the presentation, and plan on speaking more in English, with French translation following (I was given some very good advice from one of the students, a woman I bet will go far in PR should she wish to - she has a knack of asking good questions). I like to think that my presentation skills are pretty good, but as I sat/stood there and struggled with French, I realized that my presentation performance really suffered. So, I am going to speak more English to help with that part, while doing the best I can to make sure that those students whose English is weak gets enough explanation in French that they can follow along. (I have made my presentation slides available in English and French to the students via download after the class.)
I teach two more classes (the same subject for different class sections) this week, and hope they will go more smoothly! It is good to do these things, as they push me out of my comfort zone. I think I have lots of room for improvement. But having a couple of students come up to me after class, tell me they thought the subject was interesting, and may even pursue an internship in the area really made me feel that I had a bit of success despite my language handicap. And that type of interaction is what has really drawn me to teaching. So, now I go to work on revising the presentation a bit...onwards and upwards!