Erasmus student Michael Hansford anticipates life in the Capital of the Alps, where he will be studying at Université Pierre Mendes France and playing for the Centaures de Grenoble American football team. Continue reading The opening thoughts of a future Erasmus student
by James Dalrymple
Grenoble, a vibrant student city and self-styled Captial of Alps, is France’s second biggest city for English language training after Paris. The high number of international companies in Grenoble – principally from the scientific and technological sectors – means there is also a large ex-pat community. In a globalised world – and in an increasingly globalised France – where English is the language of business communication, the demand for in-house English training has escalated. The fact that companies in France are obliged to spend a percentage of their budgets on training for their staff also contributes, as does every employee’s legal entitlement to a certain number of hours’ training for every year of work (known in France as the DIF – Droit Individuel à la Formation/Individual Right to Training). English is a popular choice for people claiming training hours under the DIF – those who recognise the value of learning English both in the workplace and for travel – but many more employees are obliged to undertake English training in order to effectively carry out their duties.
In Grenoble the English training contracts are competed for a by a number of ‘schools‘ which are essentially agencies that send (normally) native English speakers to train staff ‘in-company‘. With the exception of the Wall Street Institute – an American franchise with three centres in the Isere region that adopts a largely computer-based, self-study method – these schools ultimately differ little in their product. The company pays the agency a fee which covers the school’s administration costs, the teacher’s salary and transport fees. Some of the schools insist the teacher follows a particular book with his or her students but generally the teachers in Grenoble have quite a free role. Most companies insist on a certain amount of by-telephone training, a popular requirement easily and willingly provided by the schools. Furthermore, schools who send teachers to train clients ‘in company’ often need their staff to be able to drive in order to visit two (or occasionally more) companies in one day. It is highly unlikely a car would be provided – although I have heard of a school in Lyon doing this – but teachers are normally compensated, sometimes generously, for petrol.
From my experience in Grenoble these schools find it difficult to find suitable candidates who are settling in Grenoble for the long term. The majority of English teachers fall into two broad categories: ex-patriots with husbands or wives working in the city and former University students looking to extend their stay in the city. There are few experienced CELTA or TEFL-equivalent trained teachers coming to Grenoble to teach in the way that such individuals are attracted to the Far East, South America or even other Southern European countries. This may be because the schools in Grenoble rarely advertise on the popular ESL job forums that feed the market, because France does not offer the cheap living of the developing world and partly because Grenoble is not a particularly easy city in which to find accomodation. Furthermore, few schools will entertain recruiting a teacher from abroad. Being here is the single biggest advantage when teaching needs can be urgent.
While France’s administrative complexity and high cost of living may deter some career EFL teachers, it is also one of the few countries that can offer a decent salary with the full social security entitlements that come with it. Teaching salaries vary between approximately 1,500-1,800 euros per month which, while not a fortune, is very much a livable wage and in the environs of the national average. What is also very attractive about teaching in France is the possibility of obtaining a permanent contract or CDI (contrat à durée indéterminée) which is virtually an iron-cast job-for-life guarantee in a country with extraordinarily protective laws benefitting workers. While many teachers may get a temporary contract or ‘CDD’ (contrat à durée déterminée) in the first instance, companies can only offer two such contracts consecutively before becoming obliged to offer a permanent one if they want to keep the teacher on. In my experience, schools in Grenoble generally reward hard-working teachers with CDIs eventually rather have to look for new ones after having given out two CDDs. My impression is also that there is not enough competition for places in English teaching agencies. Teachers are often recruited without the qualifications (CELTA, TESOL etc.) or experience demanded elsewhere in the world.
There are other opportunites to teach English at Université Stendhal as a Vacataire or Lecteur/Lectrice posts which command large hourly wage (50 euros plus!). To fuly benefit from being a vacataire, teachers are not normally paid for preparation time and are obliged to have what is known as a ‘principal employer’ to avoid paying oversized social security contributions. In most such cases the teacher will work part time for one of the schools offering company training and part time in faculty. Lecteur and Lectrice posts, while paid very well, are normally only given as one or two-year contracts. As far as I am aware it is impossible to obtain a permanent post such as this. Similalry, the Ecole de Management offers a range of programmes in English for which a University degree and teaching experience often suffice. Again, the need for a principal employer applies. With the Projet Géant at Europole there are also plans to massively expand the university and open a new business school. Therefore the opportunties to teach English in the city look primed to increase rapidly.
With the numbers of British taking French at school in decline theoretically the number erasmus year students is dropping also. However, relaxed working VISA rules for Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders are starting to compensate. While some schools may prefer candidates already settled or planning to settle in Grenoble long-term, shorter stay candidates may also prove advantageous for schools which prefer to offer temporary (CDD) contracts when possible.
Here are some step-by-step instructions on how to present yourself to potential teacher employers in Grenoble.
1) Submit your CV in Engish and French. Not all of the schools are managed by native English speakers, so making an effort with this should ensure a bigger response.
2) Make an effort to communicate in French. Being able to speak French is an advantage but not crucial to teaching English in Grenoble. Having the capacity to liaise with human resouces managers (for in-company training) will be a big advantage. Brushing up on your school French will also benefit you in beginner classes.
3) Give the impression you want to stay in Grenoble long-term. Turning up at an interview with a backback or snowboard will not go down well. Schools want people with a professional attitude and a genuine interest in pedagogy – if you give the impression you are just looking to fund your favourite winter sport you will be shooting yourself in the foot.
4) Get a car. The majority of English teaching work in Grenoble is in-company training. Schools often require their teachers to be mobile, often expecting them to teach classes in up to three different companies in one day.