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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