Saturday, December 22, 2007

Some good news this Christmas

It doesn't seem to be the season of goodwill for the European far-right. While the far-right bloc of MEPs fell apart after insulting each other and British National Party is tearing itself apart, here in France, the National Front is facing problems of its own.

It's not just that he's on trail for saying the Nazis weren't all that bad, that's pretty standard stuff for him and only gets him even more free publicity. And he needs free publicity more than ever now, because the National Front's failure to poll more than 5% in the last parliamentary election means that they no longer qualify for state funding. This has left an 8 million euro-sized hole in their bank account which they can only plug by selling their party headquarters. HA!

So raise a glass this festive season to the further demise of the European far-right in 2008. And remember, every vote you cast helps lower the share that these people get. Not only does that show how few of us they really speak for, it can really hit them where it hurts - in the pocket.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No more Mr Nice Guy

In the last couple of weeks I have thrown two kids out of my classes, given lines to 5 or 6 of them, handed out 5 detentions and phoned one parent.

And I find it strangely satisfying...

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

My favourite waste of time

Like millions of others, I've discovered the joys of Facebook and am happily getting back in touch with old friends, exchanging adjectives and so on. But I've just joined a new group that tops the rest: Contre les cons qui restent immobiles à gauche sur l'escalator (Against the wankers who block the left hand side of the escalator).

If you've ever used the Paris metro, you'll have noticed that the convention is to stand on the right, thus allowing people in a hurry to pass you on the left. This nice, simple arrangement is routinely ignored by inconsiderate imbeciles who seem to think it their duty to slow everyone else down to their pace. They sometimes stand in pairs chatting or holding hands, which saves one of them the bother of actually having to turn round to talk to the other, blissfully unaware of the line of fellow travellers building up behind them. This blocking tactic is particularly effective at rush hour, when a sufficiently large backlog of passengers is created to ensure the left hand side stays blocked long after the selfish numpty has left.

No doubt someone will read these lines and think "typical Parisian, always in a hurry, slow down or you'll have a heart attack." My answer to that is
(a) It's my heart, not yours, so mind your own business.
(b) Forcing someone in a hurry to slow down is not going to lower their heart rate any time soon, and
(c) When I walk down a moving escalator, I don't make anyone else go at my pace, so what right do these thoughtless numbskulls have to force me to go at theirs? How undemocratic is that?

The one time in life to keep on the right is when you're on an escalator.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Teaching advice

As a stagiaire en situation, I still have to attend some teacher training even though I have a PGCE. So I'm off to IUFM for the next two weeks. I don't mind as it gives me the chance to learn about the more "official" things about the French system, and I get a fortnight away from the kids. Yaay!

The downside is having to cross Paris in the middle of the transport strikes, but since that means one crowded train every half hour or so, it's not actually that different from when I lived in Lewisham and had to ride Connex into Central London every morning.

Anyway, today I had the best advice I've ever heard from a trainer in 15 years:

You're not paid to tire yourself out, you're paid to tire the kids out.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

This explains a lot

I reckon every group of kids must have at least one who thinks like this. And my subject begins with an "A".

Bloody do-gooders!

Today the kids all got a little bookmark about "the rights of the child". Here's a piece of it that I scanned.

Read it carefully. What's missing? That's right: Mes droits (my rights) is there, but there's no sign of mes devoirs (my responsibilities). I hate to sound like some Sarkoziste but honestly! (Actually, I think lefties like me should be more concerned about our responsibilities to others since we're supposed to be socialists, but that's another debate)

Now, I'm all for children's rights, and I understand that it's really intended to raise awareness of abuse issues, but this was just given out in the middle of a lesson, with no kind of discussion. I now eagerly await a dozen twelve year olds refusing to do homework or open their book because they have the "right to say NO". Or having to explain to them that the "right to play and dream" means "as opposed to being sent down a mine", and doesn't extend to the classroom.

They could have even just added "And everyone else has the same rights as me" at the bottom. That would have been a start.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Eastern promise

My inspiration has been running low lately - maybe teaching elementary English to 11 year olds blunts the old creative edge. So have another teacher blog instead.

All EFL teachers, especially the poor souls in the UK working for ten quid an hour in some dodgy cowboy school off Oxford Street, have considered moving to the Gulf to make a pot of cash, but few are brave enough to take the plunge. This guy has, and here's his blog about it. So now the rest of you get to find out if it's such a good idea.

Shut the f*ck up, ladies, please!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Pedagogical games

I hate to say "When I were a lad...", but when I were a lad, teachers were still allowed to chuck chalk at you if you misbehaved. Now, thanks to this game on the Les Profs website, you can relive the good old days. Have fun!

Les Profs is a French comic strip about teachers (strangely enough), and I nicked my avatar from them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Another teacher blog, about France this time

I just came across a blog, in French, which highlights the position of vacataires. For those of you not in the know, a vacataire is an hourly-paid teacher, and there are lots of these kinds of jobs available for English teachers as most university departments include a couple of hours of English on their courses. You can tell how efficient many of these departments are by the fact that job adverts often come through on email lists, a week before the course is due to start, with URGENT!! in the subject line.

It actually pays quite well compared to teaching in private companies (typically around 40 euros per hour as opposed to 15-30), but you have to be self-employed or have a full time job somewhere else. You also have to wait ages for your money; work you do in October probably won't be paid for until April the following year. It's a nice way to top up a full time income, but if it's your sole source of income you'll probably need an understanding landlord... You can also be hired and fired very easily, and never know you'll have work from one year to the next, though this consideration appeals to universities who like to be able to get rid of people without too much hassle if the student numbers drop. And you thought France was a workers' paradise where the unions ran everything.....

The blog itself is a bit hard to follow unless you're a vacataire yourself and can understand the terminology, but if you are, you might want to take a look:
Vacataire(s) en colère

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Meet the parents

Tuesday night was parents' evening for the 4ème year group (13-14 year olds). Teachers around the world complain that the parents we most want to talk to are the ones who don't come, and this was no exception. When you think about it, it's no surprise that the kids who do well are the ones whose parents take an interest in their education, and therefore come to the parents' evenings, so there was a lot of "Your child is fine, no problems, I wish they were all like that, NEXT!".

The main highlights of the evening were:
  • The parent who was a Spanish teacher - cue 30 seconds of talking about her daughter and the remaining 9 minutes 30 seconds moaning about our pupils. It's great when a parent says "I understand, I'm a teacher too!"
  • The father who wants me to do "more grammar", like he had at school. I replied that I was taught the same way and ended up top of the class but unable to say anything in French.
  • The mother who had obviously been drinking - she reeked of booze and wouldn't shut up. Makes you wonder what happens at home...
Fortunately, I only teach kids from two year-groups, so I only have to go through this one more time.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

A few Top Tips

The transport strikes have provided me with an impromptu day off, allowing me to finally blog about what it's like to teach in a French school.

The rule of thumb is "if it isn't recorded, it doesn't mean anything." So don't say "Stop strangling your neighbour," say "Stop strangling your neighbour or I will note down the incident." Don't give any homework that isn't graded or they won't do it. And never let them to do anything without written authorisation; I think I have a "permission to scratch nose" form somewhere in the bottom of my bag.

Lines is a very popular way of punishing kids who step out of line, and I can justify it pedagogically by making them do it in English. By the time I've finished with them they'll have no excuse for not knowing about must and must not.

Use the palm of your hand for banging on desks to get their attention. It makes more noise than using your knuckles and hurts less. If your school has blackboards, fingernails are also an option; remember, it will affect them more than you as they can hear the highest frequency sounds.

Consider investing in a Sonic Air Horn.

Oh, you thought I was going to blog about teaching English? Sorry, I'll get back to you on that when they've learned to behave...

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Allez les blancs!

Those of you who know me will know that rugby is not my strongest passion. Any interest I might have felt for the sport was beaten out of me on a school rugby field (not a private school I might add, but a state school that was trying to imitate Eton and failing miserably). It's hard to think of a more inappropriate sport for teenage boys who are all developing at different rates. At 14 I was still waiting for my height spurt to kick in, and in the meantime I was being knocked around the sports field by guys my age who were already pushing six foot. The headmaster at the time must have thought this kind of pointless humiliation built character, when in fact it taught me how to discreetly avoid a rugby ball without the teacher noticing.

However, over the last few weeks the Rugby World Cup has been kind of hard to avoid over here. Everyone in my karate class tonight was congratulating me on the England win, though quite what I did to make it happen, I'm not sure. And it did mean that my pupils were kind of subdued on Monday morning, which I'm always grateful for.

So I do wish the England team all the best in the final this weekend. I won't watch it myself, but it would be nice to have a team that's the best in the world at something, for a change.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Vive la résistance!

One thing Sarkozy kept saying during the election campaign was that schools should be free to try out new ideas and ways of teaching. Yet, as I briefly mentioned in my last post, he also decreed that next Monday, Guy Môquet's final letter has to be read out to every pupil in a lycée (high school).

Guy Môquet was a Communist and WWII resistance fighter whom the Vichy Government handed over to a German firing squad and he was executed on 22 October 1941, aged only 17. He became a symbol for the resistance when his final letter to his family was brought to public knowledge. Sarkozy, apparently, was so moved by the letter that he decided that every French teenager should have it read to them every year on the anniversary of Môquet's execution.

This has seriously annoyed a lot of teachers, many of whom don't trust Sarkozy anyway. Anyone with more than a smattering of French will see that the letter is a private one. You may think it moving and powerful, but it doesn't really tell us anything about the war, occupation or resistance. I'm not sure what the kids are supposed to make of it, and I can't see what educational value it has. I suspect that this is more about trying to get the pupils to feel something rather than learn something. The trouble is that just because something moves the President to tears doesn't mean others are going to feel likewise.

Fortunately for the teachers who plan to boycott the reading, there won't be any sanctions for anyone who chooses not to read out the letter. So they have to read it out, but if they resist, noone's actually going to say or do anything. So teachers are free to do as Sarkozy tells them, but if they don't, that's OK too.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

A letter from the President

I know I've mentioned that Nicolas Sarkozy must spend a lot of time signing authorisations for teachers to go and work somewhere, but I never expected to get a letter from him! Actually, his Lettre aux Éducateurs has gone out to all teachers, and here's a copy kicking around our staff room; some wag has defaced the front already so it looks like it's been written by Nicoladolf Sarkozitler, which surely deserves 500 lines and a detention if the culprit is caught. The head hasn't yet threatened to keep all of us back until someone owns up...

In true French style, he takes around 25 pages to get to the point. The preamble is mostly general platitudes that no sane person would disagree with: Education is important, children should know right from wrong and learn tolerance and respect (including standing when a teacher enters the room), teaching is a tough job and so on. He goes on to say there's too much theory and abstraction in today's education and children should spend less time in class and more time in museums, libraries etc. The school I work at already does that kind of thing; there was even a trip to Churchill's War Rooms in London once. He does't say anything about who will be responsible if an accident happens on one of these trips, which is the main reason, in my experience, why some teachers are reluctant to organise them.

Towards the end it gets more interesting - "you will be better paid, more highly respected ... you will earn more and progress more quickly (so far, so good) if you choose to work more and make more effort (gulp!)". How that'll work in practice isn't clear, except that overtime earnings won't be taxed, but one reason I prefer teaching in France to the UK is that over here I can have a life outside work, even of that means earning less. The Education Minister has also talked of having fewer, better paid teachers, and they're already planning to not replace half of those who retire.

He also says that schools should be freer to choose how they teach. But at the same time he's decreed that Guy Môquet's final letter must be read out to all French schoolchildren, which hasn't gone down well with teachers. So I'll reserve judgement on this one until he's decided whether or not he wants to micromanage or let go.

Anyway, it was nice to get a letter from my new boss. Even if the academie can't get their act together, if the President has written to me, I must be a real fonctionnaire!

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Another teacher's blog

Recently, work has been interfering severely with my Internet surfing. I've got quite a few blog entries steadily brewing though, just waiting to be served hot. In the meantime, here's the blog of an ESOL lecturer in the UK. I'm going to follow it since I taught in a Further Education college in Britain before emigrating to France (joining Madame le Prof and getting my life back in one fell swoop). I understand that Her Majesty's Government has, in it's wisdom, cut back massively on funding for ESOL courses and expects the students' employers to plug the gap (dream on...), so I just hope this guy gets to keep his job.

the100thmonkey’s blog

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Recommended guide to France

If you're looking for a guide to France, you could do worse than read the Instructions for British Servicemen in France, 1944, which Mme le Prof bought the other day. It makes fascinating reading for two reasons: firstly, a lot of its advice would be well heeded today by anyone abroad, and secondly because of the insight it gives into how the Brits saw (or were encouraged to see) France and the French. It's certainly a far cry from hop off you Frogs or cheese eating surrender monkeys!

Here's what it says about the fall of France in 1940: A great many of us [the British] ... blamed the French. [...] The French remember an aspect of the war which we sometimes forget: the fact that Britain was not overrun in 1940 was due not only to Mr Churchill and "the few" of the RAF, it was also due to our being protected by 20 miles of sea and the Royal Navy. If the Germans could have crossed ... the Channel ... are we quite sure that Britain would not have suffered the same immediate fate as France? (page 33). On the French military: It is time for us ... to think rather less about the French collapse and rather more about subsequent resistance in France (page 31). Remember, too, the heroic French stand made at the battle of Bir Hakeim and the way the French drove the Germans out of Corsica (page 32).

Hmm, I never saw that in the Sun or the New York Post.

There's plenty of stuff here that's still valid 60 years on: Drop any ideas about French women based on stories of Montmartre and nude cabaret shows. These were always designed as a tourist attraction for foreigners (page 26). Do not grouse at the French in general if you should meet a French "bad hat". There are probably one or two "bad hats" in every British unit (page 41), but my favourite is Remember to call them "Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle", not just "Oy!"

There are a few useful French phrases with pronunciation (commont-allay-voo? and Ee-ah-teel kel-kern key parl ongly?), and it makes the point that French nouns are masculine or feminine, noting that English is the only language without these gender complications (page 45), which sounds suspiciously like "English is simpler and easier than French". On the whole though, the guide is highly respectful of France: they [the French] think that France is a very great country, with a great record of civilization and they have every reason to do so.

But its general message is probably best summarised on page 11: There is another kind of thoughtlessness ... commoner among British peace time visitors abroad... It consists of airing the opinion that such and such a foreign country ... is very lucky to have chaps like us passing through ... It is amazing how many people ... can imply by their whole manner that the world in general, and the place where they have just arrived in particular, hardly come up to their standards. Well, that kind of attitude, however innocently silly, will be out of place in France.

60 years on, people still need to be told this kind of thing.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Back to school

Went back to the school again today, got shown where my pigeonhole was, where the photocopier is and so on. You can tell the English teachers' classrooms by the faded posters of Big Ben, Scots Guards, Beefeaters and so on. One of them avoids being too British-centred by having a picture of a Mississippi steamboat and the Twin Towers... I don't have my own classroom; I have to go to the top floor, then take a turn into a dark passage marked "Here be dragons", and the four rooms on the left are the ones I teach in. Pity, I would've liked to put some classroom language on the walls.

I observed a class today, to get some idea of what would be expected. It was actually pretty communicative (lots of monitored pairwork and so on), which surprised me as everything I've heard about the French system led me to believe it's all drilling and grammar-translation. Some of them seemed to have a level of spoken English on a par with the first year university students I used to teach! Do they forget everything at lycée (high school), I wonder? At the start of the lesson, the kids all have to line up outside the classroom, and they aren't allowed to sit down until the teacher says so. Sounds a bit disciplinarian, but it helps to make a clear break between playtime and getting down to work. Sarkozy would be pleased; in a recent open letter to teachers, he said pupils should stand up when the teacher enters the room, like they used to.

First actual teaching tomorrow. Gulp!

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

To serve the Republic

Yesterday I finally got to visit the school and meet some of the staff. It really looks like a desirable area; no buildings over three storeys, no concrete blocks, clean streets and so on. The school itself has no graffiti and there's a wide age range of staff (too many young teachers is usually a bad sign as it means no one stays any longer than they have to).

The deputy head seemed a bit suspicious of me, but the head welcomed me with open arms and said, without irony, how glad lucky they were to now have un citoyen de Sa Gracieuse Majesté working in their school! Good thing I didn't mention how I feel about the monarchy... The English-teaching staff are very excited to have a native speaker on the team, although they speak to me in French most of the time. Most of my classes are 11-12 year old beginners so I shouldn't need to put the fear of God into them to get some work out of them since they've only been there a week longer than me.

The only cloud on the horizon is that someone from the academie rang to say there was a problem with la D.O.S. (I don't know what it stands for either -I'm still brewing a blog post about initials in this country), which means I can't be officially installé yet, which might mean a delay in getting paid. Probably means there's yet another paper in the President of the Republic's in-tray waiting for his signature. Well, I suppose he is my boss now...

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gotta job, gotta job, gotta job...

So, after four days' wait (after being promised a call at the start of the week - see Talking to the Organ Grinder) and yet another phone call, I finally get told where I'm supposed to be teaching! Vivent les fonctionnaires!

It actually doesn't look half bad. Obviously I can't go into details, but it's in a very nice area, and the languages it offers include Russian, Latin and Ancient Greek. It also has a school choir and a special music section. Now I'm guessing that a school that's able to offer that probably has nice kids to teach. It's a collège, which means the kids will be 11-14. Young enough not to give too much grief, and their voices won't have broken. Squeaky kids' voices can go through your head a bit when they all talk at the same time, but you can conserve your larynx by speaking in a low tone, which cuts through all the high frequencies without the need to shout them down. (Top tip for all you TEFLers with kids' classes!)

Anyway, it looks like my main worry won't be getting stabbed while trying to teach conditionals (If you stab your teacher, he will scream; If you stabbed your teacher, he would scream; If you hadn't stabbed your teacher, he wouldn't have given you 10000 lines and a detention), but whether my clothes will be smart enough.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New EFL website - worth checking

Regular contributors to Dave's ESL Cafe might have noticed how threads on his discussion forums mysteriously disappear whenever anyone says anything bad about his advertisers. Well, now he has a rival.

David's English Teaching World has lots of really useful information, plus forums that aren't censored just to keep the advertisers happy. Of course, this means that anyone with an axe to grind can log onto the forum and slag off a school just because the DOS didn't give them a day off, but the schools have just as much right to reply. Apparently Dave is riled enough that posts on his forums referring readers to David's site don't stay up long themselves! Anyway, I wish David (not Dave!) all the best with his website, and hope all you TEFLers will get over there and start posting, safe in the knowledge that you can criticise the advertisers without getting banned.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

England vs Israel

OK, it's not a football blog, but it's only fair to point out that today's game actually made for a more enjoyable evening than I'd been expecting when I last posted. Doesn't mean I now think Steve McLaren is a master tactician, as the Israelis tonight couldn't have defended a bird table from the local squirrels, but the England fans couldn't really have asked for more than what they got. Now let's see what happens against Russia on Wednesday...
Aaargh! It's after our nuts! Defend! Defend!
(Image from )

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Talking to the organ grinder

I got through to someone at the academie yesterday. It was the number I'd been promised was the right one, which I'd been dialing for days and when I finally got through, the person said I wasn't supposed to be doing a full time placement, but studying at the IUFM (teacher training college). When I pointed out that I had a letter from the Ministry specifically saying that I'd be doing a full time placement, she, true to form, said she wasn't the right person to handle my case, took my number and email and promised to get back to me later that day once she'd found out who the right person was.

24 hours later.... I ring, speak to the same person and get passed onto yet another person. I swear I'll know the names of everyone in that building by the time this is over. However, this new person actually seems to know what he's talking about, asks me to fax the letter over, tells me that there are no full time placements (full time = 18 teaching hours in the French system), but would I be happy with a 12 or 14 hour week? Wahey! More blogging time - you lucky readers, you! I've been told which part of the academie it's likely to be, and expect another phone call on Monday. He also took my mobile number so I can leave the house now. Oh, the joy of feeling the breeze on my face again!

Anyway, the moral of this story seems to be if at first you don't succeed, keep trying until you get to speak to someone with the authority to do something. In France that can take a while, because people are afraid to do anything without permission from their boss, who in turn won't give permission unless his or her boss says it's OK, who in turn...until you reach the President. Sarkozy probably spends most of his time signing forms for trainee teachers and other bottom feeding civil servants.

Think I'll celebrate by going out to watch England vs Israel tomorrow. That should make for an enjoyable evening...

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

They won't get me, I'm part of the union...

Since I hadn't had any news about my job, and since no one was picking up the phone at the academie, someone suggested I give the unions a call. Now I know French trade unionists generally get a bad press and the general impression is that they call a strike any time they're asked to do any actual work, but I have to say I was impressed. Someone actually picked up the phone withing ten rings, listened to me, sounded concerned and didn't just try to pass me over to someone else. Result!

They actually rang me back the same afternoon to let me know they'd been in touch with the academie, and there were, indeed, some serious delays going on. Quite reassuring to have someone else tell me that I'd done all the right things as you expect fonctionnaires to try to make out it's all your fault because you put your signature two millimetres the wrong side of the dotted line or something (the best tactic in this kind of situation is to be stubborn enough that it becomes more work for them not to solve your problem).

What impressed me most was that I'm not actually in a union right now. I was a very active union member in my last job in England, and there was no way I could help anyone who wasn't a member, and not even then if the problem had arisen before they'd joined. It seems that over here they can help anyone. Maybe that would explain why I read somewhere than only around 10% of French workers are unionized as opposed to around 30% in the UK. Why hand your money over if they provide services like this for free?

The trouble is that most people only hear about unions in the press when there's a strike on, so they naturally think that all they do is pick fights with le patronnat. OK, every union has its headbanger loony members who joined up to smash capitalism, but the good work they do hardly ever gets mentioned. Of course, if certain people did their jobs properly, unions wouldn't need to get involved.

BTW I did actually get through to the academie myself this afternoon, but I'll tell you about that later.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Nothing succeeds like success?

Today's Guardian reports that an MEP for the BNP lite UKIP has been jailed for benefit fraud. So far so good, but one particular phrase caught my eye: The court heard that Mote ran a successful public relations company employing 30 full-time staff until it collapsed in 1990.

A successful company that collapsed? What would an unsuccessful PR company look like?

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Still no news

Phoned the academie today to find out what was happening. Got to speak to a rather irate jobsworth administrator who wanted to know why I wasn't at my place of work and getting ready for the kids who come back tomorrow (erm, because you people haven't yet told me what my place of work is, and your academie is one of the biggest in France). She did give me a couple of direct lines to people who should be able to advise ... or at least might have been able to if they'd been in their offices to answer their phones.

In the meantime, I'll tell you about part 2 of the Capes; the oral exams.

There are 2 tests, one in English, which is about English-speaking culture, the other in French and about teaching. In the first, they give you a literary extract, a nonliterary piece of writing and a picture, and you have 5 hours to prepare a 20-minute talk (plus Q&A) on any common themes you can identify. In my case, I got an extract from Bend it Like Beckham, some equal opportunities info about educational achievement and a photo of a muslim woman wearing a Union Flag as a veil. Given all the talk about veils lately in the UK, this one was a bit of a gift, but fair's fair, I'd had to write in French about The Scarlet Letter to get this far so I figure I deserved a break.

For the second test, you get some teaching materials which you have to comment on in French. Again, five hours prep for a 20 minute presentation. It shouldn't be too hard if you've taught before, but you need to arm yourself with a few educational buzzwords. Having taught in the UK for six years, including running a department, I could talk the talk in English but in French it was a bit harder.

Anyway, these certainly have more to do with actual teaching than the written stuff; if you can't carry off a 20-minute talk in front of a jury of 3 adults, how are you ever going to cope in front of 30-40 teenagers? However, I have my own ideas of how the second test could be improved further and made more realistic:

1) Provide the candidate with a book of photocopiable activities (Hadfield's Elementary/Intermediate/Advanced Communication Games, for example), a grammar book, a pair of scissors and access to a photocopier.

2) Reverse the times - 20 minutes preparation for a 5-hour class. (OK, so few classes are 5 hours long, but 20 whole minutes of prep time? That's generous!

3) Set the photocopier to jam every five or six copies. Any self-respecting teacher should know how to unjam photocopiers.

You now have an accurate simulation of a teacher at work. Tough but fair.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

MPA's Laws of Friday Evenings

Still no news from the academie. I was planning to phone them on Friday but it completely slipped my mind, so I'll try on Monday morning.

The reason I forgot was it was my last day in a summer teaching job that I'd agreed to do before I'd found out my Capes result. Being the last day, there were end of course tests to mark, and the obligatory party where each group performs, then long, drawn out goodbyes. After finally extricating myself about an hour after I'd hoped, I was finally half way down the road when I remembered I'd forgotten the cake tin I'd used to carry my contribution to the party. This has led me to postulate the existence of what I call Monsieur le Prof d'Anglais' Laws of Friday Evenings:

MPA's First Law of Friday Evenings:
The probability of leaving a personal possession behind in your place of work is PROPORTIONAL TO:

1) the number of people you say goodbye to
2) the effusiveness of said goodbyes
3) how glad you are to be getting away


1) the number of days remaining in your job
2) how glad your employer is to see you go

MPA's Second Law of Friday Evenings:
The value and importance of said personal possession is PROPORTIONAL TO the SQUARE of the distance travelled from your place of work before discovering that the object has been left behind.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I rang the academie today to find out what was going on. I was actually quite impressed that they took less than five minutes to pick up the phone and I only got passed on once (the Ministry of Education keep you in a phone queue for an hour, then pass you around until finally you get through to someone who tells you another number, only for you to realise after hanging up that they've given you the one you originally dialled).

Anyway, they told me they still haven't placed me, and I should ring back at the end of the week, but at least they actually know who I am. In French, when they send you somewhere it's called an affectation. I've never actually wanted to be affected by an employer before.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How the French Government had me certified

No news about where I'm going to work, with less than a week to go. I'll give them a call tomorrow if I find time. In the meantime, here's part one of how to pass a Capes (the Certificat d'aptitude au professorat de l'enseignement secondaire, I think).

The first stage is the written exams: one essay in English, another in French and two translations. The essay in English is OK if you've done your homework: you get an extract from one of the set books, or a document about the civilisation topic, and you have five hours to write a commentary on it in English. Survivable for native speakers who don't mind writing essays, but take a good supply of water and chocolate to keep you going.

Next there's the essay in French. This will usually be Le/La/Les [insert noun here] dans [insert set book here]. So, Le savoir dans The Scarlet Letter, Le fromage dans Coriolan or Les escargots dans Sherlock Holmes. Although the study guides tell you there's no one way to approach this question, it helps if you can do French style, three-part essays. If you can't, this is more an exercise in damage limitation - try not to say anything too stupid and leave plenty of time to check your verb endings, adjective agreements and preceding direct objects.

The translations are like the ones you did at school, but harder and usually literary but no more than 100 years old. The best preparation for these is probably to read a lot.

If that sounds hard, it's because they're trying to eliminate most of the candidates. If you look at the paper and go "Whaaat?!? Who the hell knows that?" and collapse in a sobbing heap, you're buggered. You just have to plough on and hope enough other candidates are doing at least as badly as you. And that's just the first hoop.

At this point you may be asking "What's the point? Does this have anything to do with teaching?" This is like a seal saying "What does balancing a ball on my nose have to do with getting a fish?". If you want the fish, get balancing and stop asking questions. Now, some would argue that testing ball balancing skills might actually be a fairer way of choosing teachers, on the grounds that you might actually select candidates who know how to keep the kids amused for an hour. That is, of course, an extremely narrow minded view because it ignores cross-curricular issues; if all English, French, Science and History lessons consisted of teachers balancing balls on their noses, the kids might get bored. And that would never do.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Welcome to the blog of Monsieur le Prof d'Anglais (Henceforth to be known as MPA). A language teacher by trade, I emigrated to France a couple of years ago and taught English in universities. I could have started blogging then, but there are so many "EFL teacher finds foreign ways so amusing" blogs already that I couldn't really see the point in another.

I bit the bullet and sat the dreaded Capes test last summer, and, much to my surprise, passed first time. Since I already have a valid teaching qualification (a PGCE if you're interested), I don't need to go to teacher training college in France; I'm going to do what they call a stage en situation to become fully qualified in this country, which is basically a full time work placement in a secondary school. An excuse to blog! Yaay!

The one thing I don't want to end up doing here is moaning about France. I'm actually pretty happy here, and Madame le Prof d'Anglais (MmePA for short) isn't the only reason. There's cheese too, not to mention trains that don't cost an arm and a leg.

Anyway, I have one week to go before the start of term, and I'm still waiting to be told where I'm going to be teaching. Everyone I know tells me this is perfectly normal and not to worry. It could be anywhere in my local academie (administrative area for education purposes), which takes in everything from concrete jungles to leafy suburbs. Ho hum.

More news as it happens, and thanks for reading.