Seen from the United States. Being an English assistant in France: “Schools are completely neglected”

Barely arrived in France, an American author is hired as an English assistant in a suburban high school. The constant lack of means and the difficulties of teaching tarnish the republican ideal of French education.

I moved to Paris in the middle of a pandemic and as I was afraid of not finding a job, I applied for a position as a language assistant. But I was also pushed by another reason. At the time, France was torn about its school system and establishments found themselves under heavy fire from criticism. The newspapers spoke of unmanageable classes and the laxity of teachers. The word “Islamo-leftism”, a dangerous mixture of multiculturalism and educational laxity, was on everyone’s lips. During this time, Le Figaro published articles on the dangers of wokism. As for the establishments, they had no say in the debate

I was sent to a high school in Seine-Saint-Denis, northeast of the capital, the poorest region of metropolitan France. During the first meeting of teaching assistants, at the start of the school year in September 2021, my new colleagues and I were gathered in an auditorium where two women sent by the Ministry of Education told us about our job. The other English-speaking recruits were fresh out of university. We were shown a YouTube video titled “What the F*ck France” in which a British actor vociferated: “I have 99 issues and they’re all the administration’s fault.” “We hope it will be a little easier for you”, one of the speakers tried to reassure us. She told us how to open a bank account and look for accommodation. While being very clear: we should not count on her to help us.

As English assistants, our job was to have students speak our native language for twelve hours a week. All for 976.48 euros per month. “You are now agents of the French State, she told us. So if you hear discriminatory remarks, even between students, you must report it to the director. If you see young people showing their affiliation to a religion or expressing their faith, tell someone, she listed. If you see a girl wearing a headscarf, report her.” If it is not forbidden to discuss with students the religion of our country of origin, on the other hand we cannot tell them what we believe in. It is the same for politics. A young assistant then raised his hand. “That’s good ?” On the logo of his laptop, he had pasted a sticker of the rose window of Notre-Dame. The speaker glared at him: “You shouldn’t exaggerate though.”

A large building with peeling walls

The trip to school from my apartment in the center of Paris took me about an hour. The last mile by bus took almost as long as the first part of the trip. And I never knew if I was going to get a bus or not.

One day, while I was waiting for the bus in front of the station, I saw the Latin teacher kneeling beside a man who had apparently just come from overdose. The man was curled up in front of the ventilation grille of a bakery, and when the Samu arrived, the paramedics immediately asked him what substance he had taken. The students who were already way behind all stopped to watch the scene.

The station area was mostly suburban, a remnant of a time when the white working class longed to have their own home and garden. After the pavilions, the stores are aimed specifically at a Muslim population. A hairdresser is advertising for its space reserved for veiled women, who can thus have their hair cut out of sight. By the time we see the school, the first suburb has been completely replaced by another: this is the city – a group of large bars

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London Review of Books (London)

Born in 1979, this “London Review of Books” covers both literature and politics, like the prestigious New York Review of Books. This title offers an excellent way to keep abreast of Anglo-Saxon editorial news.

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Without frills, the site of the London Review of Books is like the paper version: almost too sober. Priority is thus given to plain text, without illustrations or photos, which does not always facilitate the reading of the articles. Access to the texts by non-subscribers is clearly indicated: the titles in red can be consulted free of charge, those in black are chargeable or reserved for subscribers. With archives going back to January 1998, the search for old articles is very easy (filing by dates, authors and topics). In addition, non-subscribers have access to a very large number of articles.

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Seen from the United States. Being an English assistant in France: “Schools are completely neglected”