Week 1: Orientation + Observations

Uploading this blog from the comfort of my own apartment!!!! YAY INTERNET! It was a struggle to get, but finally having it is awesome. I was super annoyed at the bank today, because my debit card finally arrived, but the PIN has not. So I can’t use it. Great. So glad that I STILL can’t get a permanent French phone. In the middle of my rant about the bank to my roommate, I noticed the ‘internet’ light on our box was illuminated!!! A week early! Thank you, Bouygues. On top of that, the infamously rainy Nord de France has not shown itself yet.

Haubourdin - waiting for the bus with Josephine
Haubourdin – waiting for the bus with Josephine
Haubourdin - on the way back from McDo
Haubourdin – on the way back from McDo

On the first day of my contract, October 1, I went to ‘la réunion’ or orientation held for all the assistants de langue à l’étranger in Lille. This was a day long event with lots of different topics covered and hosted by the rectorat (similar to the school distract, but for the size of 1 or 2 counties). While useful, it was one of those events where time was wasted answering really personalized questions rather than topics useful for everyone. Regardless, it was useful and nice to meet some other language assistants. I was able to get a better understanding on the French school system, which is great. Up until this point, I haven’t had a good understanding of how it works.

Things I learned

  1. The Académie de Lille, although a smaller Académie (the school district – size of several counties) is the 2nd largest in France in terms of number of students.
  2. The Académie de Lille has renovated most of their schools within the past few years, so the buildings are fairly nice (true for mine!).
  3. My Mission:
    1. Share my culture
    2. Share my talents
    3. First and foremost I am an assistant (therefore, I am not responsible for an entire class by myself, I am not a substitute teacher, etc.)
    4. **** Help students with oral skills ****
  4. It is rude in France for a teacher or student to use a water bottle in class. (But seriously, this is real. And crazy to me)
  5. Middle + High School: school days run from around 8:30am to 5:00pm M Tu Th F. Courses are held in the mornings on Wednesday and Saturday.
  6. Lycées (high schools) are 3 years in duration. The progression: Seconde, Première, Terminale. At the end of Terminale, there is a big national exam you have to take called the ‘baccalaureate’ or just the ‘bac’. Coursework is guided by this exam.
  7. Lycées générale et technologique VS. lycées professionnels (important for me because I work in both!):
    1. A lycée générale is very similar to a normal American high school. General college-prep courses from a variety of disciplines (e.g. French, history, philosophy, languages, math, science)
    2. A lycée professionnel is a high school for students who largely don’t want to go to college and is structured around teaching a profession. At the end of middle school, students pick the profession they want to study. Examples include: hospitality, commerce, plastic making, and machine maintenance. They have ‘ateliers’ for the skill in addition to more normal coursework. Rather than the normal bac, they take an exam for certifications in their chosen profession.
I explored Lille a little bit after the orientation ends. Once again no sign of the classic grey skies of the Nord
I explored Lille a little bit after the orientation ends. Once again no sign of the ‘classic’ grey skies of the Nord

After my orientation, I did my week of observations (the program says its supposed to be 2 weeks but I’m pretty sure nobody does a full 2 weeks). Since I am working in both the general and professional sections of my school, I got to observe classes in both. Subjects were English, French, Math, Physical Chemistry, Gym (E.P.S.), Health/Environment, and an atelier class for the commerce ‘matière’. All in all it was very interesting, and I was glad I chose to observe a variety of classes to observe if for no other reason than meeting other teachers at the school (everyone is very welcoming and nice).

The experiences between the lycée professionnel and the lycée générale were COMPLETELY different, so I will discuss them separately.

For the pro classes, most of the teachers had me do a Q and A with the students. Even if it was in French. For me, this was kind of fun because I got to learn things about what the students are interested in (especially related to America), things I MUST do while in France, and I got to practice speaking French. They were interested in the differences between France and the U.S. and especially the differences in high schools (the pom-pom girls were popular), how we party in the US, if we knew about ‘Je Suis Charlie’, etc. They also spent a lot of time asking me questions about why I wanted to be in France, if I was glad to be placed in their school, if I liked the North of France, etc. I learned that I have to visit Paris, eat tartiflette’ and ‘raclette’ and kebabs. Before too much time, though, the boys started asking questions about whether I smoked pot and would go on a vacation with them 😉

The pro classes will be an interesting experience. There are more students in pro classes that are less motivated to be in school than in the general classes. It is harder to get them to care about learning, to be engaged in the class itself, and to be polite. It was kind of amazing to me how rude a few of these students were to the teachers and their classmates. In addition, since there is a big range in interest in school between students + since they are grouped by year in school and not ability, the range of abilities is huge. Some of the students were able to ask questions in English, others simply couldn’t wouldn’t produce 1 word of English (in an English class).

General classes are much more similar to what my high school experience was like. Little talking when the teacher is talking. Notes are taken. People are expected to participate when called on. I saw about one third of the number of phones out as in the pro classes. The English classes are run 90-100% in English (completely unlike the pro classes). Just very different needs and interests between the two. I also met the English teacher I will work with for the general classes. He is nice and even spoke English with me (wooohooo!). I feel really lucky with all of the people here. Everyone is glad to have me here.

Of interest to me was the gym class I went to for the pro school. Only 1/3 of the class even showed up! On top of that, I was there on an exam day. Only 5 people in the class really tried to do the fitness test (which wasn’t that challenging), and only one of them was a girl. After the exam, they had the chance to play with basketballs, soccer balls, etc. None of the girls wanted to do anything. They just sat and talked. They didn’t even want to walk around. It just was sad to me – you have a body, you are wasting it! You are made to move and sports, activity isn’t something only for boys. On a lighter note, I appreciated that at least 3 of the students wore scarfs as a part of their gym outfits, because this is France after all.

A bientôt,



3 thoughts on “Week 1: Orientation + Observations

  1. What a great recap of your orientation week…and the students sound very much like the division here of those taking IB/AP versus those just wanting their certificate/diploma and get out. You did not say what your answer was to the pro boys asking about pot and vacation?


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