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.


Colin Cleavage said...

A great achievement to get through all that! I read French the way I read Will Self: I meander through it, enjoying the cadence and rhythm, and the senses coming together, then reach the end of the paragraph realising I haven't a clue what it means.

What's the standard of English teaching in France? Russian university exams had me on the point of calling the RSPCA or Childline ... until I met some of their students of English, many of whom were writing commentaries on Galsworthy and H G Wells at a stage when English students of Russian are still struggling to remember how the backwards "R" is pronounced.

M. le Prof d'Anglais said...

It's interesting to see how my marks broke down: Commentary in English: 12/20, Essay in French: 3/20, Translations: 4.5/20, Total: 19.5/60, Pass mark: 15.13/60. And that was just stage one. I'll tell you about stage 2 later.

I'll find out for myself what the standard of teaching is like when I start work, though studies by the EU and (I think) OECD seem to suggest that there's room for improvement.

I wouldn't worry too much about the Russians. They'd probably been studying English since they were knee high to a grasshopper while many UK uni students had started from scratch at 18. Anyway, have you ever tried teaching English to Russians? It involves a lot of "Teacher, my grammar book says you are wrong..."

Colin Cleavage said...

Germans are similar to teach, except rather than tell you that you are wrong they just laugh at you.

The Tefltradesman said...

The problem is that many Russian students of English are convinced that every Anglophone has read Wells and Galsworthy (who?!?!), and they even speak the language as it appears in those books! As a result, they appear to be extremely dry and speak in a semi-literary fashion - which can be hilarious at times!