05 October 2009

Edu. Abbrev.

I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the French educational system.
Until, that is, I began teaching in it.
MUC. BTS. TGST. Term Spé. LV2. Even ASS! What does it all mean?!
As in other areas of French life, education is rife with abbreviations and acronyms. Some are comprehensible; others are unreasonable. For example, the DGELF (General Delegation of the French Language), SNCF (National Railroad Society) or SIUAPS (no one actually knows what this stands for, but it references the university sports complex in Strasbourg where I took dance classes). These acronyms are cumbersome and defy pronunciation. MSU (Michigan State University) I can understand. Indiana pushes the limit with IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, sometimes pronounced ee-ew-pew-ee). But when the vast majority of people who work in a given sector have difficulty remembering the sector’s main acronyms…
It took my supervising teacher, Anna, a full half hour to explain all acronyms for the classes I’ll be working with—and this is just at the high school level. I’ll attempt to do the same for you in less time.
First, I work on an even-odd week schedule, although only a few classes change. I teach 12 hours a week, which is 2/3 time for professors. Most of my classes are Tuesday (5-6) and Thursday (4), with 1-2 on Monday and Friday, and no classes Wednesday. Having Wednesdays off is not unusual for teachers in France; until last year the school week included Saturday morning. For the most part, I’ll be working with groups of 4-5 students for a half hour to an hour, practicing oral conversation and presentation skills. My sessions will generally follow the main theme being discussed in class. For example, if the students are reading texts and discussing addiction in class, I can choose to talk about cell phone addiction. I can ask Are cell phones addictive? What defines addiction? What are some addictive substances? I might introduce some vocabulary, ask students to prepare a small presentation ahead of time, bring in extra articles or images, and basically invite and mediate discussion.
The students I work with come from a few different grades and specializations:
Première STG: Première would be Grade 11, one year before taking the high school exit exam called the Baccalauréat, a very thorough exam covering several areas of study but emphasizing whichever specialization the student has chosen. STG means business sciences and skills, students destined for work either immediately after high school or after a couple more years of study. Foreign languages are required in all high schools, and most STG students choose English (and possibly a second language) because of its practical application in business.
Terminale STG: Terminale is the last year of high school, Grade 12. These students will take the Bac at the end of the year.
Première Spé: Grade 11, specialized studies in either literature or economic and social sciences. These students will take a more difficult Bac and receive a higher mention on their diplomas. Think of this as the Honors course: they are intelligent and eager.
Term Spé: Grade 12, specialized.
BTS: post-high school work training. The classes further prepare students in more specialized fields. The students are not much younger than me!
MUC: BTS studies focusing on business management.
ASS: BTS studies focusing on the insurance industry.
TLV2: Grade 12, second foreign language. These students will be fluent in three languages by the time they graduate high school. Think of these as the top ten of each class.
Term Euro: Grade 12, European section. This course is designed for students who are either very highly motivated or already speak two or more languages. This is not an English class; it’s history and geography taught in English.
I have yet to meet all my classes, but so far I’ve attended five. Depending on what the teacher has time for, I usually spend time talking about Michigan (location, the Great Lakes, student stereotypes based on Michael Moore’s depiction of Flint and Detroit); my university, studies, and graduation (they like my picture with cap and gown, like in the movies); my interests, where I’ve traveled, and in turn what they like to do; and what they’re interested in studying (overall, American daily life, movies, music, schools, and Michael Moore films). My presentations to the Première classes (Grade 11) have been less smooth than those to Terminale, and my two sessions with Spé classes have been delightful! One student even invited me to spend a weekend at her family’s home in the countryside this fall!
What do I think will be difficult teaching this year? Classroom management should be okay, given that I’ll be working with small groups. Defining the line between professional and personal contact with my students, since I’m not quite a professor and I’m supposed to create a friendly atmosphere where they feel at ease speaking English. Maintaining a natural English could also pose problems (except for writing this blog and making phone calls to you all!), because my classroom “English for foreigners” is much clearer, slower, simpler, and free of slang, sarcasm, and expressions—essentially what make it worth speaking.
Details of this weekend soon to come…Otherwise, I dropped off my housing aid application (now wait three months), should be able to fill out paperwork at school (if the secretary isn’t still sick, or if someone has finally learned to cover), first month’s rent is due Monday (interesting discussion with the landlord today), and the phone technician comes Tuesday (pray the line is ready right away).
Even if I had something else to add, I don’t think you could stand it. Have a good day, and more soon!

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