Some French elementary school teachers starting their careers in the Paris region have not been paid since the start of the school year. They say the missing salaries are just a part of a larger, dysfunctional system.
After a career in the military in her youth, and after launching a computer startup with her husband, Rose* thought she had finally found her true calling a few years ago at the age of 50: teaching. But after being late with her rent for the past two months, she’s wondering if moving into education was such a bright idea.
Rose was among 300 people who held a protest outside a teachers’ college in the town of Livry-Gargan, 12 km northeast of Paris on Tuesday. As part of her last year of training she spends two days a week completing her own studies, and two days teaching a second-grade class – work she receives a monthly salary for.
Or so she was told. She was among dozens of aspiring teachers who have not been paid since the start of the school year in September. Last week she received 60 percent of her salary for her first month of work, and is still waiting for the rest. Others have not seen a single euro, and their bills continue to pile up.
When the desperate teachers complained, administrators suggested they take out a small loan or accept food stamps, while they worked out the kinks in their payroll system.
“My husband continues to run the computer business, so we still have some money coming in. But one of my colleagues is a single mother and she was in real distress,” Rose told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday. “I decided to go and get the food stamps, particularly so that others would not be ashamed to do the same.”
After the rally in Livry-Gargan on Tuesday, the young teachers, most of them in their 20s, decided to boycott next week’s classes. For now they are still teaching in their respective schools, but they want answers from school officials fast.
Rose and hundreds of other aspiring educators say the missing, late and partial salaries are just the beginning of their problems.
The young teachers may be paying the price for a new training system that France launched a few years ago, and that many are finding difficult to adjust to.
Under the old system, would-be educators had a dedicated block of time for education theory, and separate “internships” where they put theory into practice in front of pupils. The academic year at their training colleges was broken up with a few practical experiences in elementary classrooms, each lasting between two and four weeks.
In the new system they must juggle both university coursework and part-time teaching jobs throughout the year, splitting every week between the two demanding roles.
“Most of us have never taught in front of a class in our lives, so we really have to spend a lot of time preparing our lesson plans. Then there are all the papers we have to write for our courses and the exams, plus doing evaluations of our pupils,” Rose complained, adding that she usually woke up at 4am to tackle the mountain of work.
Long year ahead
For some rookie teachers who have been assigned to particularly unruly or slow students, the situation has become unmanageable.
Teachers agree there is a problem, but admit they do not have a ready solution. Claire, one of the organisers of the boycott, told FRANCE 24 that some want fewer readings or essays to hand in. Others would like to concentrate on theory and spend less time instructing pupils.
She said that education officials had apologised profusely for failing to pay teachers and said that they hoped the issue would be resolved by December. Fixing the programme that trains French teachers will likely take longer.
“We are not against the teacher’s college in itself, but the system, the way it is organised now, makes it impossible to really accomplish anything,” Claire lamented.
“Eventually, something will have to give,” Rose said, noting that it was just the beginning of a long school year. “Either our grades will suffer, or the work we do with the kids will.”
When contacted for this article, French school officials asked that questions be submitted to them via email. They had not replied to FRANCE 24’s questions by the time this article was published.
*All names have been changed at the request of the people interviewed.
This article was first published on www.France24.com