In Octobre 2014, I started teaching English at three écoles primaires publiques in Marseille. I discovered this job after months of online research – finding a teaching job in France is not an easy task for an Américain(e) without proper working papers. The jobs are there (mainly in the privée sector), but employeurs are reluctant to take on the task of hiring an Américain(e). So, when I found that TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Professional in France) was an option, I was delighted! It took quite a bit of work to apply for the programme (proving my level of French, finding professors to write recommendations (in French, of course), writing a composition, in French, about why I deserve this opportunité…), but I was determined and as it turned out: My hard-work paid off!
So, how was the endeavor of entering into the French écoles primaires publique system? Well, to make this post go as smoothly as my time spent in the écoles, I split it into catégories:
As an Américaine, you can’t enter into the teaching field in the publique sector without working in conjunction with other French teachers. To be a réal teacher in France, you have to pass the CAPES test (a test similaire to the APT, TAP, and content area tests in the U.S. except it’s 100x more difficile, or so I hear). To take this test, you have to be a French citoyen.
I worked with 16 French teachers. Only 2 of the 16 teachers I worked with spoke English at a decent level. The rest tried…they really did. It was almost as adorable as listening to my 6-year-old students speak English. The French teachers helped ease the transition into the schools. Even though, there was some confusion at first about my rôle. When it was English time, I took over each classe (except three classes where I worked side-by-side with the teacher) as the English Teacher. I made my own leçons and used my own matière. In most classes, the teacher and I decided the thèmes together and then I wrote the leçons.
My spécialité is in Foreign Language Education, so, as a result, I’ve worked with quite a few teachers in the U.S. For the most part, the teachers I worked with were gentil and somewhat helpful (my cooperating teacher was the most helpful). I discovered that French teachers were pretty much the same only much more honnêtes upfront. For exemple, French teachers don’t dance around the sujet if they have a problème or a suggestion about a particular piece in the leçon. They aren’t rude about any critique, either, though, if you’re super sensitive, then it’s possible you might take a critique the wrong way. My experience with U.S. teachers has been that when there is an issue, they talk about it behind your back. I’d rather sort out any issues face-to-face than play this ‘you’re perfect (but I hate you)’ waltz. Perhaps this is one raison why I préfère la vie in France to la vie in the U.S. One thing I should note is that just like not every Américain teacher is “fake” up front, not every French teacher is as pleasant to work with as were my teachers – they were fantastique! Unfortunately, not every English assistant/teacher has had the same type of chance, or luck, as have I; however, this is a small few (like less than 1%).
The French primaire classroom:
I never had my own classroom, which proved frustrating (see: TAPIF: An Ugly Mess). But, I still had accès to everything in each teachers’ classrooms. The classrooms in France are similaire to those in the U.S.* There’s a huge blackboard, each student has desks, the walls are covered with student work, there’s a corner for reading and relaxing, each student has his/her own cubbyhole… I could go on and on. There is one main différence, though: there’s a mini stage that sits just beneath the blackboard (that took some time getting used to). I worked in 16 different classrooms, so, I never got the chance décorer at least a tiny part with my students’ work.
In the schools I worked at in Marseille, there was a lack of technologie (and money, in général) in the classroom. A few teachers had projecteurs, which made the leçons much more interactive and interesting; however, for the other classes, I was forced to print a lot of images and use magnets to attach them to the blackboard. This was kind of annoying, but there was nothing I could do about it. France is still in the stage of equipping all of its écoles publiques primaires with the latest technologie (such as SMART board – I love the SMART board and I wished it was available when I taught during the 2014-2015 school year).
I worked in a city: Marseille, which is not too différent than Chicago. For exemple, it has its “south side” (which is actuellement in the north) and it has its Lincoln Park (which, I’d say, is situated at the port). The students acted how I expected them to act: “tough” but innocent (I worked with primaire students). It was obvious which students had older siblings because these students acted “tougher” and dared to ask me the meanings of vulgar words (plus, during a leçon on famille, I discovered that they had older siblings). I never told them the meanings; however, I did tell them that the words were vulgar and not to repeat them.
By the time I entered into the écoles, the écoles had already been in session for a month! So, the students already had their rythme. I jumped on this, though: We wrote the date in English at the start of every class and I underlined all headings in red (I never used a ruler, though, and this apparemment shocked the students). The students were sage when it came to writing: They always wrote in cursive and double space. Any time I wrote anything on the board that they had to copy in their notes, they always had questions about it. Obviously, I didn’t write in cursive…well, in fact, I write in combination cursive/print, which can be confusing to the French primaire student’s eyes. So, I spent some time re-writing ‘e’ and ‘d’…But, it was to be expected. I swear, the French (even at this level) have such pretty handwriting!
Students like to help the teacher, so, at the end of every classe, I had several students beg me if he/she could clean the blackboard. It got to the point where I had to promise certain students that they could do it ‘next week’.
Honnêtement, a principal in France does the same things as a principal in the U.S. In France, the principal is called le directeur/la directrice. The directeur/directrice handled any conflicts with parents, conducted meetings, made my schedule, and gère, or ran, the school. I worked at three différentes écoles, so, in turn, I worked with three différents directeurs/directrices. They were all very gentils and even recommended me to the CIEP (Centre International d’Etudes Pédagogiques) for the renewal of my contract.
As seen above, my endeavor of easing into French écoles went smoothly. From my experience, the teachers helped me the most! After all, I taught their classes (école primaire, remember?), so, if my leçons went smoothly, then, in théorie the rest of their day would go just as smoothly. This school year (2015-2016), I will be working at the secondaire level, so, I’ll be sure to write a post on the similarités and différences between primaire and secondaire. I’ll still be working in the same city: Marseille. ♦
*I only worked in écoles primaires, so, this post is focused on the primaire level, not on the secondaire level.
This is part of a blogging challenge: Topics ranging from A-Z. You can follow my challenge by clicking on the links below: