While preparing for this trip, we were handed articles about French customs; trends and style, family and lifestyle, the do’s and don’ts of everyday social interaction. Keeping all of this in mind, I hopped into the Peugot hatchback that took myself and Dan Willenberg to College de la Quintinye, a middle school in Noisy. For the entire day, our group of student-teachers were to shadow several professeurs into understanding classroom structure, curriculum, and to also get a taste for the educational culture that exists in France. But first, of course, there had to be fresh coffee and pastries with the headmaster, Monsieur Alain Gille. Needless to say, the French know how to make an introduction.
The school itself has over 600 students, however, it looks as if it is built to hold 6,000. There are two floors to the building, each section broken off into different wings according to subject material (math, science, language, etc.).
To better understand the French public school system, here is a basic breakdown:
Primarie (ages 1-5) General studies, comparable to our pre-school students.
L’ecole (5-11) Comparable to K-5, these students focus heavily on enhancing their basic skills and begin to build on their foreign language skills as well. These years are to prepare them for the major workload that begins at le college.
Le college (11-15) Students begin to get an idea which subjects they excel in the most. They take all the general classes, however, they must prepare for specialty classes that will arise in their high school years.
Lycee (15-18) According to some teachers at Lycee Corneille la Celle St. Cloud (where we visited this past Wednesday), these “high school” years focus around two benchmark objectives: (1) declare a “focus” (similar to how we declare majors, focus areas include the sciences, mathematics, history, literature, economics, and languages; basically, these high school students are studying for a future career already) (2) take and pass le Baccalaureat, also known as le Bac. This test, similar to our ACT/SAT, determines the maturity and skill level that a student has before he or she heads on to university. If they do not pass this test after two tries, then they must repeat their final year all over again. Here is a link to Wikipedia, which has some valid content and gives specific information on le Bac.
Soon enough, it was time to nom again.
We were then treated to an incredible lunch in the cafeteria at around noon, where we ate with many of the school’s faculty. Now, since about first grade, I have been skeptical of cafeteria food, however, I would argue that these particular French students are consuming some of the most delicious and well-prepared food that any school in the U.S. would have to offer. Once entered into “la cantine”, one is presented with a fresh fruit and salad bar (with some fruits and vegetables that are unreachable in the U.S.). Take your tray to the line of main dishes, and you can take a choice of yogurt or a slab of brie. Continue down the line and you are then given the main course, which in today’s case was strip steak with rice (are you serious?!). Then, take a whole apple and a couple of cookies, and you have yourself a well-balanced lunch in a French cafeteria.
According to French standards, cafeteria food does not involve:
Everything is made fresh before these students’ eyes; “Why, what do YOU eat?” a teacher asked me. I just took a bite of my steak and shrugged my shoulders, not knowing how to respond.
French students, as it seems, have an incredible work ethic that I observed in multiple classrooms. On a typical school day, a student will arrive at 8 am and not leave until 4 pm. Before lycee (high school), students take many general subjects so that they can prepare to take specialty classes once arriving to a higher level of learning. The way that students build relationships with their teachers here is practically a reciprocal to how we as Americans treat our masters of nobility and knowledge. For example, when the teacher walks in, all students are at their designated spot and rise beside their desks to respect the teacher as their superior. Being in American public schools all my life, I found this occurrence to be quite the phenomenon.
In France, teaching is a job, having the priority to meet national standards and not much else–they must prepare these kids for le Bac. There is rarely ever time to or willingness make jokes between students, not to mention taking deep interest into their character or what activities they engage in after school. No, education is an obligation here; learning must happen for there to be any type of success, so teachers are often seen as literal authority figures who have a job to complete, not to necessarily build a close knit community of learners.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I have yet to decide.
One one hand, you have a profession that is not only well-respected, but is taken seriously by students, teachers, and the general public as a whole. A teacher in France can be seen as a disciplinarian who has an obligation to see things through. According to some teachers, many rarely ever go out of their way to ensure that a student is performing their very best; that is the student’s job. There aren’t even any parent-teacher conferences! From observing this, I have learned that French students have the opportunity to build their own work ethic and schedule, not to mention taking on a large chunk of responsibility at such a young age.
On the other, I believe that many American teachers have an upper hand to ensuring classroom success when he or she builds a true community of learners. By establishing relationships with students, a teacher is able to predict and adjust to a learner’s way of thinking and determine whether or not certain lessons are affective. To me, that is true learning; I do, however, see the validity in establishing a stern force in some elements of the class, which gives students an incentive to raise the bar on their own standards.
After school, I walked home with Dan and his host brother, Antoine. We stopped by le primarie to pick up his little sister, Roxanne. While waiting for the final bell, we stood outside the school and noticed how many parents (sometimes both of them) show up to pick up their children. They stand alongside gate, all formulating around the idea that their child has grown another day intellectually. While this isn’t any different than what happens in the U.S., I found it to be charming that so many members of the community come together at once at a particular location, all for the sake of their children and learning.