TAPIF, distance learning for the teacher

Enseigner, c’est apprendre deux fois.” Though unbeknownst to 18th-century moralist Joseph Joubert, he has written perhaps the perfect maxim for TAPIF – the Teaching Assistant Program in France, created in 1993. Every year, the Higher Education Department of the French Embassy in the US sends some 1,000 Americans to metropolitan France and its tropical departments of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion, to teach for seven months from October through April.

Joe Dziedziak TAPIFAs part of the TAPIF program, American Joe Dziedziak spent seven months as a teaching assistant on France’s Réunion island

Though TAPIF’s curriculum specifies the teaching of the English language, lessons go far beyond the course description. It’s about promoting culture and circulating knowledge between the two countries. And as a recent alumnus of this international educational experience, I can testify to how personally rewarding TAPIF is for both teachers and students.

As a teaching assistant, you acclimate to a different way of life that allows you to discover a new cultural tableau while adding to it your own brushstrokes of colour. The high school students I taught in my sun-soaked, mountain-peaked corner of Réunion offered everything from family recipes to local mythology in exchange for hearing about my American ethos.

For the students, having a foreign assistant in the classroom sparks a lively multicultural dialogue. For example, the Réunion Creole tradition of eating fried wasp larva, a humdrum appetizer for my students, became a fascinating aspect of their culture once they got to explain it to their sceptical, yet intrigued, English assistant. (I had my opportunity to drop their jaws by relating a fried alligator tail recipe of my own.)

Of course, the exchanges go far beyond food. With TAPIF, two corners of the world, two cultures, and two (sometimes more) languages start interacting to a point where the Eiffel tower, the Sears Tower, the cornfields of the Great Plains and the sugarcane fields of Réunion forget the seas of difference between them.

Joe DziedziakJoe Dziedziak: “When I wasn’t in the classroom, you’d find me hiking on Réunion’s volcanic mountainscape, visiting Indian temples or benefiting from the island’s varied way of life.”

The job offers a chance to travel, improve French language skills, and gain teaching experience working alongside French colleagues. One night I’d be at a co-worker’s eating rougail saucisse sans ustensiles off banana leaves per Creole tradition; another night I’d run into my students at the movies catching an American film dubbed in French.

So how can you get your TAPIF experience started? Applications for the 2015-16 school year can be found at http://highereducation.frenchculture.org/teach-in-france. There is no application or program fee, your plane ticket being the only out-of-pocket expense.

Once in France, teaching assistants are temporarily lodged by their professeur référent, usually the head of the English department at the assigned school, who also provides a 5-day orientation – everything from training to lesson plans to social security to pay are discussed (monthly salaries depend on the region but range from €900 to €1300, more than enough to cover all necessary expenses); you can repeat the program one time.

As anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, “You have to go to the country and live the language to really learn it.” I cannot recommend TAPIF enough to those looking for a compounded cultural learning and teaching experience. As a teaching assistant, the more you share the more is shared with you.

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