My TAPIF experience was incredible and I would definitely recommend the program. If I’d had the possibility of renewing my contract for a second year, I probably would have, but alas, it’s no longer possible to do two consecutive years. This is really inconvenient when planning for graduate school and jobs. Is this the best program to teach abroad? To be frank, probably not. That isn’t to say it’s not a good program and definitely not to say that I regret doing the program. Here are a few things to consider if you’re considering or going intoTAPIF.
•Salary- You should be able to eat, pay for housing, make (small) college loan payments, and still have some money left for travel. Somehow, I managed to even have a little money left over after subtracting the amount I paid for my flights to France and back. You do get health coverage and are eligible for housing money from CAF, though both are very bureaucratic processes (aka time consuming and complicated). You can babysit and teach private lessons to bring in extra money. I highly suggest you do.
•Preparation– What preparation? The guidebooks are fairly useful for pre-departure information, but not so much upon arrival and departure. The CIEP newsletters are fairly useful. There is no guidance in your après-TAPIF life. Considering how long the program has been in place, the organization could use improvement. Luckily, you can find useful blogs to guide you. The blog So You Think You Can France was a godsend for me. I would highly recommend Dana’s blog, Kelsy’s blog, Kim’s blog, and Erin’s blog and I am sure there are many others.
•Skills Building-There is no training, orientation is minimally useful, and there are no conferences to work on your skills, unlike the JET program and Fulbright or Peace Corps for instance. It is a great experience if you make teaching a priority (it is your job, you know) and get a school that knows how to use its assistants. It can be even better if you have prior teaching experience, especially TESOL. You only teach 12 hours a week, so this gives you time to get involved in other activities. Get involved as soon as possible make the most of these opportunities.
•School Organization– Case by case basis. My school was probably one of the best organized in Nîmes in regard to the attention I was given, yet I still found myself working in an unstructured environment. I adapted to kind of environment, but if you need structure, you might find yourself unhappy. A healthy dose of improvisation is often key. Planning only goes so far sometimes. Have a general plan A, B, C, D and Q. You’ll often end up using plan Q#.
•Program Organization– So much is dependent upon the Académie. Some Académies aide their assistants in finding housing (Poitiers during the 2012-13 year at least). Some Académies have useful orientations. Some cities work with a local bank to help assistants open bank accountants (LCL in Nîmes, though I didn’t know when I arrived). Some schools are more organized than others. Primary assistants in Nîmes had a special contact person. Everything is so incredibly dependent on a great many factors.
If you want to teach English in France, TAPIF is a great way to do it. Acceptance into the program is about 50%, so you’ve got a pretty good chance of being accepted. Typically, you’re not alone in your city or town and have a multicultural network of assistants. Fulbright is really the only other organized program I know of through which you can teach English in France and it’s highly selective (~3%). The French Fulbright commission prioritarily places their assistants in ZEPs (zone d’éducation prioritaire, similar to the idea of an American failing school). If you don’t receive the ETA French Fulbright, you’ll automatically be added to the applicant pool for TAPIF. If you’re already applying to TAPIF and other countries interest you through Fulbright, it may be in your best interest to diversify your options through Fulbright. An option for Master’s students (sometimes an undergraduate degree is enough) is finding a position as a lecteur or lectrice at a university. TAPIF is unique in that you have the opportunity to work in any of the DOM-TOMs, so consider that.