Although I’ve been in gay Pa-ree for about three months now, I only started my international pre-practicum two weeks ago. Happily, I had plenty of time to soak up some French culture (including more than my fair share of crêpes and pastries), brush up on my French conversation skills, and acclimate myself to classes in a French university before diving into the new and unfamiliar world of teaching in a foreign country. Having already spent so much time in France, I was more than ready to experience and learn from the differences between an American high school and a Parisian “lycée.”
My director has set me up at the International School of Paris, the only English-speaking school within the limits of the city. This institution offers three International Baccalaureate programs: the Primary Years Program (through grade 5), the Middle Years Program (grades 6 through 10), and the IB Diploma Program (grades 11and 12); as my coordinator has explained it to me, the school buys into these programs, adheres to their set curriculum standards, and is observed every few years to ensure continued effectiveness, according to program guidelines. The building in which I observe classes twice a week, located at the foot of a wide, stone staircase overlooking the famous Seine river (I only wish my high school locale had been so scenic!), houses grades 6 through 12. Because of this, I sit in on classes in a wide range of age groups, a new experience for me because I formerly taught only grades 9 through 12.
As the ISP is an international school, my students come from all over the world. For instance, in the first classroom I observed - a small English course consisting of six students - I met individuals from England, Ireland, Morocco, Brazil, and the south of France. And that was just my first class! In other classes, I’ve met students from as far away as India and Japan. Because of this cultural mix-up, the hallways of the ISP are constantly filled with a pleasant mélange of accents and languages, giving one the reassuring impression of finding oneself in a safe, accepting environment where different cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds are valued and respected by all. Coming from an American high school, where all of my classmates shared relatively similar upbringings, I can only imagine the broader world-view these students gain simply from attending their school and interacting with their peers. Even lunchtime must be a lesson in cultural awareness!
Of course, the academic program accommodates these cultural and language differences. In the Middle Years Program, students are expected to take six subjects. Most of them, including humanities, science, math, art, technology, and physical education, are taught in English. Students must also take an English class and a French class, but they can choose to take these classes at the A Level (indicating mother-tongue or strongest language) or the B Level (for students who are still learning the language); however, one must be taken as a language A and one must be taken as a language B. Students also have the option of taking a third language at level A or B, an accommodation for those students whose mother-tongues are neither French nor English. The options for a third language are Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, and Chinese.
The IB Diploma Program is designed to prepare students for university anywhere in the world, as virtually every country recognizes the validity of the IB diploma. Students are expected to take six classes: Language A (literature in English, French, Japanese, Korean, or a self-taught language), Language B (second language), Individuals and Societies (history, economics, or geography), Experimental Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.), Mathematics, and Art (music, visual arts, theatre arts). Students can take these courses either at a standard level or a high level. Generally, they choose one subject from each area of study and, at the end of two years, are tested internally in these chosen subjects; those students who attain a certain cumulative score on their tests will receive the IB diploma and will thus be qualified to apply to university almost anywhere in the world.
I love that the ISP fosters a multi-cultural environment. The program requires that students learn in English and that they have at least a basic understanding in French, while also cultivating knowledge in other languages and recognizing the various cultural backgrounds of students. It may not be a quintessentially “French” experience, but from my three visits to this school I already appreciate the diversity and the cultural respect that are encouraged within an international setting. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.