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Tips For Parents From a Parisian Middle School Teacher

Bookwitty By Bookwitty Published on August 30, 2016
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Hortense Péamy is a middle school teacher in the greater Paris area who has been teaching for ten years. In France, middle school is called collège and is divided into four levels, from ages 11-15. In collège, in contrast to primary school, the children have a variety of teachers and change classrooms for their different subjects.

Hortense spoke with Bookwitty days before la rentrée, or back-to-school, which in France is taken very seriously indeed, along with the rentrée politique, when government members are back in Paris following the summer holidays, and the rentrée littéraire, when French publishing houses release hundreds of books.

How can parents best prepare for their child’s first day at school?

By not being stressed. By trusting your child, but at the same time realizing that they are still children who need to be accompanied. Often, the first days are an opportunity to meet other parents. At the end of the day you can listen to your child and let them talk, without asking too many questions. You can make sure that they have understood which subject takes place in what classroom. It’s also important that children develop more autonomy when it comes to changing the books in their schoolbags each day.

As a teacher, how do you prepare for your first day at school?

I try not to stress and hold on to the benefits of the recent moments of summer calm! I prepare my classes but I allow myself some flexibility—every student class varies and I like to try to adapt my classes to my students. We teachers also prepare our schoolbags—we have a teacher’s notebook, a well-stocked pencil case in the event that a student has forgotten an item, and we too need a good night’s sleep. Before the first day of school, I have to place myself back into the adult world and become someone who accompanies and coaches my students.

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How can a parent help their child during the school year? How can a parent help a child who doesn’t like to read?

At middle school age, students need to become more independent, but they still need to be guided; it’s important not to abandon them. One should try to laugh along with them, and try to share reading activities when possible. Regarding their interest in reading, at the age level of the students I teach, I can sometimes count on one hand the number of students who like to read. During middle school we simply have to accept the fact that students aren’t as involved in reading as they might have been before. Reading is a solitary activity, and adolescents are anything but solitary. So those who read a lot when they were younger might stop reading during middle school. But if they are still reading magazines or mangas, for example, I consider that reading.

As far as required reading in school goes, it’s important to find a wide variety of books, and give them a choice. If it’s really a struggle for them, you can offer to read with them—one chapter each, for example. The reading program in France now uses books that are very accessible, with authors like Ray Bradbury, or Daniel Pennac, who has written about the difficult time he had at school. At this age students like books that help them understand their own situation, so biographies can be good. In the 3ème reading program (around 13 or 14 years old) students read biographies and memoirs, and they really enjoy them. If they are reading on their own, I’d them choose books themselves. Sometimes it’s best if someone outside of the family recommend books.

Above all, one shouldn’t put pressure on them and one shouldn’t despair. A child can always begin reading later. And even if they don’t they can still be happy!

How do you deal with technology in the classroom? Do you ban smartphones, for example?

The French school system is not up to date in terms of technology. I have students who read e-books but then don’t bring their e-readers to school. They aren’t allowed to use their smartphones—they must be turned off and in their bags. Most students respect the rule because otherwise their phones are confiscated. But I’d like to tell them to get out their phones and do research on them. I send them links to YouTube for research when I assign homework. But in the schools, we don’t have enough resources to work on computers very often. For 30 students I’ll have one computer and one video projector. So I adapt. What I’d like them to understand is that their smartphones can be used to their advantage for schoolwork and not just for texting their friends.

What would the profile of a perfect student be?

The perfect student doesn’t exist. What I would wish for is that all students be happy to learn and happy to come to school. That school would be a real source of pleasure and of learning and that each student would feel that what they are learning has a meaning. Whereas in reality this is the case for perhaps one or at best two thirds of the students, while one third don’t really know why they’re there. School is almost like a second home to students, and I’d like them to feel as much at ease there as well. 

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