‘Sorry I can’t come out tonight, I’ve got school at 8am tomorrow’ sounds like a rather strange response for a 20-year-old university student.
Yet this is my usual answer these days when turning down social gatherings, a reply which does in some ways feel like a regressive step in my journey towards ‘maturity’ (cough cough).
Whose bright idea was 8am classes in France anyway? The teachers themselves show significant reluctance in being there as they huff, tut and down large cups of black coffee in the dimly lit staff room, and more often than not I find myself with at least three students who decide that these early lessons are a good lie-in opportunity.
As a result, the back row is unofficially labelled as a form of ‘sleep zone’, where grunting, tracksuit-clad lads and girls with smudged mascara slump against the wall with hoods pulled over their faces or flop onto the desk with a textbook propped in front of them in an attempt to avoid detection.
I’ve got to admit; I usually leave them to it. After my first few weeks of desperate cajoling were met simply with blank faces and exaggerated yawns, I soon realised it was much easier to let them be than enforce their concentration.
Futile arguments with an attitude-fuelled 14-year-old at 8am on a Wednesday morning? I’d rather not, thanks.
It is moments like this that really highlight the differences between French and English schooling. When I first arrived here, my initial perception of the French education system was that rules would be 10 times stricter and more formal than my own experiences.
I think the previous example provides adequate proof of just how wrong I was. For a start, the teachers wear jeans. This may not seem a big thing in itself, but couple that with the lack of school uniform and seeming non-existence of any dress-code rules (apart from ‘no religious slogan t-shirts’ - the French schools all being completely secular), and a whole different atmosphere is immediately created.
Now, I work at two schools. One of them is in what I can only describe as a ‘Desperate Housewives’ area, whilst the other is in a district made up of blocks of flats and 2am mopeds.
The fashions of each are fascinating to me; shirts and high heels versus full-on Adidas with matching slanted caps and trainers for both the boys and the girls.
Yet in both schools, discipline is often questionable. Many teachers simply cannot control their classes, meaning every lesson becomes a game of ‘who can shout the loudest’. If the staff member in question is a mouse, they have absolutely no chance.
Luckily, I’ve derived a clever strategy for commanding silence, whereby I simply speak as quickly in English as I can, forcing even the most cocky ones to realise that actually, they are not quite as ‘trop forte’ (too good) at English as they think....works like a charm.
Even in what I’ve taken to referring to as the ‘posh school’, there are problems. The majority of students there definitely have an air of ‘Mummy and Daddy will do whatever I ask’ about them, so their issue is not so much talkativeness as a blatant refusal to listen if they happen to decide that they don’t want to.
However, this attitude (and indeed that of the other school) has yielded some incredibly amusing moments; moments which, had I been their usual class teacher, I probably would not have found half as funny.
For instance, one 14-year-old has taken rather a shine to me (no doubt just because I’m the youngest staff member and a female), and after countless attempts at discovering my phone number/address/if I had Skype, moved onto a different wooing tactic by proclaiming in the middle of his class; teacher present, that my eyes ‘sparkled like the sun’ and later, when asked about his hobbies, that he liked to ‘make the love’ (though he actually used a much ruder French equivalent).
If this had happened back in good ol’ Maidstone, I’m sure there would have been serious repercussions not to mention a significant amount of paperwork and letters to parents, but no, not in France. Instead, the teacher simply laughed, and went back to her marking. Crazy.
I have many, many more anecdotes and language faux-pas like this which I will proceed to share with you over the coming weeks, but for now, I think I’ll leave you with this. À la prochain!