My timetable for this week so far has been:
Monday - Nothing
Tuesday - 8am - 10am
Wednesday 10am - 12pm
Thursday - Nothing
Friday - ???
I have two hours of classes scheduled for tomorrow, where I have to lead groups of final year students in conversation practice. However, I doubt anyone will turn up. Every day this week the entrance to the school has been blocked by wheelie bins, although a second entrance about five metres to the left renders the blockage rather symbolic. As far as I can see, a few students are hanging around outside the entrance next to the "STUDENTS ON STRIKE" banner, but most of them seem to have stayed at home. This is compounded by the fact that as half-term draws nearer, fewer students attend lessons.
It's a culture shock, to say the least.
Talking to my responsable (who I will subsequently refer to as Dave) about the political and education system in France this morning, I asked whether there was any consequences for students choosing not to attend classes. I should point out that this is in a lycée, where the students are aged between 15 and 21. Schooling is compulsory until age 18. There are no consequences, because
1. Most of the teachers support the strikes.
2. Half of the teachers are on strike anyway.
3. There's no register taken.
4. There are no detentions.
Detentions aren't run because (duh!) the teachers aren't interested in staying after school to run them. Teachers have 18 hours per week of timetabled lessons, although class preparation obviously takes longer than that.
Coming from a school where an untucked shirt could results in a detention, this was obviously a shock to me. My school had uniforms, playing fields, tennis courts, PE, music, art, technology, sports clubs, pictures on the walls, assemblies, PSHE lessons, common rooms, careers advice, an identifiable ethos implemented by the senior staff, school plays, productions, an orchestra, a school hall and religious education. The school I am working at now has none of the above, and that is typical. It is a building with numbered rooms, white walls and a canteen. The staff are appointed by the Ministry of Education.
The system is fairer here. I doubt any of my students will retain either allegiance or resentment towards their secondary school, unlike at home. Beyond the fact that certain schools have a different atmosphere depending on their catchment areas, there is no diversity in the state education system. I don't know whether it's better or worse, it's just different.
France is the country I know best after my own, but I am still experiencing a lot of culture shock. The people seem to be threatening to take down the government thanks to the raising of the retirement age to 62 (and full benefits until 67). I'm not entirely sure what's going on at home, but I don't think there'll be a million person march through London despite the fact Gideon Osborne has just driven a stake through the heart of our welfare system.
Essentially, I marvel at the socialist munificence of this country at least twice a day (rent subsidised to the tune of 200 euros/month by the French government, my Navigo pass half reimbursed by the school, a full-time salary for 12 hours per week work on top of an ERASMUS grant, free museum entry, wonderfully maintained parks and libraries, free cultural events, a metro that runs for 21 hours per day). But all I keep hearing is about how Sarkozy is transforming France into a neoliberal hellhole.
It's all very strange.