There are a lot of cultural differences between teachers and students here in French high schools. Here are some of the most obvious (to me):
1. School days are much longer; most students are here from 8-5 or 6 PM, with some students even coming in on Saturday mornings. Additionally, in French schools there is normally no school on Wednesday afternoons (although this is an exception in high school). Until a recent reform, all primary students had every Wednesday off.
2. All staff and students receive a long lunch break (usually about an hour, but sometimes longer depending on the day). Food and meals are very important in France, and my colleagues were horrified when I told them that students and teachers are allotted only about 30-40 minutes in the states.) Students almost always eat the school food, as “cold lunches” aren’t really allowed. The only drink offered to students is water, which students must fill with the provided pichers in the cafeteria.
3. Students (and teachers!) can take smoke breaks between classes, during lunch, and if they have a free period. French schools are usually hidden inside high, thick walls or fences, so all the students simply have to do is leave the perimeter walls and then they are free to light up.
4. During the lunch breaks and class breaks, students are allowed to leave school if they have the means of doing so.
5. Typically, there are very few student activities (ie: sports, music, drama, clubs, etc.), and classroom walls are mostly bare. There are few posters or any sort of decorations because teachers change classrooms a lot, so decorating your classroom is something that is just not commonly done in France.
6. La Salle de Profs is the teacher’s lounge, with copy machines, tables and couches, the famous coffee vending machine (more on that later!) and computers. It is normal for teachers to come here and socialize before and after their classes as well as during breaks or passing time over a 30¢ pick-me-up café or tea from the coffee machine.
7. A full time load for high school English teachers in France is 18 hours per week in the public sector, and 15 if you pass an even more complicated exam. Salaries for teachers are also lower in comparison to other countries.
8. In France, teacher training is quite… different (but it has improved a bit in recent years). Basically, all you need to do is pass a very rigorous content exam, and once you do, you will always be guaranteed a job in the public sector. There is not quite as much pedagogical training as in other countries (although that’s not to say that all teachers in France are bad– quite the contrary!) As a civil servant you do not typically choose where you are placed, and many new teachers are forced to teach in ZEP (inner city) schools with zero classroom management experience.
9. There is technology at my school, but it is hit or miss, and the wifi is a lot more shady.
10. There is no dress code apart from the Secularism here in public schools. Spaghetti straps are not a problem, but religious jewelry cannot be worn (this means cross necklaces and earrings, Jewish headwear or Stars of David, etc., and religious tattoos need to be covered.) Girls need to remove their Islamic head wraps and boys need to remove their Sikh head wraps as soon as they are on public school grounds. (But don’t worry, Christmas trees are okay.)
11. There are much fewer services for special education or ESL students (well, French as a second lanaguage).