Salut, tout le monde!
Today marks the first official day of the TAPIF contract. Hundreds of assistant.es– new and returning– will be starting their seven-month stint of being a language assistant in France. Whether it’s teaching in école primaire, collège, or lycée, hundreds of individuals from all over the world will experience a school year of instructing their respective culture and language, all the while enjoying total immersion in France.
At the same time, today also marks roughly a month of lecteurs teaching to French university students. It’s only been a few weeks into the school year, but perhaps some have already gotten a handle on classroom instruction and management, as well as dealing with any administrative paperwork at hand. Similarly, lecteurs will have a full school year of teaching with their contracts until August, while also enjoying the immersion in the French language and culture.
I have experiences of being both an assistante and lectrice d’anglais: I did TAPIF for two years in Normandy (l’académie de Rouen) before transitioning to the lectrice position in the Lyon region afterwards. It was four full years of living abroad and, because of it, I have learned a thing or two about being an assistant.e and a lecteur.
That said, I am deciding to write a post comparing the differences between the TAPIF program and the lecteur position. Especially if you’re thinking about applying to either positions in the future, I hope this post can help you gain insight into both. Letting you know in advance that some of the information are based on my personal experiences, so don’t expect that it’ll be the exact experience for you — merely take them as a general idea of what to expect.
Be warned — this is a long one. Let’s get to it!
10 Differences Between Being a TAPIF Assistant and Lecteur d’anglais
1. Application requirements.
To qualify for the assistant.e role in TAPIF, you only need a Bachelor’s degree and maybe some previous teaching experience (although this is debatable — many people I knew did tutoring, babysitting, or summer camp counseling; others had no experience at all). Because of these requirements, the majority of TAPIF assistant.es are recent college grads, so the average age range of the program is 22-23 years old.
To be a lecteur, it’s strongly-recommended that applicants have a Master’s degree, or at least are working towards one. Again, there are exceptions: I know some who didn’t have a Master’s (nor were thinking of getting one), and they were offered the job. It’s also desirable to have some teaching experience, but again, it’s not necessary. Average age range of lecteurs is 24-28 years old.
2. Contract start date and duration.
The TAPIF program officially starts October 1st. Assistant.es usually arrive a week or two beforehand to get settled in and get housing, open a bank account, etc. One starts teaching a month after the school year has started, so students and teachers have more-or-less settled into the rhythm of things for a smooth transition (ideally). The contract officially ends April 30th, although some schools might let their assistant.es off earlier from teaching — more time to travel or return home early, all the while still getting paid!
Lecteur contract starts September 1st, at the same time schools are starting up la rentrée. It’ll be more hectic, as colleagues and administration will be busy getting things set up for the year, so communication is key to ensure that your paperwork and schedule get processed efficiently. The contract ends August 31st, although you’d already be done teaching sometime in May or June. That gives you a couple of free months off, and still getting your paychecks!
3. Visa process.
Under both contracts, you’ll be staying in France for over 90 days (the amount of time one can stay in the country without needing a visa), so you’ll need to apply for a visa before you leave. As to whether you plan to get a student visa or travailleur temporaire, it’s important to know which one you’ll have to ensure your stay in France for the next few months are legal.
The visa and the visa process for assistant.es and lecteurs are virtually the same. Your school will need to send a stamped contract (to you as an assistant.e, or directly to your consulate as a lecteur), and then you file the same paperwork. Upon arriving in France, you’ll have to go to your region’s OFII to complete the rest of the paperwork.
Only difference between the two is if you choose to stay for a second year as a lecteur. As the French visas are generally only valid for the duration of your work/school contract, you’ll need to apply again, this time for a titre de séjour (residency card). Whereas the visas are paid for by the French ministry of education, you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket for the titre de séjour (it cost 269€ for me). It’s a pain, but it ensures you’re legal to work and live in France long-term.
4. Work hours and pay.
The TAPIF contract has you work 12 hours a week, for just under 800€ per month. While the pay sounds little, you also have to consider that you’re working very little, hardly even qualifying as part-time. Sometimes, you might even be working less than that! Plus side is that you have plenty of free time to take up hobbies or travel!
As a lecteur, you work no more than 300 hours TP (travaux pratiques) or 100 hours TD (travaux dirigés) in the school year. TP refer to labs or workshops, while TD are the actual lectures. Some lecteurs are instructed just to do TP hours, and others TD — some have a blend of both. My case was purely TD, and I was paid over-time for any extra hours — I was paid over-time in July, which ended up being double my monthly salary! Monthly salary for lecteurs is 1220€/month, which is an upgrade from the assistant.e’s.
5. Schools and students.
Depending on the académies’ demands, you might either work in écoles primaires, collèges, or lycées as a TAPIF assistant:
Écoles primaires refer to elementary school: because of the limited hours at these schools, assistants who are assigned to them usually work with two or three different schools. I never worked with école primaire as an assistante, so my knowledge is limited to what previous assistant.es have told me (i.e. cute kids, sing songs in class, require lots of energy).
Collèges are middle schools, and they last four years (6ème to 3ème). These schooling years are when students start to take language learning seriously, so you’ll have less singing songs to do in class (thank goodness). I worked at a collège my first year, and I didn’t really like it, namely because middle schoolers are the worst (i.e. start of puberty and raging hormones). Some were sweet, though, especially the 6èmes.
Lycées are high schools lasting three years (séconde to terminale), and this is where it gets divided into général (“normal” high school) and professional (trade school). I worked at both: students at the former are on the academic track and have a better level of English than those in the former, who do technical studies like retail, administrative, even carpentry! Lycée students are older, so they tend to be better-behaved and more mature — I enjoyed working with them more than collège students.
Generally, you work directly with your English colleagues as an assistant.e. You either work with them in the same class and literally “assist” them with whatever activity they’re doing, or you’re given half of a class and teach them next door. You’re never supposed to work with an entire class by yourself.
University students are different for lecteurs. You’re working with legal adults, some of them possibly older than you. You’re given entire classes ranging from 20 to 40 students, so you’re essentially a “real” teacher. Undergraduate studies (“licence“) is a three-year track, and Masters are two years. I’ve only taught the first two years of undergrad, so I don’t know if it’d be different teaching Master students — my colleagues have said it’s not so different. University students tend to be more serious in their studies, so many of them work hard to do well in class.
6. Responsibilities and classroom management.
As a TAPIF assistant.e, you aren’t expected to teach students grammar or any English technicalities. Rather, you’re there for the “cultural aspect.” If you’re American, you’d be doing activities related to Thanksgiving, high school prom, and American football. You’re representing your home country as an assistant and opening students up to a world outside of France.
It’s expected that children will act out from time to time. If a quick “shush” or short warning don’t cut it, TAPIF assistants are instructed to send the misbehaving child back to their English teacher, who will take care of it. You don’t have the power to do anything disciplinary with them under your contract, and you are also not expected to give tests or grade papers.
For lecteurs, you’re expected to teach grammar, along with prepare lessons that work on listening, reading, writing, and speaking. That means finding audio clips, text extracts, and topics to write or speak about. Topics can also be cultural (e.g. US presidential elections, gun violence, Black Friday) or, in my case, scientific like climate change, abortion, and A.I. You will also administer tests, grade them, and give out final grades at the semester’s end.
There shouldn’t be as much of a disciplinary problem with university students, but you’ll still run into some of it. Because they’re legally adults, there’s no consequence of sending them out of class if they really misbehave. I’ve had some instances with first-year students, but otherwise, it wasn’t a huge deal.
7. Teacher’s training.
Lots of TAPIF assistant.es have little to no teaching experience, so the program does offer teacher’s training during the first three months of the contract. It varies widely from académie to académie, but generally, it’s a day out of the month in which everyone goes to the region’s main city for all-day training. I found mine to be somewhat helpful in giving ideas of what I could teach my students, but otherwise, it was just throwing ideas around and perhaps a brief segment of how to handle disruptive students before sending them back to the English teacher.
Lecteurs have no training at all — that’s why it helps either to have been an assistant.e before, or have had some teaching experience in the States. You’re expected to take responsibility for everything– lesson planning, classroom instruction, discipline– so it’s all up to you. Your colleagues may or may not be helpful (mine were) if something were to come up, so be prepared for a huge learning curve in teaching.
8. Holidays and paid time off.
France is known to have one of the most-paid vacation days in the world, and teachers get the best of it. You’re off when everyone else’s off, which is fantastic. TAPIF assistant.es get a total of eight weeks vacation in their seven-month contract (basically, you don’t need to work two months of it!), which is plenty of travel to see Europe. There’ll also be times that you’re not needed at school due to bacs blancs or testing, so you could have even more time off. The eight weeks are spread out in two-week increments, with holidays in October, December, February, and April.
Universities follow a slightly-different vacation schedule, in that it’s generally a week off in October, February, and April. Winter break is about a month to a month-and-a-half, and summer about two to three months. I actually got more time off as a lectrice than as an assistant.e: besides getting the one-week breaks, I finished my semesters early and ended up having a two-and-a-half month winter break, and a four-month summer break!
9. Housing accommodation.
Outside of your job, there’s also the need of finding a place to live while abroad. For TAPIF assistant.es, you may or may not be provided housing by your school for cheap. It usually depends on the size of your town, and whether there’s a place to put you up. Many assistant.es I know (including myself) who were based in small towns more than likely received school housing. They’re often cheap or free, which cut down on costs of getting set up in France. I paid 162€/month for a 30 m2 flat my first year, and 50€ for a 20 m2 studio my second year.
For lecteurs and TAPIF assistant.es who live in bigger cities, you’ll have to find housing on your own. The apartment hunt can be a pain, but with the right resources and judgment, you’ll find something. I found housing on my own as a lectrice; I was also in a larger city, so rent was more expensive. Costs were still reasonable, though, as I paid 390€/month in a colocation my first year and 300€/month for a studio my second year. Plus, I earned more, so it was affordable!
10. Paying taxes.
Unless you’d been working full-time and earning a certain amount prior to being in TAPIF or a lecteur, you don’t need to file or pay taxes while abroad. It’s very unlikely you’ll need to do so as an assistant.e, considering you’re only there for seven months and even if you do a second year, it’s not classified as being consecutively abroad (there’s the May-September period in which you’re out of contract).
However, if you decide to stay a second year as a lecteur, you’re expected to pay taxes. It’s a pain, but it must be done. Unfortunately, I’m not in the position to say how to go about it, because even though I’d stayed on a second consecutive year, I had a weird case in which 2018 was “exempt” by the French government, so I didn’t have to pay for that year! And since I left France in July, the tax office told me not to bother paying for the 2019 year, since I wouldn’t be in the country the entire time. So I’m really blessed not to have paid French taxes in all of the four years I was abroad! If you want information on how to file taxes, Dana from As Told by Dana wrote an awesome post about it here.
…and that’s it! Again, it’s a long one, but I hope you have a better understanding of the differences between a TAPIF assistant.e and lecteur d’anglais. I’m sure I’ve missed a few key differences, so if you know of any more, feel free to contribute! Thanks for reading.