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.

Quick Update


I am finally back from Sweden and back to the Blogosphere (at least for now) after 10 wonderful days with our students who were extremely well-behaved. They were polite, punctual, interested, appreciative and curious. What more could we dream of?

They also took the time to express their gratefulness: some of them thanked us profusely before leaving the coach and one sent me an email via Facebook.

Our colleagues in Sweden were extremely helpful and welcoming. In fact they were both new to the exchange as one former colleague is now retired and the other one no longer wished to take part because of the work involved. Obviously there was apprehension on both sides as a minimum of common understanding and goals is necessary for such an exchange to go smoothly but it worked out really well.

One teacher is a woman from Argentina whose family comes from Spain and Italy who is married to another Argentinian of both French and German descent. She teaches both French and Spanish when she is not raising her five children. We were welcomed to their homes on a couple of occasions and were most happy to share their daughter’s cakes after a cold and wet outing at the weekend.

The other teacher is a divorced mother of two who teaches French, Swedish and Swedish for foreigners. She enjoys reading and going to the movie, which means she and I had long conversations on favorite books and films, as well as school politics, teaching and religion.

Both women are very different but complementary and we shared lovely moments with them with or without the students.

It is now time to catch up with work and High Holiday preparations. I still have not decided whether I want to bake a honey or an apple cake but salmon will definitely be on the menu.

Shabbat Shalom!

Student Disciplinary Hearing


I am a member of the disciplinary Hearing Authority of our school along with three other teachers, three students, two parents, one non-teaching member of staff, the principal and his deputy.

Fortunately we rarely meet for a formal hearing; informal hearings are more frequent. Yesterday was an exception.

The student in question was a nineteen year old boy with a record of frequent absences and tardiness. When he was present, he was either disturbing lessons or half-asleep. He was also a low-achiver and was older than most of peers due to a year he had repeated and a change in his curriculum – he had switched a sceintific course to a more office-orientated one.

This was only part of the story: the reason he had been summoned to this hearing yesterday was aggressive and threatening attitude towards a member of staff.

It took us about an hour to listen to the various reports which had been written about him since September. Several people were asked to testify about his behavior. The student and his family were present throughout the procedure and were allowed to intervene at the end. Then they were asked to leave the room and we debated the case.

Most people (including myself) voted in favor of his being expelled permanently, for various reasons. One of them being the repeated aggressive behavior: the worst incident was unfortunately not the only violent episode.

This was not as easy a decision as it may seem. It is always hard to decide to get rid of a student however disturbing he might be. In this particular case, we also knew that it would be difficult for him to find a school that would be ready to accept him.

When we started the hearing, the principal reminded us that no one emerges unscathed from such a hearing; this is very true. You can never be certain that you have made the right decision and you can also read the anxiety on the student’s face as well as on his parents’. Yet we also have to keep in mind the rest of the class and the teachers who are supposed to teach them.

Overall it is far from being a plesant experience – too much like navigating murky waters in foggy weather.

Training a Trainee


To become a teacher in France you take a rather demanding exam where you are expected to show that you have the academic knowledge to teach (English in my case). You are then appointed to a school for a year where you are entrusted with classes. You have training sessions reglarly and a tutor who helps you learn the job. I have been such a tutor on three occasions before.

Two of the former trainees only attended my lessons for a few weeks. They were in charge of a class or two in a Junior High School and came to our school to see what a High School was like.

Five years ago I had a trainee for a whole year. He was a young man from Ireland and was in France because he had fallen in love with a French girl. He attended some of my lessons and I visited him in his classes too; first to advise him, then when he asked me too. This, however, was plain sailing since he was in his early thirties (which meant no discipline issue) and had taught before, in language schools in Ireland and in the South of France.

He obviously had no problems speaking English and knew how to interact with teenagers. I felt only helpful in that I could explain what teaching English in a French public school involved. His priorities and mine were not necessarily similar but confronting our ways and means was quite stimulating.

This time it is a little different. My trainee is only 25, she has never taught before and, because of budget cuts, her formal training will be quite scarce. For the past two weeks she has sat in my classroom, watching me teach. At the end of each lesson, I try and explain my objectives and what I think went well and not-so-well. So far she has been very pleasant but a little too quiet. I encourage her to ask questions and express her thoughts but she usually says very little.

I am not sure whether it is because she is reserved or because she hasn’t had a chance to start teaching yet – a colleague takes her classes for three weeks while she observes what goes on in my classes and has a few lessons on teaching sklls with our inspectors and some trainers.

It seems quite a responsibility to be a tutor, not to mention that having another grown-up in my class can be a little stressful. I need to find the right tone when I describe what I have done or intend to do (not too preachy or paternalistic), I will probably have to help her come up with solutions when problems arise and above all I will need to provide words of praise and encouragements, not what I am best at.

Assessment- Feedback Welcome


In French secondary schools we assess students using grades that range from 0 – for extremely poor work or nothing at all- to 20 – for a paper which we deem to be the best a student that age can produce.

In primary school the system is different. In the past teachers used a 10-point grading scale but now they use a system of code – usually colors – to indicate how well the pupil has performed.

There are talks however in middle schools to introduce a system that would be closer to the one used at primary level. Of course they wouldn’t use a color scheme but standardized phrases to indicate whether the new point has been aquired or not or if the student seems to be acquiring it.

My feelings is that such a system is far more limited than the present grading system, especially as the student gets older and the things that are assessed more complex.

I wonder what you readers think either as former students or as parents. How were you assessed and how did this make you feel? How are your children assessed now and does that satisfy you?