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How A Frenchman Tamed A Rough Class

Updated on December 22, 2020

The Teacher

Marcel was a French teaching graduate. He had obtained his degree as a teacher of English in the French educational system. Marcel was the first of his family to go to university.

Now Marcel was going to improve his English by living in England for a year, teaching French to schoolchildren. The idea was quite good. His English would of course improve from spending a year in England. He would gain teaching experience. And the school would gain a cheap native French speaker to teach French.

Marcel had been given the option of National Service in the French Army or of teaching in a French former colony for a year. Somehow he had instead been assigned to spend a year teaching in a tough school in Marseilles as his National Service.

His National Service obligations now satisfied he was looking forward to teaching in England to get his career on the move.

The School

The school was one of the toughest schools in the North of England. It served a huge housing estate that had been built to replace the housing destroyed by the Luftwaffe. A lot more housing was destroyed in the 1950s and 1960s in slum clearance. In parallel with this activity was the significant decline of the coal industry in the area. One of the first areas to mine coal, the pits had just been worked out.

The local culture was of hard working hard men who drank hard. The jobs had gone so sadly the hard men just drank. The children were raised in streets where less than half the households had even one person in work.

So the boys were hard. They did not value education because whether you had an education or not there just were no jobs. The people who did get degrees left the area for work and so were not visible role models. This was a boys only school.

Assigned A Class

Marcel very quickly realised that this was a school in crisis. Education was very difficult in a school where discipline and order were hard to sustain.

Marcel was given a class of children aged 16 who would sit an examination in French that year.

What was really unfair was that Marcel was also given a Friday afternoon class of thirteen year old boys who were in the bottom stream. Thirteen year old boys are recognised as hard to teach because their hormones make them both inattentive and sparky. This class broke teachers. Add to the mix that this was French which none of them were going to select later in their school careers. Add in also that it was Friday afternoon.

The Staffroom

The timetable said that these children had to be taught French. Marcel was the only teacher who could actually speak French not already committed to a class on Friday afternoon. Some teachers thought it was rough on Marcel to be given this class.

About 20 minutes into the class, an experienced teacher went along to see how Marcel was coping. If necessary, he would rescue Marcel from the difficulties of this appalling class.

To his astonishment, Marcel had perfect control of the class. They were sat quiet, Marcel was smiling and joking with the class. He was talking to children. A pupil would stand up and speak and then sit down again.Normally with that class you got silence or a riot. The standing up and speaking and sitting down again just did not happen. It did not happen in the school.

After the class the experienced teacher asked Marcel how the class had gone. "Fine" said Marcel.

"They are nice boys."

No teacher had ever called that class "nice boys".

So how had he done it?


"How did you tame that class?"

"They did not need taming. They are good children."

The following Friday teachers snuck along the corridor to see this class being taught by Marcel. It was as they remembered their grammar schools had been, not bottom stream of a very tough comprehensive school on a Friday afternoon! They gave Marcel huge respect for what he was doing with that class.

They just did not know how he had done it.

What Really Happened

Within 30 seconds of entering the class Marcel realised he had been given a very rough class.

"You" he said, pointing to the back of the class.

"What was your grandfather's occupation?"

"He was a miner,"

"He was a coal miner, sir."

To the next boy "What was your grandfather's occupation?"

"He was a coal miner, sir."

Marcel went round the class. All of them were the grandchildren of coal miners.

"My father is a coal miner."

"You know me and I know you."

After that he had the class eating out of his hand.

He did not see why he should share this information with his colleagues. It was not their business. It was his business. And the kids' business.

The Head Teacher gave him an extremely good reference.


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