Every rentrée for the past few years, the fact that France lacks teachers has come up in some shape or form. There aren’t enough new teachers in math, English, and German, but especially in math. This year at the rentrée we were still looking for a math teacher for one of our 3e classes.
Journalists who investigate the issue mostly conclude that people with a bac + 5 (masters) in math or a related field don’t feel like taking the pay cut that being a teacher represents for them, when they could be an engineer making two to three times as much money.
Colleagues and acquaintances have talked to me about the difficulty the ministry of education has both recruiting teachers and keeping young teachers in the profession. (See this related poll. How is 26% optimistic about their profession a positive result?)
It’s true, when I was a teacher trainee, my first year, I wanted very badly to quit and never look back. But I really believed in what I was doing, and every good hour of class made me want to at least stick out the year. I don’t know how anyone with any less conviction manages.
For me, things definitely got better. But I work in the private system and have had the good luck of getting a full-time position a ten-minute drive from my house, and while my school has its flaws, I’m generally supported by my multiple bosses and by my colleagues.
Most teachers in the public system start out as full-time substitutes, changing schools from year to year, though they’re just as qualified as all the other teachers they work with who get to stay where they work. This blog article (in French) gives a good idea of the typical working conditions for a young, unmarried teachers.
When people talk about teachers’ working conditions in France being bad, they often talk about the pay being low. I don’t really feel this way, though I would certainly not say no to more money, especially at housing tax time. I know I make way less money than I would in the States, but I also have affordable health care and reasonable housing prices.
What I wish the general French public and the government would get about teaching is that it can be really freaking hard. It requires a lot of moral support, especially at the beginning. New teachers need to understand what they’re getting into and then be helped to get into it. (I should mention that I started teaching at a particularly bad time—we were thrown in to a full-time teaching load pre-training and then training was added on top of our teaching hours later in the year. This has since been changed because everyone acknowledges it was a f*ck-up.)
It would also help if teachers’ public image wasn’t so bad here and if people understood teachers’ jobs a little more. I honestly have a friend who, when I told her I had 21 hours of class a week, said, “You can’t complain about working 21 hours a week, right?” Ermagerd.