Updated: Feb 2
To the question “Why did you become an EFL teacher,” the most common answer I have heard in my career is, “Because I want to travel and teach.” Judging by the fact that it is the world’s most visited country in the world, and has been for over thirty years, it isn’t surprising that France is one of the TEFL world’s prized destinations. As for Paris, with its Eiffel Tower, Louvre museum and West Bank cafes, it is perhaps the most iconic city on the planet. But once you’ve gotten past the excitement and glamour of actually being able to say “I did it! I’m teaching English in France,” what’s it really like to live work in France as an English teacher? What are the challenges and rewards? And perhaps most importantly, is the food really that good?
The French market
France is part of the Schengen area, which is the world’s largest free trading zone, and part of the euro zone, which is one of the world’s largest single-currency market, but if you think that means it’s easy to find work as an EFL teacher there, think again. This is not, of course, because the French already learn to speak excellent English in the French school system; in fact, a common joke in EFL staff rooms is that the French education system butters our baguettes because they do such a lousy job of teaching their youngsters English, when compared to countries such as Germany and Denmark.
In fact, the biggest challenge to teaching in France is getting a work visa/permit to work there. Companies can, theoretically, bring workers from abroad, but they must prove that workers with equivalent skills are not available locally. With the UK only a train’s ride away, though, there is no lack of English-speakers to do the job, so if you don’t already have the right to live and work in the European Union, you might already be out of luck. Brexit may change things over the next couple of years, but to what extent really remains to be seen.
Getting around the paper fence is difficult, but not impossible. Many non-EU teachers start out as students in the French higher education system; this is because it is possible to work a limited number of hours with a student visa. Other alternatives include the French Teaching Assistant Program (available to American citizens), which pays a small stipend for part-time work as a teacher’s assistant in high schools. There are other bilateral government programs; to find out more, the best place to go is your nearest French consulate.
The typical Teflite in France
As a result of these administrative hurdles, you’ll find that the immense majority of English teachers in France are... other Europeans, for the most part from the UK or Ireland, or polyglots from other European countries. This cohort can be roughly divided into three categories: youngish gap-year/ travel-and-teach types who want to use their language skills to see the world before doing something completely different; expat spouses, i.e., the English-speaking husbands and wives of professionals who come to work in France; and dedicated English teachers who are in it for the long haul, for love of the country, their students, and the job. Because of the volatility of the first two categories--both expat spouses and gap-year travellers tend to move on to other jobs or other climes within a year or two--the rate of turn-over is very high, with two major consequences for job seekers: once you’re actually in France, actually finding teaching work is anything but hard; finding well-paid work with a company that supports its teachers and provides quality training, on the other hand, is exceedingly hard. Indeed, employers hesitate to invest in a workforce that is seen, not unfairly, as quite volatile.
Paris is France
With 31 percent of GDP, if you’re an EFL teacher in France, it’s very likely that you’ll be working in the Paris region, and if you’re an EFL teacher in Paris, chances are high that you’ll mostly teach in-company business English, or in the university system. In both cases, employers will often prefer for their teachers to have “auto-entrepreneur status,” where you run your own business and bill your employer; this status is attractive to employers because it reduces the amount they have to pay in taxes and social security. Hourly rates are consequently higher for “auto-entrepreneurs”, but they have to pay higher taxes themselves, in addition to paying into the country’s social security and retirement funds.
Here are some things to consider as an in-company teacher:
Travel time. Most companies will not pay for travel time between companies. In this case, try to negotiate no more than two companies per day, with as many hours of teaching in each company as possible.
Materials. Will your employer provide you with books or other teaching materials? Who determines training content? Is there a training program? Getting this kind of support from your company means you will have more time to focus on planning quality lessons for your students.
Taboo subjects. In addition to politics and religion, discussing labor law, unions, or strikes when teaching in-company is a big no-no. People have been laid off for doing so.
And some tips for teaching in universities:
Pay. Your hourly rate will be higher than working with the private sector, but some universities only pay their contractual (non-tenure) employees... only twice per year! In other words, you may find yourself waiting six months for your first (albeit sizable) paycheck. When you start working with a university, make sure you know when you’ll get paid. And don’t take the university’s words for it, make sure to ask your colleagues.
Marking and materials. Check if you have to design materials for these courses. In general, the materials will be provided to the teacher. Also check how much exam invigilation you will have to do, and whether this will be paid extra.
France is still France
France is not the most lucrative destination for EFL teachers, nor is it the easiest place to work, and conditions are sometimes sub-par. However, at the same time, there are numerous advantages to living and working in France: access to cheap and excellent health care, superb transportation infrastructure, the possibility of living in the city with the most cinemas in the world (Paris), and, yes, really good food. Really, the food is good, I mean very good. I mean really, really good food.
And of course, there’s the joy of living and working in a society that is both stylish, sophisticated, modern, and utterly incomprehensible to almost everyone on the planet.