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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Teaching in Aix-en-Provence

     Bonjour from the South of France!  This semester I'm student teaching at CIPEC, an international school in Aix-en-Provence.  Most of the schools in France are run by the government but my school is one of the very few that completely independent of government funding.  Private schools are very unique in France and even most private schools are funded by the government.  95% of schools in France are Catholic schools and these schools are run according to state guidelines.  They have more independence than public schools but because 77% of their budget comes from the government, they have very limited autonomy.  The other 5% of private schools are completely independent.  Most of these private schools are international schools.  

     CIPEC is located in the outskirts of Aix and is right across from the international high school.  Both schools often have joint events which creates a community atmosphere.  There are a few forests and fields by the schools so the students often have recess in the woods and are encouraged to explore the area.  The teachers are a mix of French natives and other nationalities.  My CT is French but our Math teacher is British and the teacher across the hall is American.  All of the teachers work together to plan lessons, help the students adjust to their new teachers, and overall have created a very social and loving atmosphere.  

     I've been teaching in a maternelle for a few weeks now.  The students are between 2-4 years old and are from France, New Zealand, Australia, England, America, Germany, India, and Saudi-Arabia.  My CT is from France but grew up in Senegal.  She loves the outdoors and loves doing lessons in the forest.  

     This week on our way through the forest we walked past a “haunted” house in preparation for Halloween and my CT, Marie-Christine, explained that at the end of the month a witch would live there! The student took this very seriously so we had to explain that even though witches typically look mean, they’re actually nice on the inside.  Once we arrived at our usual reading spot in the middle of the forest, I read a Halloween book to the children in French.  Even though they don’t celebrate Halloween in France, CIPEC always has a huge Halloween festival ever year.  The students all dress up, bring in scary snacks and visit the witch (the headmasters son) in her haunted house.  As I was explaining to them how we trick-or-treat in the United States, they couldn’t believe that we don’t always dress up in scary costumes.  They tried to brag about how scary their costumes were last year and that my costume, a minion from Despicable Me, wasn’t actually a costume because it wasn’t scary.  After I explained that not everyone wears scary costumes in the US, a few of the girls said they would like to dress up in “pretty” costumes.  The boys started making fun of them but then I asked if any of the boys would like to dress up as Spiderman or Batman?  They all immediately jumped on the bandwagon after that. 
     After story-time the students had free time so I had a chance to talk to my CT about how she likes teaching in France.  She grew up in New Zealand but was often away visiting her father in Senegal.  He loved traveling so she’s been to many different countries.  She even told me that she had a mild case of malaria when she was younger.  Marie-Christine moved to France after she met her husband and immediately starting teaching at CIPEC.  She chose to work at a private school because she doesn’t like the nature of French schools.  Marie-Christine loves nature, values creativity, and loves giving students independence.  She thinks that public schools are too strict, boring, and don’t teach anything subjects that aren’t on the BAC.  She appreciates that she is able to teach her students about different cultures, holidays, food, sports, and anything else that comes up throughout the year.  For example, a few weeks ago we made grape juice because one of the students has a garden and brought in grapes for the class.  She explained to me that a public school teacher would never dream of doing an activity like this.  Even though Marie-Christine is very free spirited, I do pick up on her “French tendencies”.  

     During gym class, we set up an obstacle course for the students to run through.  Even though the students are only three years old, there was an emphasis on going through the obstacle course perfectly.  If a student fell off the balance beam or tripped over a hurdle, points were subtracted from their total score.  At the end of each race there was only one winner and the other students didn’t expect to be congratulated for a job well done unless they had won.  Marie-Christine explained to me that in France you don’t get a trophy for participating like you do in American.  In France, only the winners get a trophy.  This mentality is evident is most aspects of the education system here.  Those who do well in school may go on to the “grand ecoles” (our equivalents of Ivy League schools) but those who struggle fall behind quickly.  In France it is common for students to redouble or repeat a grade three times.  Even in maternelle (preschool), students take tests and are pressured to perform well.  At CIPEC, when students are four years old, they take a test before graduating maternelle.  These grades and each student’s school rank used to be posted after the end of the year.  Marie-Christine explained to me that recently CIPEC stopped posting school rank because “the American parents” were complaining that this was too cutthroat for preschoolers.  It’s been so mind-boggling for me to learn about how different France’s education and mentality is from ours. 

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