I was 21, fresh out of school and looking for adventure. So a chance to teach English in the south of France? It sounded like the perfect opportunity before I got a “real job.”
These days, I’m a mom of two living in the Seattle area, and I often reflect on my time in France (and not because I’m up to my eyeballs in dirty diapers). Here’s what I learned about the French education system that I wish we had more of here in the U.S.
A relaxed way of teaching
When I landed the job, I was a little apprehensive. I’d never taught in a classroom before and only got a few days of basic training. The good news: We were supposed to only speak English. In fact, my supervisors told me to pretend that I didn’t know a word of French (I did, thanks to some time in university). During the first class, I introduced myself — in English.
Skeptical as I was, it turned out to be a great lesson for both me and the kids. They all collaborated to figure out what I was saying and even taught me new words in French.
For the entire school year, we played simple games like bingo, sang songs in English and had a lot of fun. But I couldn’t help but wonder if the kids were actually learning.
Then one day I rushed into class late only to have a student come up to me and exclaim in English, ‘It’s 9 o’clock. You’re late!”
It made me so happy to know that these silly games were teaching them something. It’s a laid-back style I wish I saw more of in the U.S.
A real lunch break
Yes, it’s true: French schools give long lunch breaks. My school had a two-hour lunch break and provided teachers and kids with really good food.
One of my strongest memories of school was the delicious smell of food from the school canteen and a different menu posted on the wall every day.
There were multiple courses: simple but healthy options like vegetable crudité to start, fish and potatoes for the main course and cheese, fruit and yogurt for dessert.
The kids all ate together, too, making lunch a very important part of the school day for both socializing and appreciating food.
The lunch ladies were revered at my school and seemed to know every kid by name. Food matters in France and kids did seem to genuinely enjoy and eat their school lunch.
Impromptu nature trips
One day, my students were late to class. When they finally arrived in, they all rushed to show me the mushrooms they had collected. The previous period’s teacher had taken them on a nature hunt. They’d collected mushrooms and fungus and were going to research which were edible.
On yet another day, the kids went to the beach to collect shells and look at sea creatures. They didn’t go by bus, instead of going with the teacher on a good 20-minute walk to the beach.
Rather than being unusual, as you might find in the U.S., these nature walks were just an important part of the curriculum as math or grammar.
But it’s not all a bed of roses
Of course, no education system is perfect. Teacher strikes are a common occurrence in France with teachers going on strike for several days while I was there. At the time it didn’t bother me, but as a parent, I know these strikes can be tough on both teachers and families.
And, of course, as with all schools, there are good and bad teachers. Some were conscientious and caring. Others? Not so much.
Still, when my own kids enter elementary school, I can’t help but hope they get a little taste of France.