Among students who have managed to get a degree at the first attempt (less than 45% of the total student population), more than half of them want to be a teacher!
Teaching is one of the most prestigious professions in France. It’s also a profession that is extremely difficult to enter. There are thousands of students competing for only a few seats. The competition is tough. If you fall ill, don’t expect anybody in the class to give you the notes!
Teaching is a profession that attracts many students because teachers have what we call “the security of employment”, which means that they cannot lose their job (except if they kill a pupil!). This is because they are recruited by Inspectors from the “National Education” and are paid by the State (and not by the school in which they are teaching). All the people who are paid by the State (policemen, firefighters, nurses…) also have “the security of employment”, which is not the case for people who work in companies, for instance.
If teachers in France enjoy the “security of employment”, it is also true that they are regularly assessed by an Inspector from the National Education who will come to observe how they teach. If a teacher gets a good grade, his/her salary can increase. If the Inspector is not satisfied with the teacher’s methods/discipline or if he finds that the teacher is not able to create a positive atmosphere in the class, he will come back after some time to reassess the teacher. If a teacher has not been able to improve in spite of the Inspector’s advice, then he/she will be asked to leave this profession. The teacher will not end up unemployed as he will be offered another job (for example he can be asked to work in a bookshop).
To eliminate a maximum of candidates, the exams have high sky expectations and their aim is to trap candidates. For example, in the last 3 years the History exam to become a Primary school teacher has only focused on a particular chapter whereas students have to learn hundreds of pages (from Prehistory till today!). Last year (in 2007), the candidates had to write a dissertation about “The artistic Renaissance in France”… this year (in 2008), the topic was: “The artistic Renaissance in Europe”…. Only one paragraph was dedicated to that topic in the History books (written specifically to help candidates pass this exam).
The exams to pass in order to become a Primary school teacher in France are amazingly difficult (more than 92% of failure each year).
Students are expected to pass 10 exams: in French (which includes Pedagogy, Grammar, and a synthesis to write based on 3-4 unknown texts), Mathematics (Arithmetics, Geometry and Pedagogy), Science (Physics, Chemistry, Technology and Biology), and in History and Geography (with hundreds of pages to learn). Students who manage to pass these written exams are allowed to take the oral exams: there is a speed race of 1,5 km (which is absurd!) with a compulsory warm up (of 400 m minimum). This race is compulsory and if a student falls ill that day or if he can’t run because his leg/ankle is broken, he will get 0/10 ! The race is followed by a 20 min interview.
If you want to get 20/20 you need to run very fast: 4 min 30 s for men, 5 min 50 s for women!
Even girls who are fit struggle to cover the distance in less than 10 minutes. 10 minutes correspond to a grade of 4/20. After that, there is an oral exam in which they have to explain how they have trained themselves for this race throughout the year (because candidates are expected to run even in winter, in the rain/snow/cold!) and how they can teach Athletics at school. Questions about other disciplines (swimming, dancing, rugby, soccer, gymnastics etc) will also be part of the interview.
There is also a “Professional exam” in which students have to speak for 10 min about an educational problem that is exposed in a text and after that they are being questioned for 15 min to check their knowledge about the school system, Pedagogy, etc. Immediately after that, they have another exam about “Youth Literature” in which they have to present a book, explaining how they could teach it in the class and how they could link that book with others. The 10 min presentation is followed by a 15 min interview to check their knowledge in Literature (for children and adults).
There is also a language exam (in Spanish/German/Italian or English). Candidates are given an unknown text. They have 30 minutes to prepare a synthesis and 5 min to present it. The synthesis is followed by a 15 min interview. Texts are taken from British/American quality newspapers or novels. Last year, one text was about a frozen squirrel that had broken a car’s windshield! Some candidates didn’t even know what a squirrel was!
There is a second language exam, which is optional (candidates who decide to take it have to choose a different language). The principle is the same.
As a consequence, the rate of failure is very high. As France doesn’t need to recruit teachers, the rate of failure keeps increasing.
Most candidates take these exams 2-3 times before passing them. Many students never pass them. If they fail, they need to wait for one full year before they can take them again. Only 4% are able to pass at the first attempt.
Those who are successful at the first attempt usually have a degree in Mathematics or Biology.
To be a Primary school teacher in France, all the students have to take a swimming pool exam (compulsory). They are asked to swim a small distance of 50 m.
Candidates who don’t know how to swim are not allowed to take the exams. They also have to pass a First Aids Certificate.
No wonder that suicide is the second cause of death in France among young people after car accidents. It’s scary to hear people with a Master’s degree in Economics/Commerce or business claiming that they want to be a teacher because no company wanted to recruit them!
A few facts…
- In France, very few students are able to pass a degree at the first attempt. “Modern Foreign Languages” have consistently been among the most difficult subjects to pass at degree level, especially Spanish and German. French students are doing better in English (one student out of two is able to pass the English degree at the first attempt).
- Most French people who have got a degree or a Master’s degree in the US have stated that passing their High School exam in France was a lot more difficult than getting their degree/Master’s degree in the US.
- Foreign diplomas are not recognized in the French teaching system (that’s a way to eliminate foreign candidates who would like to teach in France!)
- The percentage of English native speakers (like British/American students for example) who have passed the exams to become an English Secondary School teacher in France is reaching almost 0%.
- France is one of the rare countries in the world that does not take into account the developmental stage in which children are. This means that primary school pupils are spending the same amount of time studying than high school students. They have to go to school from 9.00 am to 5.30-6.00 pm, everyday.
Apart from teaching, the most prefered jobs are all those that enjoy the “security of employment”: nurses, auxiliary nurses, policemen, firefighters…
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