Teaching in a French School (Renee Z. Wang)

What is it like to teach in France? No one account, of course, can capture an entire system of schooling in any nation but one American teacher’s description offers a clue. Here is a blog post from Renee Z. Wang who worked in a French School 2016-2017.

Hi everyone,
As I mentioned earlier, I’m working as an English language assistant at the middle school level. I assist the six English language teachers at my school with their classes. Today I’ll tell you more about my job and the French public school system, which is quite different than the American public school system!

First off, the grade levels and schools are divided differently in France. The main organizational differences are: 1) Schooling is not mandatory until age six (vs. age five in the US), 2) Middle school is four years, 3) High school is three years, and 4) Grade levels are not named in a consecutive order….

In addition, the French school system (and French government in general) is highly centralized and organized. There are 30 public school systems in France, and each is managed by an Académie. And yes – there is lots of paperwork and things that need to be done with them and your school…. After all, they are part of the infamous French bureaucracy! Even absence requests by teachers must be submitted through them, even though the absence is only occurring at the school level. There is an upside to all this, though – everything is well documented, and a strong institutional support system exists for efficiently implementing changes on a large scale.

But what does this look like in a classroom setting? Well, for one thing, notebooks here are extremely neat! Students take notes in straight lines measured by a ruler (so students write with a ruler in hand!) even though gridlines already exist in their notebooks, and everything is color-coded. ​Hand-outs are also carefully pasted in with glue.

Everyone also writes in perfect cursive, and one of the English teachers here even noted to their class that Americans write in a special, “detached” font after I wrote on the board.

In addition, students must carry around a Carnet de Correspondance or Carnet de Cor for short. This does not exist in American public schools. This booklet contains a student’s parent contact information, absence and late slips, and serves as the main communication tool between parents and teachers. If a teacher wants to tell a parent something, like setting up a meeting, they write their request in the Carnet de Cor, which is then shown to the parents by the student. Then, the parents must write their response in the book, and then this response is shown to the teacher by the student. The Carnet de Cor also has the student’s picture on the front, and must be shown to a faculty member at the school entrance to enter, and even to leave, the school grounds. ]

In addition, students must line up outside the classroom in two lines before they are let into the room by the teacher. And once they enter, they must stand quietly behind their desks with their chairs pushed in before the teacher allows them to sit down. Then they have about one minute to take everything out of their backpacks and be ready for class! Everyone takes out their required pencil cases, notebooks, and textbooks. French teachers are also more strict about students facing forward in their seats, and not having anything on their laps. 

Another big difference is the level of parental involvement at school. Parents are much less involved in day-to-day schooling, and it is rare to see a parent inside the school grounds. Parents do not come in to host art or math docents, like in the U.S., and largely contribute to their children’s education outside of formal school hours…. 

The daily schedule is very different as well. The day starts at 7:30 am, and then adjourns for lunch at 12:30 pm. Lunch then lasts for two hours and all students leave campus. This school does not have a cafeteria, so the large majority of students go home for lunch. (Students here were shocked to hear that Americans only have 30 minutes to an hour for lunch, but they understood the schedule a little more once I told them school normally gets out at 3:30 pm.) Class starts up again at 2:30 pm, and then school finally finishes at 5:30 pm. They only have a ten-minute break in the mid-morning, and do not have a 30-minute morning recess like Americans. 

For readers who want a film version of teaching 14 and 15 year olds in a secondary school or college, they could see “The Class,” released in 2008.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Teaching in a French School (Renee Z. Wang)

  1. sshackladywhite

    How do students with special needs get addressed with an appropriate education in France?

  2. The French system sounds different, but still very authoritarian with little student choice. One burning question: where is the school in America with a 30-minute morning recess? I’ve never seen that out here in CA. 30-minute lunch is more like it.

  3. larrycuban

    As for recess, Beth, you are correct. While some states mandate recess, California “encourages” districts. Some do. Some don’t. See: https://goric.com/recess-is-making-a-comeback-now-required-by-law-in-five-states/

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