Every year a group of advanced students is invited to serve as Teaching Assistants (TAs) for our FREN 101-202 language classrooms. These students — typically majors in French & Francophone Studies — enroll in a department-wide foreign language pedagogy course (MDLL 401) and conduct observations of professional instructors in action. They also meet every week with the French Language and Tutoring Program Coordinator, Professor Angela Leruth, who provides guidelines and suggestions for how to create tailored activities for the next Friday’s review class. The TAs design their own activities to reinforce the week’s most important grammar, vocabulary, and culture points, and they often add in a game or song to share their love of Francophone music.
This year’s French TAs are Manon Diz, Caitlin Glauser, Sally Mullis, Mariana Erana Salmeron, and Tristan Ramage. When asked to share their thoughts about this experience, they commented on the excitement of “getting a peek behind the curtain to see what goes into planning a lesson.” They clearly enjoyed learning how to integrate culture and language teaching, and more generally they spoke of the pleasure of helping — and connecting with — other students across language and spatial barriers (unfortunately their teaching is all remote this semester!).
2020 has been a particularly challenging year as our TAs have had to overcome both the technological and the pedagogical difficulties of teaching over Zoom. They have had to find replacements for the traditional white board (students need to hear and see new language structures) and they cannot count on the usual visual cues that accompany and support classroom communication. Given the number of students in their classes, the TAs cannot even see everyone’s face at the same time!
Ultimately, however, the TAs agree on the value of the experience and of the skills they have acquired. The work has certainly been a useful grammar review for them, but it is also a meaningful way “to give back to William & Mary.” Furthermore, as one TA put it, “I definitely think that there are transferable skills.” Being a TA has taught them to manage their time and to create a lesson plan or presentation that is clear and flows well. It offers good practice in public speaking. Other useful skills include flexibility and quick-thinking (“being able to think on your feet”), and the ability to connect and develop relationships with people even without a fully shared common language (even FREN 101 is taught in the target language). These skills will serve our TAs well, whatever the professional path they end up choosing: they will be at ease in a classroom, but also know “how to engage a board, engage a client.”
We wish them all the best!