May 13: Imposter Syndrome

A pic of Joel in the Old Nice Cemetery, which has nothing to do with this story, but which I really love

During the very first days we were here I happened to walk past a window with notices advertising Cours d’Anglais. Being qualified to teach English, I had to stop for a look, didn’t I? I hadn’t even figured out what the signs offered before a tall man with a very nice smile was manhandling me through the door, introducing me to Lauren, Lucy and Valerie who work inside, and consquently piloting my soft little heart into new territory.

My Tuesday afternoon student is a 13-year-old called Sarah. She’s being fostered by a really lovely older woman she calls NouNou, which Joel tells me is the term you’d use for a beloved nanny or ayah. We work at a table in Sarah’s bedroom and try to bring her homework alive, surrounded by vampire posters on one side and cute fluffy toys on the other. She’s adorable. I went to our first lesson with trepidation: I expected a tough little cow who’d hate me. When I saw NouNou I thought I wanted to move in, and when I saw Sarah I was sure of it.

One Tuesday, Sarah was a bit late home. NouNou and I made polite conversation until the subject turned to Sushi, the hamster. NouNou said that Sushi was pretty messy, but he was necessary at this point in Sarah’s life. Her mother was ‘dur’ (hard) and Sarah needed something to take care of and to love. That was it, my heart went boom.

We go over the poor kid’s homework because her teacher seems to be so overloaded he never marks it, he loses it, or he’s off sick. Sarah REALLY wants to learn English. The subjects in her books are so boring I could cry, but we turned around a lesson about the Peres Pelerins (Pilgrim Fathers, yeah, like, really pertinent to a French teenager with issues…). Sarah was thrilled to be able to figure out herself how to say “If I don’t feed Sushi, he’ll die”. She learned to confidently use the First Conditional!

Sarah’s easy in comparison to BAC revision students. The big BAC exam takes places at the end of June and 17 and 18-year-olds are all going crazy revising for it. Those whose families have a bit of cash can hire tutors to help. The English exam is just a part of the whole agony. Imagine students’ parents, all confident because they’ve got a native English speaker, a qualified teacher, a BA/MSc, an editor, on the case! Whoa! I’d be impressed too if it weren’t for the fact that it’s … well, it’s me.

Valerie from the office phoned to ask me if I’d take on my first BAC student. Before the first lesson I was terrified, because I knew absolutely zero. Now that I’m a professional (thank you, Google), I know that the written English BAC is something I might even fail myself. It expects a really very high standard of literary and contemporary comprehension (the word ‘flash-mobbing’, for example – an expression we all use every day, oui?).

My first student – I’ll call him X in case somehow his parents discover this blog – has been really rubbish, poor kid. His parents are really wasting their money. He needs to go back to the drawing board. But he calls me ‘vous’, shakes when I ask him to repeat something, and REALLY REALLY pays attention when I tell him what the BAC examiners are looking for (All I know I learned via Google in one morning before the first lesson). But he appears to believe everything I say. It’s not that I feel like an imposter, I AM an imposter! Cute little X, there’s no time to teach him how to say what he’d like to say – he’s got an exam to pass. Coaching a French exam student to pass a life-changing test could not be more different from teaching evening classes in London filled with exhausted Eastern Europeans.

As the revision season hots up over the next few weeks, I’ll have more and more little X’s looking at me as if I know what I’m talking about.

Well, at least I speak English. That’s a start.

Another image from the same cemetery: is she telling me to be quiet?

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About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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