When Clothes Make the Man

For a couple of weeks, a pupil in my school has been wearing distinctly skinhead clothes: high-laced black boots, tight jeans that are tucked into the afore mentioned boots and a black Pitbull bomber jacket on top of a white or black tee-shirt. He has also shaved his head. In other words, he looks just about as charming as a character out of This is England or if he had just attended a National Front meeting.

He has been summoned by the administration and questioned about his clothing. Apparently he explained that he is perfectly aware of the significance of his clothes but that the economic crisis has made him realise that ‘the white race is threatened’. He has agreed to remove the white laces on his boots but has kept the other items of his unsavoury garb. It would seem that since he has ‘promised’ he does not believe in violence (but would anyone be dumb enough not to), he can dress as he chooses.

In French schools, the law concerning religious and political beliefs is that ‘ostentatious signs’ are prohibited – in other words you can wear a star of David but not a kippa, a hand of Fatima but not a headscarf. The same applies to political signs. Besides any kind of proselytizing – whether it is religious or political is forbidden.

As a Jew, a Democrat, a European, a woman and a teacher, I feel offended. I find it very unpleasant and disturbing to see him in such attire on the school premises, knowing that it is tolerated by our administration. Other than go and see the head, is there anything else you would do?

Training a Trainee II


I was quite awed last year about having a trainee for a full year – I needn’t have been: my trainee was competent, conscientious and also very pleasant.

When September came this year, I was confident that I would probably have a similar experience and be responsible for a youngster who was eager to learn and share teaching enthusiasms and doubts. I didn’t worry – I should have!

This year my trainee is 56. When he was younger he had no desire to teach and he went to college to study economics and management. Later he specialized in IT and worked in this sector for over a decade.

At some point in his professional life, he decided to switch to teaching and because he had lived in Britain for a number of years, teaching English must have looked like a good idea. Like all potential teachers in France, he took, and passed, the very difficult exam that allows candidates to become qualified teachers – provided their training is a success.

Unfortunately the last part did not happen and he is now repeating his training period, with me as his tutor. His weakest point is class management. This man shuns conflicts and thus implicitly allows the students to test his limits. Therefore the noise level in his classes often reaches an intolerable level as the students are busy talking rather than working.

Advising trainees on class management is far from easy. The way you manage a class has to do with who you are as a person. What works for me – apart from common sense – might not work as well for another teacher. In addition my task is all the harder as this person is older than me and not always ready to acknowledge his failings and shortcomings. It does not help that he is also not very brave and will use the same lessons and tests with very different classes.

Because of this reluctance, each of my visits is followed by a short exchange and then an email where I try and clarify what went well, what went wrong and how he could improve. So far however I have seen very little change and I am not sure how I can help him in a positive and efficient way.

Have Fun


Being quite busy with the usual back-to-stuff work and the preparations for our departure for Sweden, I have little time for proper blogging. Instead I suggest you test yourself and try to answer the quiz about the USA my 12th graders will have to answer in teams this morning.

1. Who abolished slavery in 1865?
2. Who discovered America in 1492?
3. What is the Ivy League?
4. What characters did Mark Twain create?
5. What is the name of the president on the $1 banknote?
6. What is the capital city of the USA?
7. How many states are there?
8. What are the two states that are not on the mainland?
9. Who said “I want you” for the army?
10. Where were the first European immigrants disembarked before entering New York City?
11. What is the name of the war that took place between 1861 and 1865?
12. What is the most expensive shopping street in New York City?
13. What is the name of the most famous stock exchange?
14. What is the other name of San Francisco?
15. What is the most famous bridge on the West coast?
16. What holiday is celebrated every fourth Thursday of November?
17. On what boat did the Pilgrim Fathers sail to the USA in 1620?
18. What is the name of the flag?
19. What is celebrated every year on July 4th?
20. Who wrote “Of Mice and Men”?
21. Who created the first basketball shoe in 1917?
22. What animal symbolizes the USA?
23. What was destroyed by the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001?
24. How many stripes are there on the American flag?
25. What is the highest building in New York?
26. Who said “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” in 1968?
27. Who is the King?
28. Who wrote “The Old Man and the Sea”?
29. What is the name of the space center in Florida?
30. When was J. F. Kennedy assassinated?
31. Who said the “I have a dream” speech in 1963?
32. Who refused to let her seat to a white passenger in 1955?
33. What did the USA buy from France in 1803?
34. Located in the Southern part of the San Francisco Bay area, what is the name of the place that is home to many of the world’s largest technology corporations?
35. Who said “Yes, we can.”?
36. What are the main two political parties?
37. Who directed “Whatever works”, “Match Point” and “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona”?
38. When did the Wall Street crash take place in the early 20th century?
39. Who created the New Deal, a range of policies increasing government intervention in the economy in 1932?
40. What does the controversial National Rifle Association promote?
41. What is the name of the most popular championship game of the National American Football league?
42. Who created Microsoft in 1975 at the age of 20?
43. What did Mark Zuckerberg create in 2004?
44. 44. Who directed “E.T”, “Saving Private Ryan”, Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List”?
45. What city was badly damaged by hurricane Katrina in 2005?
46. What is the ceremony that is held in February or March every year on Hollywood Boulevard?
47. What is the name of the most popular soft drink that was introduced in 1886?
48. Who created the most famous clothing company in 1869 with denim overalls?
49. Who introduced the “Speedee Service System” in 1948, the first fast-food restaurant in 1948?
50. What is the name of the city in Los Angeles County that is home to Hollywood celebrities and numerous wealthy people?

Unusual Parisian School





This small school is located in The Pletzl, the Jewish quarter in the fourth arrondissement of Paris. It was founded in 1844 by the city of Paris when it became clear that it was necessary to set up a secular school to cater for the numerous Jewish children who lived in the district.

The École élémentaire des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais had several unusual features:
– although it was a secular school, it received some funds from the Central Consistory, the institution set up by Napoleon I to administer Jewish worship in France, but religious education was forbidden within the building.
– unlike other French schools, it was closed on Saturdays and Sundays, instead of Thursdays and Sundays, as was the case in all other French state schools.
– it used the Monitorial System of education
– the school was organized for Jewish children but not all students were Jewish.

Busy Busy



I would have liked to post more in the past few days, including one post on what it is like to teach about Jews in Medieval England, but this has proved to be impossible owing to recent developments on the work front.

At present our school has three deans – people who are in charge of student discipline. Two of them work full time and the other one works part time. There are 1,200 students in our high school and we have some boarders.

Due to cuts in education, we are losing one dean. We got the news only a few days ago and immediately decided to send a petition to the local school authorities. As this did not work, we were on strike on Monday, contacted the parents’ representatives for support and the press for publicity.

We got a few articles in the local newspapers and there was a short announcement in a radio bulletin. We have the full support of the parents who have sent letters to the school board explaining why it would be fatal for the school to lose a dean.

The chief school administrator has accepted to receive a small delegation this afternoon to hear what we have to say and I have been asked to be part of the group. This is both an honor and a daunting responsibility: the running of the school and a job are at stake. We need to find powerful arguments while showing that we are responsible and reliable educators who are acting for the benefits of the school.

On Thursday we we are going to Paris to the Jewish museum (the MAHJ) and the Shoah Memorial. This is part of our project on Jews in Medieval Europe in France, Germany and England. In the morning we will walk round the old Jewish district and visit a synagogue. In the afternoon, one group will visit the Jewish museum with an emphasis on the Middle-Ages while the other group will have a workshop on blood libels in Medieval France.

Some posts will probably follow on both topics.

Judaism in a Nutshell – Part II



We started the new lesson last Friday. First I explained to my students that in History, German and English they would deal with Jews in Medieval Europe, culminating with a visit to Paris where we would visit Le Marais, the Paris district where Jews had settled in the Middle Ages, as well as the Jewish Museum, which is situated in the same district. They seemed to like the idea.

I then handed out the worksheet with the matching exercise and I was actually pleasantly surprised to see that they knew more terms than I would have credited them for.

Everybody was able to match Israel and Jerusalem with their definitions. Bar mitzvah was another term that most of them knew because of the film The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.

The other best-known words were: ghetto, synagogue, Holocaust, rabbi and Torah. Some of those who knew bar mitzvah understood what bat mitzvah meant. More difficult ones were: diaspora, antisemitism (because of the way I had worded the definition), kippah and Torah scrolls. There were a few left which they will have to identify for homework.

The biggest surprise came when a student matched Shabbat with its definition. I then asked if they knew what day Shabbat was. Quite a number of students did and a boy added that it started the day before. I am still wondering ho whe knew this.

This was one of the most satisfying lessons I had had with this particular class. They were interested and put in more work than they usually do. Besides it was nice to see that some who are not very good at English were able to share a different type of knowledge; something which seemed to be proud of.

The next step will be an extract from The Physician, since it is set in Medieval England at the beginning and at the end.

Watch and Share


After reading a comment on Facebook and having seen the link to a yeshiva’s website, the educator in me could not help it: I had to go and watch the video.

I know very little about this high school, other than the information the yeshiva provides online, but a few things (seen on the video and or read in the informational brochure) really impressed me:

– When a bochur joins the yeshiva, he has to build his own desk which he then uses throughout high school.

– The school encourages public speaking right from 9th grade.

– The yeshiva promotes a 100% safe environment where negative comments are not tolerated.

– They have set up a baskbetball clinic where a non-athletic boy is coached by an athletic one.

These are only a few examples; there are a number of other very interesting practical features to encourage learning and foster confidence.

I like the idea of an all-round education where skills in art, sports and crafts are also encouraged. It makes sense that kids who do not excel in more academic subjects need to discover there are other things they are good at.
It is also momentous for the more able to connect with the more paractical side of their personalities.

The French educational system has done away with a lot of common sense activities: for instance cooking is now forbidden and only packaged cakes are allowed, for the sake of food safety; crafts have been abandonned and replaced by “technology” where twelve-year olds have to learn the name of complex plastic materials. At the same time cuts in education means that they are not provided with the tools and the attention they’d need to do well in academic subjects. Not to mention ethical values, a field where the state has given up the idea that you can teach a person to behave well towards another.

Some of the things people like about blog-reading is that they get a glimpse into other systems and practices. So do not hesitate and leave a comment, let us know about what you feel is lacking in education in your own country and what you would like your children – or children in general – to learn.

Downs and Ups


I reckon that one of the reasons why I have not been blogging so much since September is the situation at work. The school I teach at – a French state school – has been going from bad to worse in the past few years.

Although we still have some great students, we also seem to have more than a fair share of rude, lazy, inconsiderate teenagers who spend their time texting from their phones and fail to understand why this enrages us.

Some colleagues are off-sick because they suffer from burn out or depression. Only this morning an experienced economics teacher burst into tears at 8 because of a violent incident that had happened yesterday evening and which meant she felt she could not face her class today.

I personally have an ongoing battle with a business class about coats (which they refuse to take off), textbooks (which they don’t bother to bring to class), note taking (which they try to avoid) and endless conversations (between themselves). I try not to give up because of what I believe a decent lesson should be like but it’s hard.

Dialogue with the administration is not easy. The deputy head blames everything on our inability to deal with students and is convinced that he would do a much better job if he were in our shoes. This obviously does not help and only creates more tension and frustration. The head is new, which means he is still very cautious in his dealings with the whole staff.

As a result, in December, we decided to unite and work together to improve the situations on several fronts. We made a list of the people who are sick and tired of the whole situation, asked them to email their complaints and organized a three-hour meeting (at the beginning of January) which 50 teachers attended and during which we drew up a list of problems and (suggested) solutions. This resulted in a short meeting with the administration yesterday where they agreed to consider our points and discuss them with us at the beginning of March.

So far we are not sure much will come out of this but the climate in the staff room has improved. People are more talkative and some colleagues now dare to share their problems. This is a small step albeit an important one in a profession where people are reluctant to admit failures and difficulties.

Looking for a Jewish Hero


Those of you who follow me on Facebook may already know that I am looking for ideas concerning a new project for my 10th graders.

The students will have to name a newly-built school (in the US) after someone famous. Each group will present their choices and the class will vote. I’d like to include at least one Jew in the examples we’ll work on before they do their own research. Because of their History curriculum I’d prefer those heroes to have been born in Europe prior to migrating to the USA.

All suggestions are welcome.