As I mentioned earlier, I'm working as an English language assistant at the middle school level. I assist the six English language teachers at my school with their classes. Today I'll tell you more about my job and the French public school system, which is quite different than the American public school system!
First off, the grade levels and schools are divided differently in France. The main organizational differences are: 1) Schooling is not mandatory until age six (vs. age five in the US), 2) Middle school is four years, 3) High school is three years, and 4) Grade levels are not named in a consecutive order.
In addition, the French school system (and French government in general) is highly centralized and organized. There are 30 public school systems in France, and each is managed by an Académie. The schools in French Guiana are managed by L'Académie de la Guyane, and this where everyone's paycheck comes from. And yes - there is lots of paperwork and things that need to be done with them and your school. After all, they are part of the infamous French bureaucracy! Even absence requests by teachers must be submitted through them, even though the absence is only occurring at the school level. There is an upside to all this, though - everything is well documented, and a strong institutional support system exists for efficiently implementing changes on a large scale.
But what does this look like in a classroom setting? Well, for one thing, notebooks here are extremely neat! Students take notes in straight lines measured by a ruler (so students write with a ruler in hand!) even though gridlines already exist in their notebooks, and everything is color-coded. Hand-outs are also carefully pasted in with glue.
Everyone also writes in perfect cursive, and one of the English teachers here even noted to their class that Americans write in a special, "detached" font after I wrote on the board.
In addition, students must carry around a Carnet de Correspondance or Carnet de Cor for short. This does not exist in American public schools. This booklet contains a student's parent contact information, absence and late slips, and serves as the main communication tool between parents and teachers. If a teacher wants to tell a parent something, like setting up a meeting, they write their request in the Carnet de Cor, which is then shown to the parents by the student. Then, the parents must write their response in the book, and then this response is shown to the teacher by the student. The Carnet de Cor also has the student's picture on the front, and must be shown to a faculty member at the school entrance to enter, and even to leave, the school grounds.
In addition, students must line up outside the classroom in two lines before they are let into the room by the teacher. And once they enter, they must stand quietly behind their desks with their chairs pushed in before the teacher allows them to sit down. Then they have about one minute to take everything out of their backpacks and be ready for class! Everyone takes out their required pencil cases, notebooks, and textbooks. French teachers are also more strict about students facing forward in their seats, and not having anything on their laps.
Another big difference is the level of parental involvement at school. Parents are much less involved in day-to-day schooling, and it is rare to see a parent inside the school grounds. Parents do not come in to host art or math docents, like in the U.S., and largely contribute to their children's education outside of formal school hours.
The daily schedule is very different as well. The day starts at 7:30 am, and then adjourns for lunch at 12:30 pm. Lunch then lasts for two hours and all students leave campus. This school does not have a cafeteria, so the large majority of students go home for lunch. (Students here were shocked to hear that Americans only have 30 minutes to an hour for lunch, but they understood the schedule a little more once I told them school normally gets out at 3:30 pm.) Class starts up again at 2:30 pm, and then school finally finishes at 5:30 pm. They only have a ten-minute break in the mid-morning, and do not have a 30-minute morning recess like Americans.
So far, the students have been using their English to ask me questions about my life so that they can write a short essay on me. It is extremely interesting to see what they write about me! I have also gotten a lot of questions about American culture, and specifically about Los Angeles. Many students have asked me if I have "already" been in a film, and about how many celebrities I have seen. No one thinks of Los Angeles as just another American city full of non-celebrities with day jobs and bills. Even the teachers are surprised to hear that most Los Angelenos don't really think about Hollywood and movies in their daily lives. The myth of California, and Hollywood, is very strong. It is also interesting to see just how pervasive American pop culture is around the world, and to see which pop culture artifacts take a particular hold in a certain culture. When I traveled in China, people asked me a lot about the gangs of L.A., and most songs on the radio in French Guiana are American pop songs.
Besides that, I have also seen some very French punishments here, like where teachers make students write "I will not be late to class" 100 times. The teachers know that it's kind of silly, but they like it because they know that this sort of punishment actually does annoy the students. Detention exists here, but students go to detention during their free periods instead of after school, so even if they get detention, they still leave school at the same time every day.
However, kids are kids all over the world, and so I leave you with some classic classroom graffiti. At least this person was using his newly-learned English.
Until next time!