Noticeable Differences Between French and American Public Schools

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 no posters or any sort of decorations because teachers change classrooms a lot, so decorating your classroom is something that is just not common to do 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 very low.

8. In France, teacher training is quite dismal (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. 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. There is no talk or celebrations of religious holidays.



11. there are virtually no services for special education or ESL (well, French as a second lanaguage). I find this super awful.



8 thoughts on “Noticeable Differences Between French and American Public Schools

  1. I have always imagined that students in France finish high school with better preparation for university study than American students do from our high schools. Do you think that is true?

    1. In some ways yes, in others, no. The US uses a more hands-on, twenty-first century approach. US students do more extra curriculars and have jobs, etc. So they develop other skills and are able to apply information across contexts. Schools in France are still more about regurgitated information, written essays, 7-hr long tests. It’s changing, but slowly

  2. And you don’t know 1/100.000 of what is wrong in france, not only in schools, but in everything, from their “said free healthcare where you have to wait 6 months before you can have a doctor appointment, when deeper tests are not even mentionned, and if you are older, then, then don’t even try to properly take care of you, because they think: what the heck, they are going to die soon anyway). They use you as guinea pigs without your knowledge, and they say: Well students need to learn.

    and so many of their barbaric institutions.

  3. One difference I’ve noticed between French and American high schools is at French high schools, all the students have lunch at the same time whereas in the U.S. (at least at my high school), the lunch periods were staggered.

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