A little while ago I posted about how I became a teacher via the CAPES / CAFEP concours, and mentioned that part of my preparation included a Master program called the MEEF Anglais (Métiers de l’enseignement, de l’éducation, et de la formation). My goal in this post is to give prospective students an honest account of my experience in the MEEF so that they can evaluate whether or not this program fits their objectives.
As its name implies, the Master MEEF is designed for future teachers. However, although I’ve never completed a Master of Education or a teacher licensing program in the States, I feel pretty confident saying that that the French MEEF is quite unlike most American M. Eds…
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, let’s start with some basics…
WHO can enroll in the MEEF ?
The MEEF Anglais is destined for prospective teachers, and more specifically, teachers who want to work in secondary schools under the Education Nationale. It’s not really suited for people who just have a casual interest in education, or for people who would prefer teaching adults.
It’s one of a few Masters degrees in France that doesn’t have strict requirements in terms of what previous studies you have done. While some programs require candidates to have done their undergrad in a specific subject, the MEEF is open to people from any discipline. The only limit is on the number of seats that are available. Our program advisors told us that they were especially looking for candidates with the most potential to succeed on the concours (it looks great for their stats to be able to say 80% of students passed the written exams, for example)
To that end, the best ways to make your application competitive are to highlight any teaching experience you already have (assistantship, tutoring, etc), play up the fact that you’re a native speaker passionate about teaching English, and to state clearly that your objective is to become an English teacher in French secondary schools.
WHAT exactly is the MEEF Anglais ? What do you study ?
So, the biggest reason I say that the MEEF is not equivalent to an American teaching degree is because about 95% of the first year is exclusively dedicated to test prep for the concours. This is great news if you are certain about your choice to take the concours. It’s less great if you’re unsure how committed you are to a teaching career or if you’re unsure for how long you want to stay in France.
In the first year of the Master, we had around 35 hours of class per week, Mondays-Fridays. The majority of my classes were taken in the Anglophone Studies department and covered topics like translation, linguistics, American and British civilization, and American and British literature.
My expectation when reading the course titles was that they would be like survey classes, with a reading list, class discussions etc. but in reality, every single class was formatted with the concours in mind. Every week, were given short literary passages or primary and secondary source documents to analyse, texts to translate, all following the structure of the exam. During the analysis, the professors often went on tangents to explain certain concepts more in depth, or to highlight the literary/historical context of a certain excerpt, but the main goal was to provide us with a maximum of practice tests to be ready for the written exams of the concours.
This really disappointed me at first, to be honest. It was frustrating and unsatisfying to feel like everything was just being taught “for the test.” I especially missed the more innovative and stimulating teaching methods I was used to from the US. But as time went on and the concours became less of an abstract entity and more of a concrete goal, I eventually came to appreciate this style of working. I ultimately felt extremely well-prepared for the exams as a result of the constant repetition and practice. (Whether or not I felt well-prepared for the reality of teaching is another question though…)
Alongside the test-prep classes, which generally took place Mondays-Thursdays (and about 70% of which were taught in English), we also had some courses that were more specific to the teaching profession on Fridays (taught almost exclusively in French). For example, we had classes on the legal framework and history of the French education system, cognitive learning processes and psychological development, basic computer skills and incorporating technology into the classroom, and of course methods for foreign language teaching. These were meant to give us some foundational knowledge in important teaching concepts and though I did learn a lot about the specifics of the French education system and some important foreign language education basics, I felt like these classes took somewhat of a backseat to the Anglophone studies classes, and could have been studied in a much more rigorous manner.
The final component of the first year was two 2-week observation periods, where we were placed in a school to observe a mentor teacher, discover the daily life of an actual teacher, and even give a lesson or two. I really really appreciated these two student teaching placements, even though they were short, because they reminded me that, yes, I do actually love teaching and being in schools, and yes there is a reason I’m putting myself through this challenging process !! I had a lovely mentor teacher who shared a ton of practical resources with me and really helped me make connections between theory and practice.
OK, so what about the 2nd year ?
NB: The concours and MEEF programs are currently undergoing a reform, so be advised this timeline is likely to change in the 2021 or 2022 school year.
Up until 2020, the timeline has usually looked like this : You take the concours during your M1 (first year of Masters). If you pass the concours you move onto the second year – the M2A – in which you work part time as a student teacher and take classes and prepare a Masters thesis for the other part of your time. During this year you are paid a full-time salary (around 1,400 euro/month after taxes).
If you don’t pass the concours on your first try, then you can either redo the M1 or move onto the M2B, which is an adapted track in which you continue preparing for the concours, complete a student teaching placement of 8 weeks instead of just 4, and also write a Masters thesis.
In my case, I was lucky enough to pass the concours on the first try (\o/) and so the following year I received a 10-hour placement in a French high school. I go more into detail about the student teaching aspect in my post about the concours. I taught three days a week and went to classes two days a week.
Now, here’s where it gets a little tricky… Because I’m not a European citizen, I took the private school version of the concours (the CAFEP). As a result, I was more or less required to transfer to a private university (ISFEC) for my student teaching/second year of classes. Since public school teachers have a special “public servant” status, the seats at the public university (INSPE) are reserved for them.
This turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments of the entire two-year experience. The training offered by the private university was, to be blunt, awful. To be fair, I don’t think it was lightyears better in the public uni, but from what I heard from my friends who stayed there, they had training in so many different topics that we simply did not get at my school. The program seemed extremely disorganized, there were absurd technical difficulties that resulted in us missing dozens of hours of specific training in the beginning of the semester when we needed it the most. The thesis research felt like a total afterthought and lacked real academic integrity… basically it was an extremely disappointing experience that only seemed to add more pressure and more useless assignments than it did teach me to be a better teacher.
That being said, I did become a better teacher in that year : we had a very small handful of dynamic and helpful professors, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time… We had some classes specific to teaching English – the English student teachers were a small cohort of around 8 or 9. However, the majority of our classes were with the larger cohort of all 50 or so student teachers from all different subjects. As a result, the training felt a little bit less personalized, but at the same time it was interesting to meet and discuss teachers of other disciplines as well.
These “transversal” classes were on subjects like classroom management and differentiation, students with learning differences, communication with parents and admin, interdisciplinary projects, using technology in the classroom, etc. Again, sounds good on paper, but in practice lacked depth, examples of practical application, and especially lacked innovation and research.
During the M2, I learned so much more from my own students, my mentor teacher at the high school where I worked, and from my classmates. It was a year of feeling like I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and few people to ask for help. Luckily I made it through, and though I still feel somewhat like I have no idea what I’m doing (lol) I’ve also gained a lot of confidence in the process.
(I will just add that my poor experience is specific to the ISFEC in Toulouse… I have heard much more positive reviews of other ISFECs around France, particularly ISFEC Paris, which would appear to have its sh*t together much more than Toulouse does…But I would also say that in general, ALL student teachers, private and public, tend to be underwhelmed and unsatisfied by the teacher training process as a whole…)
WHERE can I do the MEEF ?
There are MEEF programs in every region in France. The public institution that is responsible for them is called the INSPE (Institut National Superieur du Professoriat et de l’Education) and the private Catholic institutions are ISFEC (Institut Superieur de Formation de l’Enseignement Catholique). I highly recommend you Google search “MEEF Anglais + name of your fav académie“ to find out where the schools are located.
Although there are MEEFs all around France, I do encourage prospective candidates to put some thought into WHERE in France they ultimately want to end up… This is because, once you become a student teacher, you MUST stay in the same region where you took the concours. For example, I took the concours in Toulouse, so I was required to do my student teaching in the Toulouse region. If I had wanted to move to a different region, I would have had to wait 1 or maybe even 2 years.
So in that sense, committing to a MEEF Anglais program and taking the concours, is a potential commitment to staying in that region for a minimum of 2 years, perhaps even longer.
It may also be helpful to note that because ISFECs are a much smaller institution than the public INSPE, not all of them have enough professors for every subject… so you may have to travel a few times per semester to a neighboring (or not so neighboring) city for certain classes… It should also be noted that your student teaching placement can be anywhere in the region. You could be a situation where you’re attending class twice a week in Toulouse, but teaching three times a week in Rodez, or Colomiers, or Montauban (cities between 30 mins and 2 hours away…) so it’s likely that you’ll have to factor a fair amount of commuting into your year (and your budget!).
WHY should I do the MEEF ?
I have corresponded with a dozens of language assistants who are looking to extend their time in France and take advantage of the low cost of higher education, wondering if the MEEF will help them get teaching work. My general advice is if you are 145% sure that you want to take the concours, that you want to stay in France for at least 5 years or longer, that you want to work full time in a French school, then the MEEF is a great option ! I genuinely feel that the first year prepared me extremely well for the exam. While I wish it had been more rigorous and had more emphasis on practical application, I learned the essentials that I needed to get myself started in the Education Nationale and the teaching field in general.
If you aren’t super sure about the concours, wanting to teach teenagers, or staying in France for the long term, but you like the idea of teaching…. Don’t do the MEEF. A teacher training program like CELTA or a TEFL certificate will make you competitive for teaching jobs in the private sector and will be more easily transferrable to other countries. If you have your heart set on a French master but are undecided on the concours, you could do something like Etudes Anglophones, Sciences de Langue, Sciences de l’Education… the door to take the concours is always open, no matter what subject you end up studying.
I don’t regret studying in the MEEF program by any means, the M1 prepared me exceptionally well for the concours, and the M2 was sort of like a necessary evil, a means to an end if you will. Ultimately, this program got me quickly to where I wanted to be. It was an extremely intense two years, and one I honestly don’t recommend unless you have 100% certainty and conviction that it’s for you.
As a whole, the program was sort of unsatisfying from an intellectual point of view… I sometimes daydream about going back to school to do actual research rather than just test prep. And while it’s true that I could have gotten here in multiple different ways, at the end of the day, the MEEF allowed me to jumpstart a teaching career, to build a stronger network of friends and colleagues in France, and start to build a long-term plan for staying in the country.
A few other Frequently Asked Questions about the MEEF :
- Is it possible to work and complete the MEEF at the same time ? Short answer, yes. Long answer, it’s logistically possible, most of my professors didn’t take attendance, and some of my classmates even had special contracts stating that they were ‘allowed’ to miss class because of job commitments. But it’ll be hard and you’ll have to do A LOT of work outside of class. One of the hardest things in preparing for the concours is understanding the very particular French methodologies, and how they expect you to write essays etc, and I think I would personally have had a hard time learning this on my own. The many hours spent in class practicing these methods were extremely helpful and made me that much more confident when it came to the concours itself. Also keep in mind that your final grades are based on a sigle written or oral exam taken in the semester, so if you’ve missed a lot of class and haven’t been able to catch up sufficiently on your own, then you could be facing some unpleasant surprises at the end of the semester…
- Is the MEEF / the concours useful if I go back home / move to another country ? I don’t really know the official answer to this… I’m sure it would help you get on a fast-track to state licensure in certain U.S. states, but on its own, I don’t think it would be the equivalent of a U.S. teaching license. You’d obviously have to check that with your state’s DOE. The concours could, however, help you teach in any of the official “lycée français” which are French schools governed by the Education Nationale throughout the world. There aren’t too many of them, however, and I imagine job openings aren’t in great abundance.
- Do I have to do the MEEF if I want to take the concours ? Nope ! Read more about concours eligibility here.
- Can I teach in schools without dong the MEEF or the concours ? Yes ! You could apply to work as a short-term substitute teacher (called contractuel or suppléant) in either public or Catholic schools. Placements can be anywhere from a week or two to a full year. In fact, I actually think it’s a great idea, if you are on the fence about the concours, to spend a year checking out the school system as a contractuel and seeing if you like it before committing to the whole concours/MEEF rigamarole.
- Will the MEEF/concours make me eligible for the “Recherche d’emploi/Creation de l’entreprise” visa after graduation ? As long as you complete both years of the M2, you will be eligible to apply for this visa type that allows you to stay in France for up to one year post-graduation. However, if you do pass the concours and become a student teacher, you can actually bypass the need for this visa all together. In my experience (and that of a few friends in similar situations), the concours allowed me to go straight from a student visa to a working visa with very few problems or administrative hiccups. As an employee of the government, they seem very eager to keep you around 😉
Do you have more questions about the MEEF or the concours ? Drop them in the comments and I’ll add them to the FAQ ! And any current or former MEEF students should feel free to chime in if there is something you disagree with, or what to add about your own experience 🙂