Exchange of Ideas

Mon, 10/31/2016
Photo of the French students and teacher with some of their chaperones, Ms. Cagney and Principal Jackson.
Photo of the French students and teacher with some of their chaperones, Ms. Cagney and Principal Jackson.

Last month, a group of students and their English teacher from Nantes, France, spent two weeks shadowing students at Brooks. They roomed with their chaperones’ families and got a taste of the daily school routines of students here in the States. Two of our teachers - Ms. Lufrano and Ms. Mortensen -, who also post a biweekly podcast called “Teacher Tribes”, sat down with the visiting teacher, Ms. Sally Chappel. This is the transcript of the podcast/interview.


Ms. Lufrano: Hi, this is Teacher Tribes comin’ at you. I’m Lulu.

Ms. Mortensen: And I’m Mortie.

L: And we are going to continue to talk about our Social Justice Unit, and we have a very unique and wonderful opportunity today. We have a special guest all the way from France joining us today. We have an exchange program going on here at our school where we’ve had 12 students come here, explore Chicago, and visit our school. I have been the lucky person to be able to host the teacher. So we’ve been able to have wonderful conversations about what education looks like in both of our countries. So we have Sally here on the mic and we’re gonna let her introduce herself to us and give us a little background about where she is from and how long she’s been teaching. So welcome Sally.

Sally: Thank you. I’m really glad to be here. I’m called Sally Chappel. I was originally born in England, but I moved to France when I was 20 and became a teacher. I’m in France, in Nantes, which is on the west coast of France. I’ve been teaching for more than 20 years, to middle school and to high school students.

L: Well, welcome, we’re very excited, and so we’ll just jump right into it. From being here for the couple of weeks, what would you say the biggest difference between American and French education is?

S: There are quite a lot of differences, in fact. For our students it’ll be a big culture shock with loads of stuff to tell their parents when they get back, and their friends. One of the big things is homework. In France, you have lots of homework to do, you have to do it. If you don’t do it, you’re punished. With the new techniques coming in, like ‘flipped classroom,’ where you really don’t have to do your stuff at home, to be able to get things done in class so that is really important.

L: Have you guys been “flipping” the classroom very long?

S: No, all new.

L: Okay, we’re going through the same thing.

M: I’m curious, what kind of punishments do they get for not doing their homework?

S: Well they have a chance out of three, if they don’t do their homework three times in a row, they are “called”, that means they are in detention. That means they have to stay after school for an hour, or two, or three. It depends [laughter from Lulu, Mortie, and Sally] on the punishment.

M: So it is kind of like a demerit system?

S: Yeah.

M: Alright, cool.

L: What about the requirements they have?

S: So, all our students are working toward their final exams, which is called the “Baccalauréat”. Its a tough exam because they have to take an exam in at least 8 to 10 subjects. I depends on the type of Baccalauréat they have chosen to take. All the exams are written exams, they last for at least 3-4 hours. It is a big thing they have to prepare for, so they prepare right from the beginning of school. For 3 years, we’re preparing and they have to take subjects like French, their mother language, 2 foreign languages (English and Spanish/German). They have to do history, geography, philosophy, math, sciences, and a sport is also access for the exam, so there are lots of stuff we have to prepare them for.

L: Yeah, it is interesting. What happens if they don’t pass the exam?

S: They have to take it again during their senior year to try and get into a university.

M: And that is three or four hours per subject?

S: Yes, per subject.

M: Wow.

S: From the 15th of June every year, you have a week and a half of exams. Everyday, morning and afternoon, they’re in exams.

L: What happens to the teachers if they don’t score well?

S: We’re not graded, it is on the student, not us. If the student works, he/she gets it; if he/she doesn’t work, he/she doesn’t get it. We are there to help them, if they don’t follow what we say to do, it is too bad for them.

L: Do you have a lot of parental support at your school?

S: Yes, parents are behind us. Rarely there are parents who will criticize. For the most part they are there and we can count on them to help us.

M: Yeah, I wanna go teach in France.

All: [Laughter]

L: How has it been then for your students to be here at our school? The demographics here are completely different than those at your school. Can you speak a little bit about how it has been for you and your student to immerse themselves into our culture?

S: For them, it is a big change. First off, because it is American and we are in a community here that is mainly Black and Hispanic. For them it is a real change and they have been discovering so many things, probably more things than if they were in a white community. They are really loving it because they are seeing how friendly people are. How welcoming they have been made to feel. Everyone seems to get on and have fun, so for them it is a really positive experience.

L: We’ve talked about teaching social justice in the class. Right now it is election season and we’ve use this to try and teach the students rhetoric and how to analyze and make decisions. How do you teach these topics in school? Is awareness around the world promoted, including the exams, do you tackle the topics of politics and race in your country?

S: We have a philosophy class in senior year, which doesn’t just talk about philosophies, but about how humans think, act, and interact. Everything comes into that; economics, politics, etc. In our history classes they have an hour dedicated to being a citizen. That is thinking critically, not believing everything the media says, trying to understand what is behind this media, that is all part of their high school curriculum.

L: That is what we’re trying to do as well, media has a lot of influence on how people see one another. Their beliefs, what we are and aren’t afraid of, coming to Chicago, for example, you listen to the media, it is a horrible, dangerous place to be, especially coming into a Black and Hispanic community. Have you felt unsafe here, on the southside of Chicago, travelling? Do you notice any of the things you heard on the media?

S: Not at all. When we came, we didn’t hear beforehand that Chicago was a violent city. We know that there is violence in America, and not just Chicago, in other places. We weren’t particularly worried, one of the first questions somebody asked us when we arrived was: “Were you scared to come because of the violence?” My students said, “What violence?” We had no idea, we didn’t see or hear anything that made us feel unsafe.

L: That is wonderful, on the last podcast, you heard our students talking about the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, gun violence, and that is a very real issue for them. As teachers, we feel we have to tackle issues that they’re encountering, because it is going to come into the classroom. There is no way to keep what is happening to them outside the classroom from coming in. Do you have any strategies, besides the philosophies classes, about what works in your school that helps teachers feel more comfortable when connecting what is happening outside the classroom to inside the class?

S: I don’t know of any strategies, but I think it is just getting students to think for themselves. Talking with them... communication is so important. Being aware of what is going on instead of pretending things aren’t happening. We want to know what is going on out there. It is important for them to confide in us, we don’t want them thinking we are naive. We need them to understand things and deal with things.

L: How do you deal with that in regards to things that you aren’t allowed to talk about such as religion and politics? Are you guys allowed to openly discuss your own opinions?

S: No, not our own opinions. We often get people coming into our school, professionals, who can talk about these things because they’re trained to. We get them to come in, the children meet them and talk with these sensitive things with them.

M: Wow.

L: That is great, I wish we had more budget money to have people come in and do that. That is great for the students in France, it is working. These seem like the strategies and steps we are doing here at our school to allow the students to form an opinion about the world. It is exciting to see the world through the eyes of a child. It gives us different tips in how we might proceed with things. Is there anything else you noticed about the education system here? Any tips for me about how we tackle the issues?... Actually, how does France see us about this election? I’m curious, what do they think of the candidates we have? Is that something you know about?

S: Yes, of course. It is all over the media. They’re very surprised, in France, to see what’s happening and they find it quite strange and weird that this man, Donald Trump, has managed to get where he is. [Laughter] They’re really following this election because we think it is impossible that this person can become president of the States. It is really big in our media.  

L: Wow.

M: Is there anyone in France that supports Donald Trump?

S: No.

All: [Laughter]

L: That is interesting.

M: Very interesting.

L: I’m gonna move on from that. [Laughter continues] The election is really important to our students and they are having a hard time understanding the same thing. Especially because they don’t think this man [Donald Trump] represents who they are and they are having a hard time realizing that this is their choice. This is the first time we see them questioning the way our government is structured and run. The students who can vote are struggling, they don’t know who to vote for. They are trying to figure out, in our system, ‘Where is their vote gonna count?’ ‘How can they finally get heard?’ It is really exciting to see young people excited about election. It is because of the way we have been introducing these topics in our classrooms, allowing them to be engaged citizens. Do the politicians you guys have to choose from, are they a reflection of what is going on in the communities and culturally? Right now, there seems to be a lot of tension in America. The candidates, to me, are a reflection of some of that tension. We’re having different sides, different issues, and can’t really come together right now.

S: In Europe and France, we’re having similar problems politically. Because of the massive intake of immigrants, migrants from Syria for example, it is creating a lot of tension in the political domain. In addition to playing on that and playing on people’s fears, people become fed up with politics, same arguments. We’re sort of going down the same road you are.

All: Yeah... [laughter]

L: Interesting.

S: Yeah.

M: That is interesting, I feel like it comes back to the media. The “promoting fear.” Why is that? Why is that the standard everywhere. “This is what we should be doing. We should be afraid.” Those are all negative feelings, why can't we have happy media?

L: And I’m wondering, because I remember that I never had this opinion of the news. I always believed that it was informative, that it was giving me factual information. I was just wondering, with technology; having the podcast that we’re on right now, having blogs, having social media. Has that maybe changed the way media gives information to all of us? How do we then take technology and make it something that is useful. Not that we need to get out to more people, but it is what we are getting out, how do we control that?

M: How do we know what is reliable?

S: Yes, lots of young people are relying on social media because watching TV channels and radio stations, they’re always hearing the same arguments and it is sensationalized. “I want to choose what I read and hear.” However, how do they know that they’re choosing something that is true?

All: Yeah, incredible.

M: Often, they’re not. If they are from Facebook or whatever.

L: I wish it had an automatic fact checker.

All: Yeah.

L: I always like to read the transcripts the next day, where it has what people have said and the actual facts next to it. I find that I have to read more than I ever have had to just to figure out what I feel the truth is.

M: It is a lot of work, to be educated as a citizen.

All: Yeah, laughter.

L: Yeah, so we were inspired by Sally to come here and do the international travel and we hope that our students will take you up on coming to France. Why is it important, because your school is unique as well. You tackle the social issues and you promote international travel as well. Why is that something you guys view as vital curriculum to educating children?

S: Our school has an international label. We promote anything international, not just traveling, but anything about cultures around the world. We feel it is very important to open our minds, to know what is going on in the world with globalization. We feel it is a way of making our students good citizens. Citizens who know what is going on, can make good decisions, and get rid of these stereotypes. Often, people make bad judgement calls, and that is very important.

M: Yeah.

L: Yeah, and you expose them. Like you said, media says one thing about Americans, about Chicago, education, a certain demographic. You come here and you put the experience with the information that has been presented to you and you can form an opinion. There are somethings you may have liked before and not being here and vice versa. I really think it is important for us to get the experience of one another. That is why the projects the students are putting together at the end of the unit, we were talking about having a dinner party. “How do we get people to come together?” We can’t afford to travel city to city, state to state, etc. SOme of the issues our students have identified in the local community break bread.

M: Do your students have to pay for all the international travel?

S: Yes, parents paid. We don’t get any grants or anything.

M: It would be nice if all schools could do that.

L: It isn’t all schools because of the international label?

S: All schools actually offer trips abroad, not necessarily America, more Europe, but more and more schools are going out. China is another big one.

L: Mm hmm.

M: Very cool.

L: Well, thank you for being brave enough and coming onto our podcast. We are looking forward to keeping in touch with one another and sharing ideas and keeping open lines of communication so we are being the models we want for our students. It has been a wonderful experience having you at school. In my home, I will miss you when you are gone. We look forward to the next couple of days with you and maintaining our relationship. Thank you so much for coming on today!

S: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me, it has been a very enriching experience. I will take beck loads of stuff with me and I really hope we do keep in contact.

L: Oh absolutely.

M: You can tell all of your friends to listen to the podcast...

Na'im Muhammad