The more we worked, the less time we had with the children.
" I've been a teacher for 35 years. Perhaps I decided to become a teacher because I had so many good ones as a child. My uncle was a teacher, my aunt was a teacher. We always had lots of books at home and I liked to pretend being a teacher. I had my own board and loved to display my books in a way it would seem like they were my students'. I loved that game until I became a real teacher.
When I started college, I learned English, but decided I didn’t want to be an English teacher. I was afraid of not being good at it, especially teaching to older students. So I decided to be a primary school teacher. And that was it.
At first, I loved it. I had good relationships and loved the freedom of my profession.
I never liked bosses and people telling me what to do. At the beginning, we had lots of freedom. Inspectors would rarely come to see what we were doing; they came once every four or five years. So when the directors were good, we were able to do a great job.
After a while, everything got different. The government began to turn several tasks, which were not very useful for children, a requirement. An infinity of administrative work, notes and records. Silly rules like “don't use red pen" became "important" issues. It was a waste of time: the more we worked, the less time we had with the children.
There were so many activities that the children had to do, programs and more programs. For example, they had to learn how to swim, so they would spend the entire afternoon swimming. But us, the teachers, were asked for a teaching program that became increasingly difficult to put into practice. Added to that, we had several meetings and personal tasks. All very useless and meaningless.
Those were some of the reasons why I quit after 35 years. I couldn’t live like this. And as time went by, it was becoming increasingly difficult. Today, when I talk to some friends who are still on the job, I can see they are very tired. They're not able to do almost anything as they planned.
I have reached my limit. I took the first chance I had to leave, and left.
And I only felt all of this on the last years. I've always loved to teach. I remember that, a few years before quitting, the parent meetings changed. Parents would decide what we should be doing. It was very confusing. For example, some parents were happy if their kids had homework, because they thought it was useful for their learning. They felt it was important as complement to the classroom. And other parents didn’t like it. They pointed the finger to our faces saying "You give to much homework, I need to sleep before ten, and my son always has something for the next day!" And I thought, "What does this child do until 10? It's just twenty minutes of studying!”.
A lot of parents had difficulties managing their children's routine, but the teachers were always the ones to blame. I once told a father: "I think your son hasn’t had this class yet, he's not able to do the activities." He looked at me and said, "At home he can do everything."
Then I got sick of it. This mix between our authority and the parents' was too much. It was something very difficult, and it still is.
Obviously parents have to keep up with their children's school routine, they have to be a part of everything that happens. I think they need to know how to guide their children in the process of learning, studying and dedicating. But what I saw was really a legion of parents who want successful children that have good grades and are perfect students, but they don’t want to do anything to be a part of this process. They don’t want to make any efforts. And this was what distressed and irritated me.
The educational system in France is really strict. But I think I liked this, I like having a direction and well-defined paths. It was a classic educational system, and I was used to working with it. Just so you understand, I've always teached French. As this was a system that I was used to, I felt I had a lot of freedom to work and liked it. I still run into parents who appreciated the way I worked. It’s also important to point out that I had good students in my classrooms: curious, intelligent and creative children. I’ve always worried about the students who had difficulties, I wanted to know exactly what they didn’t understand. We tried our best to solve these matters in our classroom, because it was hard to talk with the parents about it. Whenever a child had problems or difficulties, they had to "pay" for it at home. When things began to change, parents started to make excuses for all kinds of problems with their kids, blaming themselves for the difficulty in studying with their children at home. Children started spending more time in front of the television and parents were working more and more. Parents appreciated the fact that I was extremely organized with my activities. Every time I sent some activity as homework, I wanted it to be done with dedication.
Perhaps one of the reasons why I have suffered so much was the fact that I’m not a “cool” teacher. I had a classical view of what it meant to teach. I wanted the children to learn French and enjoy the language as much as they could. I used to work with younger teachers, who had different methodologies, but I always heard a lot of noise coming out of their classrooms. In my classroom, reading was an important moment of silence, and the kids enjoyed it. I did everything to create a calm environment, where the focus was on reading, interpretation and appreciation for what they were learning. The children had other moments to play.
Often they asked us to learn other methodologies and I tried several. Many of them didn’t work. The different ways of teaching made children apart from the real French literature and, somehow, underestimated their capacity to understand, spending too much time on issues related to the student and shunning what needed to be learned. I always invested in techniques that approached students from as many words as possible. Dictates, grammar studies, searches in the dictionary. I explained to them that no words could pass without being understood, because that creates many problems. Every time they didn’t know the meaning of a word, they should look for it in the dictionary and understand why it had been used in that sentence. I insisted on the importance of conjugating verbs correctly, the increased knowledge of vocabulary and the ability to know how to use the language correctly to express all in the best way.
In recent years, we were forbidden to use techniques such as dictates, and we couldn’t devote much time to vocabulary questions, reading times were decreasing too. We were getting very confused, without proper training to understand what these changes and prohibitions meant. In the end, we had to work all these aspects with a single text (usually small and simple). That means we were depriving children of contact with the best in French literature, exchanging it for simple texts, restricting their vocabulary to almost nothing.
I couldn't accepted it. I've never presented less than the best for my students.
And you know what happened? A year after I'd retired, I read the government review on the educational situation: the spelling of children was considered deplorable, the vocabulary was very limited (most children didn’t understand at least three words in each sentence they read). The government recommended that returned the dictates because French children had become practically unable to interpret texts. They didn’t understand what they read and the recommendation was to return the exercises with vocabulary. I was no longer teaching, but I saw it happen in my country.
This process is just one example of how our accumulated knowledge was disrespected. Another example of this were the meetings on Saturdays. We had staff meetings once a month on Saturday mornings. These meetings were for us to create new projects and strategies for Mathematics, History, French, all disciplines. We worked five or six hours, we made good projects and never heard about them. Never! It was a lot of wasted work. They took much seriously the charge of working hours, we could choose between Wednesday and Saturday, we had to be there. But what was produced, was forgotten.
All this came from the government, and still comes. I know that things like that still happens today. This is why we have so many manifestations in France.
And it's all very strange, because when I was a kid, I loved school. I learned a lot and loved learning. I was very fond of books, was very curious about things, I had good teachers. The relationship with the teachers was clearly defined. That's how I tried to be when I became a teacher, so I like my job so much.
I had two unforgettable teachers in elementary school, were they who made me like to study. From time to time I remember the way I learned to write, hold the pencil, the black pen, and the smell of it. Everything! Because I liked very much. When I became a teacher, I tried to bring these feelings to the classroom. Maybe that's why my way of teaching wasn’t very modern. And at first, my students also liked a lot. It was all calm.
They wanted to change the system. They wanted to change everything, but didn’t know how to change or how to prepare people for this change.
The children have also changed a lot. It has always been difficult to teach children to have pleasure in reading. But for the last years it was an almost impossible task. First, We had to compete with television, then with the internet. Before these technologies it was not easy, but the books had a meaning. They had a special place in culture. Now, no more. Children want to read everything through screens, and many don’t understand what is written there, just copy and paste. They don’t understand almost nothing of what they read and this saddens me too. Add to that a host of social problems and you will see that teaching is a hard job!
And things get more and more complicated. When I started in education 45 years ago, teachers were highly respected. We were respect by the parents. A teacher was a person respected by everyone, even the rich people and high society. I felt it when I started. I felt the process of profession devaluation going. As the years went by, this subject began to degenerate: meetings with parents grew increasingly, and we talked less and less. The extra work grew more and our professional status was worse. Than they started with the insults. We were attacked by children of five or six years in the classroom, in our workplace. I could only think: "That's horrible!". The children had no respect for anything, no one could control this aggressive behavior. I was increasingly afraid of the way things were going.
I believe that every profession deserves respect. That all kinds of work have value. But we don’t feel respected by adults and, if the parents don’t respect the teacher, it is clear that their children won’t do too. How often we have to deal with the sentence "My mother said you're wrong."
As professionals, we are paid almost properly in France. When I started teaching, I could support myself, keep a small apartment, live alone. It was not much. It depends on the working time you have and if you have exclusive dedication. For example, if you give lessons every day, you can have a good salary (not rich, but manages to survive). I know about some places where teachers can’t bear their own costs. This is not the case in France.
I always kept the expectation that my students would get good jobs and have a good life. Always hoped that they might enjoy the work they performed. I always hoped and made my effort so that they could be people with an open mind to everything that could learn to work and be happy with their lives. But the most important is that I always fought for them to enjoy learning. To continue wanting to learn everything they could, keeping themselves open and curious to everything. Some of them succeed. When I meet some of my former students, they remember me and I’m a good memory for them and their parents. Many say that they have become what they are because of me. This is really good.
Being a teacher requires grandiose qualities. You need to be very strong and be absolutely sure about where do you want to go. If you are not so sure, it is better to try another profession.
I don’t know if I would recommend advise some very young person to become a teacher today. I think it’s difficult because it requires that certainty, that determination. Some schools now have a very heavy atmosphere, complicated for the teacher. But many people succeed in doing well in this area and in facing all of these challenges, I hope the number of this kind of people only increase. I think I made it clear that it is very difficult. I mean that there are many issues that can make you sick and this issues pass unnoticed by society: respect for the profession, recognition from the parents, being available to learn constantly and being really able to teach. On the other hand is a stable job, in which we can enjoy moments of joy, like a child's look of recognition and the relationships we have with them. It’s important to keep that "fire", that passion for teaching every day. I know this is almost an absurd requirement for anyone. But if not, we can hardly continue."