Since Fall 2018 (roughly around the time I stopped writing regularly on this blog…), I’ve been venturing into the complicated, sometimes arduous journey of becoming a qualified English teacher in French secondary schools. In the handful of Facebook groups I participate in, I field a lot of questions about this, because many former teaching assistants are interested in staying in France after their assistant gigs are over. While there are several ways to get into teaching in France, in this post I want to lay out the path that I took !
TYPES OF SCHOOLS
First things first, there are several different types of secondary schools in France, and it’s important to understand the differences, because the recruitment process is different for each.
I. The first type of school is public schools which are run by the Education Nationale, the Education ministry of the French government. For teaching assistants that went through TAPIF or British Council, this is the type of school where you worked. If you have EU citizenship, you can be recruited for public schools via the concours (see below). Otherwise, you can apply to be a contractuel or a long-term substitute teacher. Contractuel positions are based on availability and can last anywhere from a few weeks to a full year. The requirements are usually at minimum a bachelors degree. Apply at your local rectorat.
II. Secondly, there are semi-private schools “under contract” aka partially funded by the Education Nationale. These schools are primarily Catholic, but some have other religious affiliations and others are secular. If you are EU or non-EU you can be recruited into these school via the concours. You can also apply for suppléances which is the Catholic school system’s name for contractuel. You can apply to do suppléances with the organization SAAR in your region.
III. Finally, there are private schools with no government affiliation, including independent schools, some international schools, Montessori programs, etc. They each have their own individual hiring processes and requirements. I recommend contacting them individually to find out more.
In my case, I took the concours in order to work in the second category of schools : Etablissements privés sous-contract avec l’Education Nationale. So, that’s what this post will primarily focus on.
While it’s true that something like 80% of privé sous-contrat schools are Catholic, I wouldn’t necessarily let this deter you. As a certified teacher, you are hired and paid by the Education Nationale, not by the diocese, and as such, you are never required to participate in any of the religious activities at your school. In all of the Catholic schools where I have worked, the religious aspect has been pretty understated; apart from the odd crucifix above the white board and a chapel on campus, they have usually felt more or less like typical schools. While the population might be slightly less diverse than in a public school, keep in mind that private school tuition in France is far more affordable than American private schools, so they’re not just reserved for super rich families. All types of families choose to send their kids to private school for a wide variety of reasons.
In order to teach as a professeur certifié in Education Nationale affiliated schools (types 1 and 2), you need to pass a series of competitive exams, called the CAPES concours. This ONLY concerns schools with Education Nationale affiliation. All other schools, including language schools for adults, have separate, unrelated recruitment processes.
Since France doesn’t like to make things easy, there’s an additional hurdle : only those with an EU passport are eligible to take the CAPES and work in public schools. This is because public school teachers have a special public servant tax status, which is reserved for EU citizens only. For everyone else, there’s the CAFEP concours, a completely identical exam which gives you access to teach in the semi-private schools. Luckily, the requirements needed to sit the CAFEP are rather simple : you must have completed (or be in the process of completing) at least one year of post-graduate studies in any subject.
The exam itself is in the process of being reformed, so my info will very soon be out of date. But in 2018-2019 when I took it, it was a four-part exam : 2 written exams sat in March, followed by 2 oral exams taken in June. The written exams focused primarily on showing technical mastery of the English language and knowledge of anglophone culture via translation, explanations of English linguistics, and an essay of literary or historical analysis. The oral exams were focused a bit more on teaching skills : after analyzing a text or video, how would you connect it to the school curriculum ? How would you introduce it to students ? What activities would you put in place to help students improve or extend their skills ?
In the 4 parts of the concours, it’s split roughly evenly between English and French, so having a sufficient level of written and spoken French is a must. According to the recently announced reform, the parts in English could be even more reduced… affaire à suivre !
WHY TAKE THE CONCOURS ?
The concours is NOT the easiest way into teaching in France, in my opinion. It normally requires months of preparation, not to mention the exams alone last a combined 16 mind-numbing hours. However, it comes with one very enticing advantage : guaranteed job security (and relatively easy visa support) !
Because the concours is a competitive exam, each year they only admit a fixed number of candidates. For example, in 2019 when I took the CAFEP, only 151 candidates were accepted across all of France. Although the odds can seem tight, the trade off is that the Education Nationale is required to place successful candidates somewhere in one of their schools ! This means, however, that you don’t have full control over what specific school you end up at or what grades you teach, at least not at first.
So why did I take the concurs ? I knew that I wanted to teach in a school environment (as opposed to looking for work in a language school or after-school program for example). My background is in teaching primary school, but this was less appealing in France, since I would also have to be responsible for teaching math, science, PE, French…. and I wanted to focus only on English as a foreign langue. I hadn’t done any post-grad, nor did I have a U.S. teaching credential, so I wasn’t a very competitive candidate for jobs at International schools or universities. Above all, I needed to find a way to secure a work visa in order to stay in France. With all of that in mind, the concours seemed like a no-brainer. I don’t regret my choice at all, though in retrospect, I was definitely underprepared for the immense challenge of being a first-year teacher inside a completely foreign school system !
HOW DO I PREPARE ?
In order to pass the concours, it’s not necessarily sufficient just to be a native speaker of English (although that can give you a small edge over other candidates). You also have to be well-versed in the format of each exam, and what the jury is expecting. In order to understand each element of the concours, the “Rapports de jury” are required reading. This is a massive document published every summer, in which members of the jury that grades the concours explain step by step what things they were looking for and point out common pitfalls or mistakes that candidates made in the previous year. There are also plenty of concours prep books you can buy online or even in most French bookstores.
Because I had not already completed any post-grad studies, I decided to enroll in a Master MEEF (Métiers de l’enseignement, de l’education et de la formation). This is a Masters program specifically designed for future concours candidates, and consists basically in very rigorous test prep. While this Master was absolutely useful in passing the concours, it’s not essential. You can sit the concours with at least 1 year of post-grad in ANY subject (even non-English or non-teaching related). If you don’t do well with unstructured studying, there are non-degree granting training courses via CNED and various univerisities that will offer you a more structured course of study. I wrote a separate post about my experience doing the Master MEEF, as I have a lot of things to say about it…
WHAT NEXT ?
So, you meet the minimum requirements to sit the concours. After months of preparation, you sit the exams and….you pass ! Now what ?
The year after you pass the concours, you automatically become a student teacher, or professeur stagiaire. This is rather unlike student teaching placements in the US, where you integrate a school for a few months and are guided by a mentor teacher who eventually lets you lead lessons and units on your own.
No, this is a total trial by fire method : from day 1 of the school year, you are given 8-10 teaching hours for which you are the SOLE English teacher responsible for your classes. You have a mentor teacher in your school who serves as a point of contact or a resource when you need it, but otherwise you’re more or less on your own. Alongside teaching part-time, you are also automatically enrolled in a year-long teacher training course at the university. I talk more about this training in my post about the MEEF… The silver lining of this extremely intense process is that the student teaching year is paid full time ! I earned roughly 1,400 euros per month after taxes as a student teacher.
If you do the CAFEP and will be teaching in a semi-private Catholic school, you will need to go through a brief screening process called the préaccord / accord collégial which is organized by the SAAR in your region. Your teacher training course will also likely take place at a Catholic university (ISFEC), rather than a public university. I detail more of these differences in my post on the MEEF.
After surviving the année de stage, if you didn’t totally screw up, then you become titularisé or officially certified, and it’s time to get your first permanent teaching position !!
WHERE WILL I TEACH ?
The placement system for semi-private schools sous-contrat is a little bit convoluted, and there’s a lot of luck or strategy that can go into it. Basically, each region publishes a list of all the positions that are likely to be available for the upcoming year and you can make a list of preferences/wishes. You send off your CV and cover letter to the schools on your wish list, and you might get an interview with the school principal. Then, all the principals get together with the rectorat and they dole out the jobs based on an order of priority (teachers with more tenure first, etc). Because the principals play a larger role in the affectations, hitting it off well in your interview can sometimes give you an edge.
While you are guaranteed a job somewhere in France thanks to the concours, everything depends on what is available in the region where you want to be ! If there aren’t enough available hours in your town, you may be offered a post in a neighboring town, or you could be offered only a part-time job. It is highly recommended to join a union so they can represent you during these sessions and advocate for your specific situation and wishes. One big caveat of this permanent job guarantee is that if you are unhappy with your initial placement and decide to turn it down, you lose the benefits of the concours (i.e. your right to permanent employment). After the first year, if you’re not happy with your placement, you can always try your luck again and redo the process the following year.
AS FOR ME….
After two semesters of preparing during the MEEF, I passed the concours in 2019 and did my student teaching in a high school in Toulouse during the 2019-2020 school year (#covid-student-teachers-class-of-2020 !)
This year I was offered 17 hours (just under full time) in a middle school and a high school, both in Toulouse. Each school is about a 30 minute commute from my apartment (less once I finally buy myself a bike!), and I feel extremely lucky to be able to stay in Toulouse (not the case for a lot of my former classmates) !
I teach five (!!!!) different levels between 6e (sixth grade) and 1ere (11th grade) and while I genuinely enjoy all my classes (on most days anyway….), I’m finding the rhythm of having five preps extremely challenging for my first year full-time. I see most of my classes 2-3 times per week, so the preparations feel simply never-ending. The light at the end of the tunnel is that next year, I will already have a TON of lesson plans ready-to-go, so I hope I’ll be able to relax a bit more and not have to take SO MUCH work home with me.
I hope this post is helpful for all the prospective teachers out there wondering how to prolong their stays in France. Keep in mind that the concours is not necessarily for the faint of heart. It’s definitely a long-haul engagement, so if you’re unsure if you want to stay in France long-term or if you really want to become a career teacher, then I would personally suggest weighing other options.
Again, this is just ONE of many paths into teaching in France ! Emily gives an overview of some of the others in her blog post here and Camden explains her job search here. I also recommend looking at the Education Nationale site Devenir Enseignant for more information about the different ways into working with the Education Nationale 🙂
Let me know in the comments if you need any clarifications about the concours and the different steps before and after taking it. I promise to do a write up about my time in the MEEF as soon as I can ! ❂