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– and depending on the academie and if it’s private or public sector, some students still have Wednesdays off an instead attend school on Saturday mornings.
2. Most 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, unless you go off campus. The only drink offered to students is water, which students must fill with the provided pitchers 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 and especially in secondary seldom have a classroom of their own, 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. The teachers are not required to be at school except for their classroom teaching time– planning, marking, etc. is done outside of class, and because teachers do not have their own classrooms to prep in, they are given fewer classroom hours.
8. In France, teacher training is quite different. The program consists of a two-year Master’s program, which basically trains you to pass an extremely rigorous and competitive content-based exam. There is not quite as much pedagogical training as in other anglophone countries– much is learned on the job. Additionally, if teachers teach in the public sector, they are considered as civil servants and therefore do not choose where they are placed. As a result, many new teachers (whom are single and unmarried and inexperienced) are forced to teach in REP (inner city) schools with stereotypically more behavioral programs and zero classroom management experience.
9. My international school has wifi and Macbooks / projectors in every classroom, but that is not the norm. Depending on the school, available technology can be hit or miss, and the wifi is a lot more shady.
10. There is no dress code apart from the secularism rules 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.
11. There are much fewer services for special education or ESL students (well, French as a second language). Most teachers are not trained in how to differentiate or accommodate for those students (in my experience.)
What other differences have you noticed?