Tuesday, September 4, 2012

No limits...the very Frenchness of it.

There something about being a teacher which is both rewarding and giving; it feeds off the excitement & enthusiasm of the students, their sharpness and their curiosity. I have spent years with pupils who have barriers to learning, limitations, confusions, even arrogance...blocks to learning.

But now I find that I have encountered something new, a student who has no apparent limit to their abilities,who is multi directional and socially highly mature. This young lady has a capacity to learn in every area we have shown her, she appears to have no weaknesses and any uncertainties are turned intoto successes. She  is without arrogance or self deceit .

I can honestly say it has been a joy, maybe even a privilege to teach her. She absorbs every experience, every conversation, every activity, every minute with equal & pure passion. This intensity has encompassed logic & problem solving, general knowledge, practical skills like cookery, games like bowling & mini golf, creativity like jewellery making and drawing, she even has a sense of humour. In deed we have yet to find an academic area she does not absorb, develop , blossom & flourish in ...its quite amazing, exhausting and delightful.

So had she limits? Well yes of a sort, and that is in her very Frenchness. This showed itself in a deeply embedded  belief that, her nationality,both  the methods used in learning and indeed the culture itself, must be right; not merely different, but correct.
The example that best shows this is a discussion on table etiquette, because in France how you attend the table,sit, place your hands and eat all have importance.

So how do these cultural differences limit? Well it started as an interesting cultural exchange,talking about the differences and then the phrase 'personal choice' was used. Suddenly it was evident that, though  French culture can accept that other nations may respond differently, fundamentally the French have it correct. They  allow these lapses in their fellow man because they are not French. Well that led to a very interesting debate about 'correctness' and 'change', really fascinating!

So our delightful young  guest returns to Paris and her Baccalaureate studies, wiser in the spoken English word and  importantly in perceptual cultural  differences. After all we learn more from our uncertainties than from our successes...

Full circle ....la rentree

Summer is over and 'La Retree'  is upon us. This is the manic time in the French, and indeed English school year, when the students and children  return to the classroom. In France this is one of the biggest sales times for the leading supermarket chains,in terms of academic stationary and ancillary goods. From mid August the retail publicity shouts about books, clothes, desks and even IT hardware, all trying to compete to get the French parents to purchase these for the new school year.

Anxious parents and intent children carrying the 'List' of essential school materials scour the shelves of stationary. Exercise books of various types & sizes, writing & drawing implements, assorted  items like glue & correction fluid, plus the essential school agenda must be bought. Not to forget the bag to carry it all in, plus means of filing & storage, possibly even a desk for all those hours of homework!

And all this, paid for by the parents ,though state help is possible for larger families or unemployed / low income families,says one thing very loud and clear....responsibility & commitment. The parents see it as their duty to provide these materials, not the text books or the teaching materials, but every other element of their child's schooling.
Now parents in the UK are just as committed and responsible, but the emphasis is on the schools & local authorities to provide these disposable materials. The school must provide text books, paper, rulers, crayons, whatever is needed. Some children  may have additional utensils, but these are seem as non-essential and personal. The difference can be seen is in how the children respond in the classroom. In France; no bickering about  a lack of pen or pencil, arguing over  crayons half broken or felt tips run dry and certainly not wastage of paper or graffiti covered  books. Imagine trying to explain to your French  parents that you just fancied scribbling over the cover or breaking 'le Bic', when they have to earn & pay for it. Result neat books, care in ownership & use of materials, sharing & enjoyment; indeed a pride in what is produced.

 In England having jointly class owned materials, with  some children owning additional items and perhaps not wanting to share, can cause tension & frustration. When UK schools purchase they are limited to suppliers and when these firms have won the contracts from local authorities the choice, quality & cost can be arbitrary. When the French parents purchase the big chains and smaller stores compete to provide customer choice & keep prices down.

Advertising leaflets drop through the door publicising  additional activities for the usual (though not always) school closure every Wednesday. Little Thomas could go to judo, karate, learn tennis or athletics, play a musical instrument or learn to paint & draw; all extra curricular to mainstream French education.In England  young Jane can participate in physical activities;  sports, learn music and develop her art, all within the school curriculum and Wednesday is a working day.

 But what both cultures have in common is the trepidation & excitement of the return and that includes the teachers. Why, because it might be a return, but be you teacher or student, everything has changed. Class members, curriculum, timetable and sometimes even the school itself ,change.

So you leave in July confident in where you are & what you know and return in September uncertain in what is to come & how difficult the coming academic year will be. That's why teaching is called the 'Chalk Face',its hard practical, intellectual & emotional work, your job is to get the very best out of those pupils.
 Its not about subject knowledge or techniques its about the ability to communicate and the passion to inspire.Vive la rentree!