Advising and guiding students in the “3rd year” at a distance

Version française ici.

Written by Sarah “PP3”

I am a French teacher for two classes of the “4th year” and two classes of the “3rd year,”[1] one of which I am a main teacher.

My college is located in the Yvelines, about forty kilometers from Paris. It is a ZEP (Priority Education Zone) college with a “disadvantaged” population and relatively little social mix. It has about 600 students. The framework is important because my first remark is really that this quarantine cannot be experienced in the same way. It really depends on the conditions. This highlights “family” and “material” inequalities. It has been said a lot, but it is a reality which is quite striking. My students very rarely have a personal computer, sometimes one for all children, often one for the home (but which does not always work) and many can only work from their mobile phone.

Concretely, our students must connect to pronote (a school life software, which we use to make calls, fill in the text book, insert notes…) from home and get the work that the teachers post according to a schedule that we’re trying to make a regular habit. The students then compile the work that each teacher sends them and therafter send us “proof” of this work. This return can be done on the pronote software where the student upload the work done, or they have the option of sending by email (a lot of us teachers have a professional email address which we use to communicate with them). Sites like quizins are also used by colleagues. Those with computers and internet connections send digital files, the others (many) send photos of what they write on sheets and notebooks. So much for everyday life.

First assessment: I manage to get the work of about half of the students. Some are very regular and manage to send the requested work every week, for others it is more fluctuating, others send nothing at all. The latter fall into several categories: those who do the work but at their own pace and do not send it because they do not know how to do it or consider it useless (as we don’t grade the work given!); those who don’t know how to use the technology despite our explanations or do not have the material means to do so, those who are in too great difficulty in school, or who find themselves in too complicated living conditions (living for example in host hotels for refugees, or with too many younger brothers and sisters…) and for whom remote work done autonomously is impossible. I’ve also noticed that it’s difficult, over time, to force yourself to continue each day, each week… Added to this is the month of Ramadan which started and which adds additional constraints (with us Ramadan is a reality which concerns 80 or 90% of the students I think).

From the beginning, I’ve sent two “work packages” to do each week (one rather grammar-oriented and another an explanation of a text to schematize). They then have the week to ask me questions, send the work back before I send the answer sheet. This is clearly not satisfactory but, in my opinion, pedagogy does not mean much anymore at this level. I maintain a bond, allow them to hang on, “keep them busy” too, and students who are better able manage to get something out of it. The main thing was, at first, to reassure them and to maintain contact.

Between the CPEs (Principal Education Advisers) and the main teachers, the students are contacted by telephone about once a week or two weeks, in order to verify that everything is fine (that they keep a suitable routine, proper hygiene), that they haven’t drowned… At the beginning the pupils had a lot of difficulties of connection, of lost coding codes, they did not know how to organize and felt truly overwhelmed (the teachers as well, and we had to organize and ritualize things!).

Over the past few days, an additional difficulty has been added for our 3rd year students who must fill out “wish sheets” for their post-college orientation. These documents are essential because their wishes will determine whether they will go to general high school or choose a more professional (technical) path. To be very concrete, I present my 3rd year class:

23 students: 7 who will go into “2nd GT” (general and technological) without asking questions therefore 7 whose “wish card” is very easy to fill … The others must register different wishes of professional baccalearat (final high school exam): they must therefore find a career path that interests them, look for high schools in the sector which offer these courses, place these wishes strategically (so as not to end up “without anything”) … and all this takes time when we have them in progress – so doing it by phone requires a lot of strength! The principal of my college summoned the 6 main teachers of the “3rd year” to a virtual meeting, gave us the deadlines and useful documents and let us take care of each of our classes. We are a very close-knit team of 6 and we really work together which helps us to exchange info, refer to student questions… (our whatsapp group has been heating up for the past few days!). I called each student (as did my colleagues) to explain how to complete this sheet (because even if we had sent them all the instructions, doing it alone is really difficult and the parents of my students are not, for the most of them, well equipped to understand this system), I search alongside them (often for them too!) for information, ask them to send me drafts that I must validate before they complete the file “for real” and drop them off at college! Often during these calls I speak directly to my students because, even if their parents are involved in their choices and must sign the “wish card,” it is the future of the child that is at stake. In addition, some parents are quite overwhelmed by this system and / or do not have a sufficient command of French to properly understand and integrate all the information transmitted. For others, parents are our privileged interlocutors, but the best is to be able to interact with both.

Honestly, it’s a big pressure for the main teachers of the 3rd year because we should not be mistaken in our indications, and we advice our pupils at the risk of sending them along a career path that would not suit them.

The students and their parents are generally very demanding of, and receptive to, our advice and personally I find it good to have them on the phone, to chat with them … Many tell me that they miss college! This question of orientation is revealing, I find, of these aforemention inequalities because in a “Lambda” college, more than 80 or 90% of students go to 2nd grade and do not ask more questions compared to students in ” disadvantaged ”establishments who are confronted with difficult choices and, because of quarantine, have to manage on their own.

A new situation, new adaptation! I am not the most telling example in terms of pedagogical innovation because I’m not very “geeky” or tech-savvy. I remain quite basic in how I manage to send the work but I find some of my students courageous (some even prove more serious since quarantine!): when I see the help that I bring to my own children while being aware that my pupils do not have this help, I find that they manage anyway! Some live in houses with helping families and a favorable environment, but many are in apartments, share their room with one or more brothers and sisters, have no office or place dedicated to work, help to take care of the little ones. … And when we call them, they tell us “yes Madam that’s fine: thank you and how about you?” In such cases, I avoid telling them too much about myself: that I am in a house, with a garden, in the countryside and a forest at the end of my street, two computers at home and a working, reliable internet connection. When I called my 3rd year students, no one actually complained and it surprised me….

The big question remains: how will we find them in September when a large number have not really worked since March? The return to school sure seems like it’s going to be… interesting!

Sarah “PP3”

[1] 4th year before baccalaureat (end of secondary schooling) : children being in general 13/14 years old. 3rd year: children being in general 14/15 years old.

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