…and it’s that time of year again…
…so you’ve arrived in France and have gotten acquainted with your school and town. Perhaps you’ve even already found a place to live and have opened up a bank account. But before you can begin teaching and starting your new life abroad, there’s one more thing that you will have to do: attend teacher’s training.
Known as either stage or formation, teacher’s training for the assistant program is a series of three or four meetings in which you, along with other assistants, come together to receive news from your Head on current affairs in your académie, as well as participate in workshops to get ideas for teaching lessons and, the most fun part, get your immigration paperwork processed (note that I’m emphasizing on the “fun part” here, aka sarcastically). These meetings are all-day affairs, running from around 9h00 to 17h00 (although it might vary: my académie’s ran from 9h30 to 16h30) and at the end of the day, you’re pretty much exhausted and ready to have a drink to relax (which is exactly what many assistant(e)s do).
Usually, stage occurs once a month, and lasts until December. However, during my first year, our last meeting was pushed to January, due to the Paris terrorist attacks that had happened in November. But typically, the first stage takes place in the beginning of October as soon as your work contract starts and then after you meet once a month at your académie’s “capital,” which is usually that of the region itself.
Depending where you’re placed for teaching, the meeting place for stage can be either in your town or many miles away. For me, I was an assistante in l’académie de Rouen last year, and will be once again this year and while I didn’t teach in Rouen proper (where my stages were held), I was only an hour away by train or car, so getting there was *relatively* manageable.
During my first year, I was able to get a ride over to Rouen from my school colleagues, who also happened to have teacher’s training there, too, so it saved time and money; the subsequent meetings after that required me to take the train, and the nearest train station was perhaps 14 kilometers away from my town, so I had to ask a colleague to drive me to the station early in the morning (before school started) in order to catch the train to Rouen. Kind of a pain, but there were other assistant(e)s even further away, in cities like Le Havre or in even-more isolated towns than mine, who needed to catch the bus (or two) to the station and whatnot. For my second year, I’m fortunate that there’s a train station in my town, so I can just take it to Rouen without needing a ride over.
I guess it is also a good thing that our académie is one of the smaller ones in France, as it didn’t take too long to get to our meeting place; other larger académies like Lyon or Toulouse required assistant(e)s to take train rides for up to two hours or so just to get over there, which is a huge hassle!
At least for the first stage (usually within the first week of October), your prof référent might choose to accompany you, since the first meeting is where everyone (and I do mean everyone) shows up, from the English to Spanish to Chinese assistant(e)s, along with their prof référents. Essentially, it’s “Welcome Day”/administrative processing/ teacher’s training all rolled into one; you’ll be bombarded with a lot of information, as well as meet a ton of people whom you may or may not stay in contact with after that day. Really, if I were to describe the first stage meeting in one word, I would say that it is a complete zoo.
First things first, the “Welcome” presentation: it starts first thing in the morning (and usually not on time, either, as we all know that the French are notoriously late) in which we’re introduced to the académie board before getting a crash course in the French education system, part of which covers, of course, “la laïcité” (if you’ve ever studied or taken a French course in college, then you’ve probably learned about this at some point). You’ll also listen to each language representative (English, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, Arabic, etc.) give their spiel in their respective tongue, basically welcoming the assistant(e)s to the program. I always found it fascinating to listen to other languages, even if I don’t understand a word of what they’re saying (I did, however, give props to the *white* representative who welcomed the Chinese assistant(e)s on his command of the language, since I know Chinese as well). Expect the welcome presentation to last 90 minutes to 2 hours, before breaking for lunch afterwards.
Lunch will be an interesting affair, as you have the option of eating in the canteen (which you’ll be offered a meal ticket from stage) or just go out into town to buy something to eat. For convenience, I just ate at the canteen in my first year, since the majority of the assistant(e)s did, too. The meal ticket was complementary during the first meeting, then 3 euros or so afterwards. The food selections weren’t too bad, and I found myself especially drawn to the pommes noisettes (similar to Tater-tots) that were served during the first training day. Lunch lasts about an hour to an hour-and-a-half, and then a 45-minute coffee break happens afterwards in the main commons room (because of course, the French always need their coffee after lunch).
In the early afternoon, you’ll be processing the first of your immigration paperwork, which you’ll later complete at a later date at the OFII headquarters (more on that in another post). One *very important* thing (or rather, things) you should bring to your first meeting is all of your documents: copies of your VISA, OFII application, and the passport stamp you received when you entered France/Schengen area. Try not to forget any copies; I admit, during my first year there were some of us (including me) who hadn’t made copies of certain things, notably the passport stamp, and the officials ended up having to run back and forth between the room and the copy machine to get them in. It was kind of a mess, especially when we hadn’t been properly informed of which documents we needed to bring, and so we ended up bringing anything we thought could be possibly taken, but even then, we still happened to have missed something, or not making enough copies. It was seriously confusing, so do your best to bring everything you can with you.
Once that is all over, you’ll begin part of your teacher’s training; you’ll be assigned to a specific instructor, whom you’ll be staying with during the other stages. Usually, it’s based on which school level(s) you’re teaching (collège and/or lycée) and you’ll also have other assistant(e)s there learning along with you. At least for the first meeting, it’s just introductions; the ones following afterward take place the entire day and you really do get more ideas and thoughts about how to teach English to French students. There’s a certain standard in place about being professional and actually enforcing how the students need to learn English, but at least in my training group, I didn’t feel like it completely helped me prepare for what to do in the classroom setting. At least for my first year, I found it to be one-part ineffective and one-part inefficient: the sessions went easily off-topic (although entertainingly so) and the lessons proposed to us just didn’t seem to fit what I was or could do at my schools, especially at my lycée pro where many of the students’ English were not very high to begin with; the lessons we did at these meetings assumed that the students already have a comprehensible level of English when in reality, it wasn’t always the case.
That is to say, I didn’t find teacher’s training to be completely useless, as I did get a few good ideas and whatnot, but I would say that it could definitely be improved on. Expect yourself to be pretty much thrown into teaching, whether experienced or not, and learn along the way. Don’t worry about messing up, as you’ll probably end up doing a better job than you’d expected (that happened to me, so I can attest to that!).
Stage will end around 16h30 or 17h00 and afterwards, you might opt just to go back to your flat or head into town to get drinks with your new-found assistant(e) friends. Going to bars and drinking with others (I see you there, British assistant(e)s!) feels like being in college all over again, with many of us getting buzzed (some of us incredibly drunk) and just having a good time. Definitely a nice way to unwind after sitting through different meetings all day!
Overall, I would say that stage is all right, as it’s required in our work contract. It’s an obligation, but at least I got to meet a lot of great people who are just as excited to be teaching and working in France. If anything, I appreciate how it allowed me to build relationships while also learning more about the intricacies of the French education system.
I’m sure that my experiences at stage is different from others in different regions in France, so I’d like to hear about them! As for this year’s training, I can hope that it goes smoothly (since I’m scheduling this ahead of time, I’ll let you know later how it goes)! Bon courage!