10 Major Differences Between French & American High Schools

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The French high school experience is crazily different from the American high school experience. Generally speaking, French high schools mean business when it comes to how they expect their students to behave - aka long school days, no extracurriculars, no school spirit, etc. Read on to see some of my observations!

10 Majors Differences Between French & American High Schools

1. French students have hyper-long school days. 

French students are usually at school from 8am to 6pm with short morning and afternoon breaks and a lunch hour or two (depending on their schedule). What’s more is that it’s just straight academics all the way through the day - no clubs, activities, etc.

2. (French School) When a teacher is absent, class is cancelled. 

This means there aren’t any substitute teachers and that if a teacher has to miss a day, it’s kind of like American university where you just get a notification (hopefully!) that class has been cancelled. Unfortunately this could work against you as an assistant by arriving to a cancelled class with no previous notification! Cover your bases and check in with your teachers the day or night before!

3. (French School) No (or very limited) extracurricular activities. 

No music class, no art classes, no photography classes, no clubs. Students come to school to learn. The closest thing I can compare to an extracurricular is that each class has a delegate that represents the class for the class updates/meetings among teachers.

4. (French School) Sports are not a thing.

At least not in the American sense. Some bigger high schools may have partnerships with local sports clubs in order to form high school teams, but it’s nothing like in the U.S. No football stadiums, soccer fields, or basketball/volleyball gyms. For those students who do play sports, practices are normally held for an hour or two once a week, on Wednesdays.

5. (French School) Dances are not a thing.

Think: Prom, Winter Formal, Sadie Hawkins, Homecoming, etc. Nothing like that for French high school students. They love talking and learning about the experiences of American high school students so keep this in mind when you’re thinking about what to discuss in class.

6. (French School) School spirit - you guessed it: not a thing.

Think of High School Musical (or your own high school experience if you’re American). Now immediately erase it from your mind, and you’ll end up with the French idea of school spirit. Don’t even think of t-shirts or sweatshirts with your school name and color.

7. French High School is 3 years instead of 4.

France has three years of high school and four of middle school. (Although I could never imagine four years of such a confusing time as junior high!) The first year of high school is called “Seconde,” the second is “Première,” and the final year is “Terminale.”

8. French students choose a “major” in high school.

At the end of their first year of high school, students must decide what they want to focus on in terms of school subjects. They are basically funneled into whatever career track they “think” they want to pursue when they’re 14-15 years old. I didn’t know what I wanted to really study until the end of my freshman year of university….

9. French grades are given out of 20 points. 

Of those 20 points, 16 is considered an excellent score, even for the best students in the class. 20 is theoretically unattainable - whereas in the US, students have no trouble getting 100s (perfect scores) on tests if they really apply themselves. I’ve often thought this has a lot to do with the optimistic, "can-do" attitude of Americans versus the general pessimism of the French - even if you study your ass of and know everything perfectly, the subjective scores of the teachers can still leave a little (or a lot) to be desired.

10. Notes home to parents in French students’ notebooks

French students have little carnets de correspondance in which notes will be written to parents if they misbehave. They’ve had these notebooks since they were small in elementary school. If French students get in trouble and their teacher demands to see their carnets, you know it's bad.

Have any teaching assistants noticed other things? I'm all ears - especially because I find the differences in the school experiences so fascinating!!

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