Teaching in France: Collège vs. Lycée


Just a couple of days ago, I posted on my blog about the differences between French and American school systems that I’ve noticed while teaching abroad (you check it out here: Teaching in France: French vs American School Systems). From that post, it has inspired me to write about another related topic, about the differences between teaching at the collège (“middle school”) level and at that of the lycée (“high school”), as I am currently doing both. Because just like in the United States, the atmosphere between both school levels are very different.

Shall we begin?

First, to start off, I always find it hard to give an answer to people whenever they ask me if I prefer teaching at the collège or the lycée. Because really, I can’t say which is better- again, both are incredibly different from each other- from the students to the staff and to how things generally operate. Some weeks I enjoy teaching at one school over the other, depending on the atmosphere of it all (my schedule is designed in that I alternate between schools, teaching at one every other week).

I can, however, share my experiences at each, albeit from a neutral stance (aka having both pros and cons at both schools, in that they end up balancing each other out in the end). Without further ado, here’s my take on the differences between teaching at a collège and at a lycée!

At the collège level…

1. The children are small and cute (at least with les 6èmes and 5èmes), but that’s when you know you have to be careful: some of them are, as my colleagues have told me, quite “naughty…” 😛 In the sense that they play pranks, talk a lot in class, and otherwise are disobedient to teachers and to others. Not all of them are like that, but those who are can be very exhausting to deal with. Oy vey… 😛

2. …and besides being small and cute, the collègiens are also very, very energetic. Seriously, I am drained of energy more quickly with them compared to dealing with the lycéens. Just too much noise in class (high-pitched ones, aka “pre-pubescent”)and my God, they talk so fast. In French, too! While I’m able to understand French to a certain degree, it depends how quickly one speaks to me (in other words, the faster it is, the harder it is to understand. Common sense).

3. Attention span is low. I don’t necessarily think that my lycéens have a better attention span than that of the collègiens, but still, I need to keep my lessons quick and engaging, so that they don’t get quickly bored and start disrupting class. Lecturing at them for the whole time is sure to fail: I always make sure to have an activity for them to do after 10-15 minutes of presentation.

4. There is so much gossip. So much. Even worse than at the lycée level, in my opinion. I really don’t know why, but in either case, such cattiness (i.e. talking behind each other’s back, making fun of them, and otherwise excluding them from their group) is so perverse that it’s almost comical! Just the past week, I happened to have heard some 6èmes talk smack about one of their peers- it’s crazy! I mean, c’mon, they’re 11, 12 years old! The preteen years can be rough, indeed…

5. Students are more motivated to learn. Much more so than the lycéens (at least, the ones I teach). The 6èmes are really good when it comes to participating in class; whenever I ask a question, plenty of hands shoot up for the answer. It’s great. With the 5èmes and 4èmes, it’s a hit or a miss- some are willing to participate, others wouldn’t care less. But generally speaking, the classroom atmosphere at the collège is much more active.

At the lycée level…

1. On the contrary, the students here are not as motivated to learn. But then again, my case is special, as I teach at a lycée professionnel (“lycée pro,” for short). I don’t think such schools exist in the U.S. (at least, are not very common), but basically it’s for students who otherwise did not do very well in collège, and so are sent there. At the lycée pro, they learn trade stuff (e.g. sales, industry, etc), and have internships every few months to prepare them for work right after graduation.

2. Level of English is quite low. I would have to say that the lycéens’ level of English is lower than that of my collègiens! In terms of how low, it is to the point that they struggle to form even simple questions to ask me (“Where do you live?” “Do you have pets?”). So it’s been a challenge teaching them in English, since 1) they have a hard time understanding me, and 2) they don’t care to understand me (which is frustrating). But thankfully, there’s always at least one person in the class who knows English well enough, and can translate what I say to the rest of the class. I don’t know how much lower their English level is compared with those at the lycée général (general high school), but from what I have heard, the students’ English at lycée gen is much better.

3. Students can be rough. Same goes for les collègiens, who are hyperactive and can also be quite…quarrelsome (aka get into petty fights on the playground- it’s normal). But for the students at my lycée pro, it’s a different kind of rough, in that many come from working-class backgrounds and so have sort of an…attitude when it comes to interacting with others. A bit loud, even challenging, and so forth. Again, not every student behaves like this, but a good majority of them. But as long as they are *relatively* well-behaved in the classroom, I don’t really have a problem.

4. Training periods, or les stages. A big difference between lycée gen and lycée pro is that the students in the latter have training periods (stages) every few months, usually lasting that entire month. That is when they go do their internships for their trade, whether in a shop, at another school for administration, etc. As a result, my teaching schedule is highly variable, very inconsistent from month to month, even week to week! There are students who I don’t see for an entire month, and the way my schedule works between teaching at the lycée and collège, the most I see the same students is twice a month, for thirty minutes total. You could say that I am basically a guest.

5. Les carnets don’t really exist anymore. I forgot to mention one important thing from my collège list: for les collègiens, they are given les carnets de liaisons, which are sort of a draft book that are used to communicate between the teacher and the student’s parent. If the students misbehaves in class, the teacher punishes him/her by writing a note in the carnet, and the parent will see to it (and hopefully discipline him/her). It is an object of intimidation, and I wish that they existed in the United States. Les collègiens actually take le carnet seriously- but at the lycée level, students are old enough not to care in the slightest if they get marked down for bad behavior. Most of them, professors just tell them off in class, or kick them out (the latter in which I haven’t done yet, thank god).

…that’s about it for me! There’s bound to be more differences between the two schools that I’m forgetting, but perhaps I’ll make another post on it another time! And I am thinking about starting a mini-series about my experiences teaching so far in France (titled “Teaching in France”), as I have already two posts dedicated to it. Who knows? We shall see!

Take care! 🙂

— The Finicky Cynic

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3 thoughts on “Teaching in France: Collège vs. Lycée

  1. We had something very similar to les carnets in elementary school years ago. They eventually switched to an online program that was used on all levels until the student’s 18th birthday. That way the students wouldn’t be able to fake the signature (like I did). Some parents hate the online system because of the teachers who complain about everything. Things heat up pretty easily.

    1. Oh, man! Sounds very controversial, indeed. Not just about changes to discipline, but also to technology in the classroom setting. Admittedly, with all of the big reforms in the French academic system recently, it’s rough. 😛

  2. Pingback: Teaching in France: Preparing Lessons – The Finicky Cynic

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