How I became an English teacher in a French high school

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 !

  1. TYPES OF SCHOOLS
  2. THE CONCOURS
  3. WHY TAKE THE CONCOURS ?
  4. HOW DO I PREPARE ?
  5. WHAT NEXT ?
  6. WHERE WILL I TEACH ?
  7. AS FOR ME….

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 (=établissement public) 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 substitute/supply 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” (=établissement privé sous contrat) or 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 (=établissement privé hors contrat) 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 an employee of the Ministère de l’Education Nationale, not of 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 somewhat 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 affluent families. All types of families choose to send their kids to private school for a wide variety of reasons.

THE CONCOURS

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 civil servant tax status, which is reserved for EU citizens. 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) the equivalent of a Master in any subject.

SEE THIS ARTICLE for updated information about the recently reformed exams ! 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 (in French) 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 was split roughly evenly between English and French, so having a sufficient level of written and spoken French is a must. In the new post-reform configuration, the split is more 35-65 split of English to French.

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 (there were ~650 candidates that year). Although the odds can seem tight, the rewards are big : the Education Nationale is required to place successful candidates in a job 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 students, but this was less appealing in France, since I would also be responsible for teaching math, science, PE, French…. and I wanted to focus only on English as a foreign language. 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 universities 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…

You can read this article for further study tips and a recommended book list !

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 ? Be warned that some of these details may have changed slightly based on the 2021 reform.

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 sous-contrat 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 may also 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 submit 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 large role in the affectations (contrary to the process in public schools), hitting it off well in your interview can sometimes give you an edge, although ultimately the rectorat has the final say.

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.

I can’t emphasize enough that 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 and her job as a contractuelle in a public school in Paris. 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 ! ❂


19 thoughts on “How I became an English teacher in a French high school

  1. So interesting to read another, more recent take on this! Glad it worked out so well for you! I agree 5 preps is a lot. I had 5 my second year as well (though I had 3 my first since we were full-time). Good news is yes, year three will be much more manageable.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for confirming that, it’s really the light at the end of the tunnel right now ! 🙂 I’m also looking forward to being able to negotiate for a better schedule, since I’ll know where I’m working before August for once ^^

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t thank you enough for writing this. THANK YOU!!! I am doing TAPIF this year and MEEF sounds like it would be a perfect next step for me afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a helpful post, thank you! I know that you took the CAFEP route into secondary schools route, but have you heard of a foreigner completing the CRPE for primary schools? If so, any tips?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, thanks for reading ! While I don’t personally know a non-French person who has taken the CRPE, I do think it’s possible ! There is a concours for private primary schools called the CAPE which is open for all nationalities. You can check on the site devenirenseignant to find out about eligibility and see what the exam consists of. I think you’d definitely need to be sure your French is impeccable, as primary school teachers spend 95% of their day teaching in French !

      Like

  4. Hi Anne,

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been living in France for the last 8 years, and I have taught English in language schools and also do some odd hours in Catholic schools as an ‘intervenir’. But now I would like to work in French schools directly but the big ‘but’ for me is I don’t have any degree, and I know how the French are with their ‘Diplomes’ and license…so I just need advise really on how to go about getting a teaching degree qualifications, requirements, who do I need to approach and all that…any info or advise will be helpful thanks..’deja’ I will check on the Educational Nationale website to see what I can find there.

    Thank you.

    Bola

    Like

    1. Hi Bola, thanks for reading and commenting. There are a couple of ways to work for the Education Nationale, but most of them do require a degree. First, you can work as a “contractuelle” and for this you will need the equivalent of a license.
      The main teaching qualification for the Education Nationale is to take the teaching concours which I describe in the post. For the concours, you will need a Masters degree in most cases. If you meet certain requirements (5+ years working in the private sector, 3 or more children…) you might be able to take the 3e concours and forego the degree requirements. If you work as a contractuelle for more than 3 years, then you are able to pass the concours via the “interne” in which case the requirement for a Masters is also forgone.

      If you’d like to do a degree in France, then almost all universities have a LLCE or LEA program (Literature et langues étrangères, Langues étrangères appliquées). Doing this particular program isn’t strictly necessary, but it would definitely put you on the track towards English teaching 🙂 I would start by looking on the websites of the university where you live to find out about programs, enrollment and such.

      There are of course non-Education nationale schools which may be more flexible with their recruitments ! Best of luck !!

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    2. Hi Bola,
      I am just finishing a French master’s degree and am considering becoming a teacher in the future myself. My experience of university is that it is much easier here in France than in New Zealand, where I’m from, as the French students are so unbelievely lazy and apathetic. The general level is LOW so you can easily get good marks/grades and will stand out as a star student without any effort at all – and on top of that, it’s free. So, if you do decide to go down the degree route, don’t worry about it being hard!
      Fraser

      Like

      1. Hey Fraser, I understand the sentiment of your comment, but I think you make some pretty generalized statements I want to address…

        The grading system is different, in that a 10/20 is a passing grade (vs. a 60/100 in the USA for example), and to pass the semester your grades for all the classes must average to 10, which definitely seems like a low bar by other standards. On the other hand, teachers tend to grade harshly : in my experience, it was really rare for students to get above 16/20 for assignments, even if it met all the expectations. In the case of the MEEF specifically, you are preparing for a highly codified standardized test. Learning the required methodology is a huge learning curve for people who have never been in the French school system before, and there is an enormous amount of knowledge you are expected to master. It will seem easy for some, but it’s certainly not a walk in the park.

        I do agree with you somewhat in the sentiment that French students can seem very passive or almost rude by outside standards, but the majority of my classmates were very motivated hard-workers. I think the “professional” orientation of the MEEF helped with that. There’s a lot of societal context for why French university students don’t seem as proactive… but that’s a discussion for another post 🙂

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  5. Good day. I am coming from a different angle entirely. I have had all my degrees in my country Nigeria. I have National Certificate in Education (NCE) French/English, B.A french and M.A French. I have taught French/English for over 10years before relocating to France in 2019. I am 44years old, married with 3kids
    I have a residential permit in France. I would love to work as an English teacher in secondary school.
    I am right now confused until I came across your post on google. Could you advise me on what to do? I don’t mind doing a program if need be maybe at most a year and half because age is not on my side any more. Also expatiate more on the CAFEP or CAPES.
    Thanks for this post. I earnestly await your response. 😘

    Like

    1. Hi Adenike, I’m glad it was helpful. Just to clarify something, the CAPES/CAFEP concours is not a course of study, it is a series of national teaching exams which teachers must take to become fully certified.

      You have a few options : since you already have a Masters degree, you can sit the concours, which will allow you to have a full time permanent teaching job. I suggest you start by looking at the website https://www.devenirenseignant.gouv.fr/ which details the different ways to teach in the Education Nationale and gives much more comprehensive information on the concours. This is a lengthy process as the exams are from March to June. You will also need to have your degree and qualifications translated and given French equivalencies : the body that does this is called ENIC-NARIC.

      If you don’t want to wait a year or more to start teaching, you can also apply at your local rectorat to work as a supply teacher with a limited one-year contract, which is renewable. Try getting in contact with them towards the end of August for information about recruitment.

      Like

  6. Please don’t forget to give more information on the CAPES / CAFEP program; related sites, registration, durations, tuition fees, etc.

    Or any other preferable suggestions from others is appreciated. 🙏

    Like

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