Education Nationale de France: c’est une blague?

October 9, 2010

So, part of my program here in Paris (in addition to the classes and workload that I’ve been buried under… excuse the total lack of posts) is working as an English teaching assistant in a French lycée, or high school. As one might imagine, the process of becoming employed by a French governmental entity, especially the largest (and thus most bureaucratic), is not especially straightforward. Last summer, I received my school assignment: Lycée Jean-Lurçat in Paris’ 13th arrondissement. After that, it was radio silence until I arrived.

Fortunately, NYU has a teacher who is helping to coordinate all of our teaching assistantships. Unfortunately, that doesn’t even begin to make it less complicated.

As of last week, some people in my program had actually already started teaching. Most people had at least had meetings at their school. Some knew what their schedule was going to look like. I, however, was still completely clueless. Last Friday we had a ‘journée d’accueil’ where we were officially welcomed and given a long list of tasks and paperwork to complete in order to do things like get French social security numbers, be reimbursed for transportation, and, not least of all, get paid. Then on Wednesday, we had a ‘journée de formation,’ which in theory was a training day but in actuality was a chance for me to take a much needed nap in a comfortable chair in an auditorium while listening to French people try to explain how one might use a comic strip in an English class.

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This very helpful journée de formation took place right at the very moment that I was originally supposed to go visit my school for the first time and meet the teacher I’d be working with. But alas the training was OBLIGATOIRE and so I rescheduled my rendez-vous at the school for Friday morning at 10:30.

Friday morning arrives. At this point, I am the ONLY student in my program who has not started teaching, much less not even visited their school or met their teacher. I’d been unable to reach the English teacher by e-mail (who checks e-mail?) and so the NYU coordinator had gotten me in touch with the proviseur, or principal.

I arrived at my school promptly at 10:30. It appeared to be some sort of break time. All of the students were outside talking and smoking. They were all taller than me, even the girls. And they all looked significantly older than me. I was officially intimidated. I went inside. Not immediately clear where an office or reception area might be. I wandered. No labels on the doors. I wandered back in the direction of the front door and noticed a little room with a man in it.

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“S’il vous plait, monsieur, excusez-moi… je suis le nouvel assistant d’anglais et j’ai un rendez-vous avec Mme Mathieu a 10h30 .”

Excuse me, sir, I’m the new English assistant and I have a meeting with Madame Mathieu at 10:30.

“Vous avez un rendez-vous avec Mme Mathieu?”

You have a meeting with Madame Mathieu?

“…. Oui.”

….Yes.

“A quelle heure?”

…. At what time?

“…. 10h30.”

“Ok, attendez, je vais la chercher.”

Ok, hold on, I’ll look for her.

He leaves his little room and turns to speak to the woman right next to me, who evidently did not hear this exchange.

“Your appointment is here.”

“I have an appointment?”

“Oui.”

I introduce myself. She seems flustered and confused. “Oh, we planned this for now? It’s really not ideal that you’re here in the middle of the recreation (break).”

I think back to her e-mail. “Come at 10h30, during the recreation.”

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Blank stare.

“Ok, venez, je vais chercher Mme Husser, je vous emmene dans la salle des profs.”

Follow me, I’m going to find Mme Husser, I’ll take you to the professor’s break room.

I picture her leaving me in the professors break room, with a room full of French people wondering who I am and staring me down. I follow timidly.

We walk into the salle des profs and she heads toward a group of three woman in the corner.

“Ah, voila, Mme Husser, I have here your English teaching assistant.”

As I step forward, smiling, to introduce myself, the woman responds.

“I am not Mme Husser. And I do not speak English.”

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Now I’m really concerned. The principal doesn’t even know what my professor looks like. How are we supposed to find her? Was this meeting not planned? Does she exist? What is going on?

We spend another five minutes trying to track her down. We look at her class schedule. It’s not immediately evident whether or not she is even at school today. It still remains unclear to me whether or not she is real.

Eventually, the principal has me write down my phone number and then asks me to please call her next week to see if she has managed to find Mme Husser by then.

And so I left. And we’ll try again next week.

Welcome to working in France.

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