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One thing that took some getting used to when I first arrived in France was the structure of the school day. This is something that is very different to Scotland. There are aspects of the school day that I believe are very good, however, there are also ways in which is believe the Scottish system works better. The school day structure just shows how various parts of the day are deemed more important in other countries.
The school day begins at 8:30 am. In the beginning of placement, I found this strange as primary school in Scotland do not usually start until 9:00 am (Chevalier-Karfis, 2016). This is not considered an early start and the children are always at school on time, ready to start the day. This is another difference. Over my six weeks of placement, not once has a child in my class ever been late to school. They are all punctual and begins lessons on time. The children have a morning break starting at 10:15 am until 10:30 am. However, I have noticed that often, the teachers do not stick to this time frame. When the bell goes for break the children do not rush out of their seats to go outside. If the teacher is still teaching, she will continue the lesson until they are finished. This means that sometimes the children are going out 5 sometimes 10 minutes late. However, the teacher allows them to stay in the playground longer if this has happened. This has happened a lot during my time at school. Therefore, it can be confusing when teaching lessons as sometimes pupils won’t be in the class when they are supposed to be.
Lunchtime is the biggest difference between France and Scotland. I couldn’t believe it when I was informed at the beginning of placement that lunch is two hours long. This is something I was definitely not used to. In Scotland children don’t even receive a full hour for lunch, it is usually fifty minutes. However, in France lunchtime is seen as their big meal of the day. Therefore, most of the children in my school go home at lunchtime to have a meal with their family. From sitting in the staffroom, I was able to see the kinds of things that French people typically eat at this time of day. A lot of the teacher sit and have a pasta dish or a vegetable dish with bread on the side. I felt very strange the first lunchtime sitting there with my sandwich. Having a nap at lunchtime is also something French people like to do; therefore, two hours is the perfect amount of time to enjoy a meal and have time to sleep before getting back to work. I can see how this might work and it gives both children and teachers a good break in the middle of the day and can come back into class feeling refreshed. However, I personally have found lunchtimes my least favourite part of the day. Commencing at 11:30 am and finishing at 13:30 pm is a long time to sit around. Although it gives me time to get work done, I would rather get back into the swing of the school day. I believe that it would make more sense to cut lunch by and hour and finish school an hour early. Nevertheless, this is not the French culture and I respect that lunch is their important family time.
The children have an afternoon break as well as a morning break. Another aspect of the school day that differs from Scotland. Having two breaks as well as lunch means that the children spend just over an hour in the classroom working before they have a break. This is something that seems to work in France as the children have the chance to release their energy. Because the French education system focuses a lot on French and maths the children do not participate in a lot of expressive arts subjects. I believe that this is part of the reason why they are afforded so many breaks. The children focus so much when they are in the classroom, they sit quietly and get on with their work, so I believe it is only fair that they have the chance to go outside and play.
The school day finishes at 15:40 pm, this is the time I used to finish high school in Scotland. Most primary schools would typically finish around 15:10 pm. Overall, the French school day is longer than a typical primary school day in Scotland, however, they have more breaks and a longer lunch, meaning that they don’t spend any longer working. Personally, I like the way in which schools are structured in Scotland, this is because it is what I am used to and do not enjoy the two-hour lunches when I am in school. However, I believe that this structure works well in France.
Behaviour management is something that is very different from Scotland. I have noticed during my time in France that teachers are very strict and do not stand for any kind of misbehaviour. In Scotland, teachers are very much in support of positive reinforcement and having a very child cantered approach. I was very surprised about how teachers approach behaviour management and the strategies they use when a child misbehaves.
The thing that surprised me the most was the physical approach that teachers take when disciplining a child. Teachers in France push, shove and grab the children as they please. This is something that would never be allowed in Scotland. I was shocked when I first seen a teacher grab and child and drag them across the classroom. This approach is like the way in which teacher used to behave in the olden days when the belt and cane were still in use. Physical punishment has not been around for years in Scotland. It has been said that this kind of punishment should be kept to a minimum as teachers are advised to us other methods of disciplining (GIECPOC, 2018).
Children are punished for the slightest instance of misbehaviour. I discussed with my teacher how well behaved the children were in the various classes and she was very surprised to hear that this was my view. Compared to Scotland, the children are work nearly in silence without being told to, accept punishment when the step out of line and have the utmost respect for their teachers. A child could be made to stand outside the classroom or stand facing the corner of the classroom for as little as talking in class or fidgeting. Teachers do not give warnings before implementing a disciplinary action. This may be a reason as to why children are so well behaved.
There are definitely teachers in the school that are stricter than others. I have never seen my teacher physically interact with a child, however, most of the other teachers in the school do. I thought that when this happened the children would react. However, this is obviously the norm and therefore when a child is pushed or grabbed they accept the punishment and do not argue with the teacher (Hyslop, 2010). If a teacher in Scotland was to put their hands on a child, there would be an outcry. Parents would be involved, and the teacher would probably face losing their job. This is why this was such a big change for me going into the French system.
I have built great relationships with the children in the various CP classes over the past six weeks. As they are the youngest children in the school they have become very attached and like to run up to me in the playground and hug me. This is something I am not used to having never taught in the early years before. One of the teacher told me that if they were annoying me I was to push them away. I was very shocked that a teacher would suggest doing something like that for such an innocent action. I would never have dreamed about using physical discipline on a child no matter where I was.
There is no rewards system in the classroom which is something I find very strange. The children have nothing to strive for. During my professional practice in Scotland one behaviour management strategy used was dojo points, children would earn points for good behaviour and lose them for bad behaviour. Other methods of behaviour management used in Scotland include golden time and traffic lights. These are all things we are taught to encourage within the classroom. However, in France nothing like this is used. If the children misbehave, they are punished it is as simple as that. Having had the chance to get to know the children in my classes I believe that some people would benefit from a rewards system as they would have a goal to achieve. This is an aspect of the Scottish curriculum that I believe works very well and should be implemented in France.
Overall, behaviour management isn’t a great focus in French schools. There is no whole school approach to behaviour, it just depends on the individual teacher. If children misbehave they are punished, there is usually no warning or second chance. Sometimes teachers can become physical with the children when they misbehave, this is something that I do not agree with. This shows how different Scotland and France are in relation to this particular area of education.
Over the past two months I have learned a lot thanks to the learning from life experience. However, one of the main things I have learned from working in a French primary school is the importance of teaching and learning a foreign language from a young age. Being submerged in the French culture has allowed me to further develop my linguistic skills and I am so thankful for this. Without the learning from life experience I would never have had the opportunity to become so involved in teaching English as a foreign language. It is something I would recommend to anyone going into their second year at the university of Dundee. I believe that everyone should take advantage of this amazing opportunity that the university provides us with.
Being the first year to go to Orléans has allowed me to do something that no other students have done before. I am excited to go back to university and talk to the new second years about my experience and encourage anyone to consider Orléans for their learning from life placement. I couldn’t have had a better experience, getting to know new people and also making new friends on my course has all added to my overall experience.
I have learned so much about myself throughout this experience. Going abroad for the learning from life placement allows you to challenge yourself and do things that are possibly out of your comfort zone. Teaching English as a foreign language is something that I had no previous experience of. However, I now have a much greater understanding of how to implement this successfully. Children in France learn English from the beginning of school. This is something I have spoken about within my blogs over the past two months. My love of languages has grown, and I am determined to take advantage of my level of French when I become a qualified teacher. Children in Scotland should have the same opportunities to learn a foreign language. Because I have had this experience which has allowed me to improve my French speaking skills, I believe that I will be sure to implement language where possible in my future career.
I have also learnt a lot about the different teaching strategies used throughout the various stages of the primary school. Before this placement I had never taught children at early years level, this was a new experience for me. I am grateful to have had this opportunity because it was a great way to prepare me for my placement in third year. Making lessons simple, interactive and creative as all important aspects of teaching younger children. I used flashcards, story books and songs to engage the children and teach them new topics in English such as colours and fruits. I received a lot of praise from the early years teachers regarding my lessons as the children enjoyed each lesson so much. It was very rewarding seeing children progress whilst being so enthusiastic about learning a foreign language.
Moving forward, everything I have learned throughout this experience will help me when I become a teacher. I have the knowledge and skill of teaching a foreign language to children at all stages of the primary school. Having improved my French whilst being here, I believe that I can use this to teach both English and French in Scotland. I understand the importance of speaking and repetition when it comes to teaching a foreign language. I believe that learning from life has allowed me to gain skills that I can use throughout my career. I would not have gained such skills if I hadn’t chosen to do my second-year placement in Orléans.
I was in contact with our host Nina for the months leading up to the learning from life placement. She was very helpful with putting my mind at ease regarding my visit to France. Using email to communicate was very successful and allowed me to ask any questions before beginning placement.
On this day the children were back at Charlemagne for sports week. I was very excited about today as the sun was shining and it was the perfect day to be on the water. When we arrived, the teacher informed me that we were also going to be rowing. This scared me a bit as I has never rowed before in my life, however, I was also very excited to be trying something new in France. The children were also excited to see myself and their teacher on the water.
I thought to myself as I was getting onto the small rowing boat that surely rowing would be an easy sport and wouldn’t take long to master. Oh, how I was wrong. I was very confused at the beginning and there was definitely no chance of me ever becoming a successful rower. However, as time went on I got into it and it was a lot of fun. Luckily the teacher was a rower herself and therefore was able to help me along the way. Realising in the middle of the lake that we didn’t have life jackets on was a worry. Although I am a good swimmer I did not fancy falling into that water at any point, even if it was a sunny day. As we rowed we stopped every so often to take photos of the children on the boats. The teacher was taking photos so that they could be sold at the end of the week to make money for their school trip at the end of term.
I have noticed that the school does a lot of fundraising when it comes to trips. Last week they had a bake sale, parents made various cakes and sold them at the end of the day. Hosting various fundraising events throughout the year is a successful way of funding school trips, meaning that the children don’t have to pay for it out of their own pocket. It is also great to see how involved the parents get. They help out at the various events. This is a similarity I have noticed between France and Scotland. In Scottish primary schools we have the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), this allows the parents of the children to get involved with the school and help out at the various events run throughout the course of the year. I think it is important for parents to get involved with school.
In the afternoon on Thursday, myself and the other Scottish students in Orléans had a meeting with our host Nina. This was a half-term meeting to see how we were getting on in our schools thus far. I couldn’t believe that it was already time for a half-term meeting. It seems like yesterday that it was my first day in the school, only having just arrived in France. It is scary how quickly the time is going. I am nearly at the end of my third week and it is hard to believe that there is only three weeks left after this. I expected the time to fly, but not as fast as it has. I am looking forward to the coming weeks and further developing my teaching skills. Teaching English as a foreign is very challenging but it is also rewarding seeing a child learn a new language. Knowing that I only have three more weeks of placement is surreal. Over my final few weeks I must be sure to embrace every opportunity and take on new challenges.