An American observer comments on French politics.
My wife is a grade school (& école maternelle) teacher working in schools in the Académie de Créteil. Its interesting reading this article in light of her observations and lived experience, much of it confirming what has been said many times elsewhere. As a parent of school age child, I know that legions of parents are critical of Peillon's reform of school week which entails scheduling school Wednesday morning followed by municipality-sponsored activities in the afternoon. The kids are tired & groggy by Thursday and the activities on Wednesday are generally crap. And we live in a relatively well-off commune in the Académie de Créteil. I'm left scratching my head, though, because, as a kid growing up in the US, I had a five-day school week and I don't remember that being such a terrible burden. But then again, God forbid unsettling long-held habits of the French, or even worse complicating the delicate organization of taking and picking the kids up from school.In light of what my wife has told me, I find that the last comment by Pr.Dubet to be the most insightful - ie, the Ministry of National Education should focus on modest, achievable goals and not promise grandiose schemes. What he says is pertinent because the schools can only do so much for the children and neighborhoods where they're located. The problem is not that there is one root cause problem to identify and rectify; rather the problem is that of an accumulation of problems which end up swamping the fundamental pedagogical mission the schools, and the teachers, set out for themselves despite their best efforts. An example from my wife: a class at a zone prioritaire elementary school in one of the poorer cities of Val-de-Marne (which is saying something). There are 24 students aged 10 (CP2, I think - I can never remember the sequence CM2, CM1, CP, etc,...Its so confusing). 5 of the kids don't speak French, 2 kids have mental problems and 10 to 12 kids come from home environments that don't foster study habits. Only a few of the kids, three or four of them, can keep pace with what would be the normal rhythm of learning the year's program (equivalent of 5th grade). Next year, they'll all be going to collège (6th grade). That's quite a challenge to teach to so many different levels, and different situations, all in the same class.As for the career aspect of it, the workplace is 99% female and pay is low varying between 1800€ to 2100€ per month ($2200-$2600) net. I'm of the opinion that there is an unspoken understanding in the halls of rue Grenelle that they'll pay the women peanuts figuring that their husbands will be the principal breadwinners in their households. But what if a teacher is single, as many of the young female teachers in their 20s are? Or imagine being a single mom with one or two kids to take care of on a schoolteacher's pay of under €2000 per month? Life is no bed of roses: your job is very fatiguing, you're struggling to get by and you likely don't live near the school where you work. And Vincent Peillon just ruined your Wednesdays because now you have to go work in the morning, and make sure your kids get to their schools. And all this despite the fact that you're a fonctionnaire with lifetime employment (perhaps a lifetime stuck in the same Académie, too.)The populations most susceptible of being interested in careers teaching children - ie, usually young women of lower middle-class & middle-class background from the provinces or the banlieue pavillonaire - probably have first-hand knowledge of what the life a teacher is like, warts and all. And its a credit to them that they still pursue their dream despite the risks and guaranteed stress.
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