Feature

French's Sad Lament

Renée Meloche
Tags: 

Imagine the scene as Madame Bonprof goes through her day: the gas tank in her car is full in anticipation of the drive to the two schools where she teaches core French; her plastic milk crate contains all of her materials – flashcards, CD player, CDs, a set of textbooks enough for half the class, and students’ notebooks, each grade indicate by colour.

The entry bell rings, and she starts class in Room 1, at the end of the main hall. But wait, the red file of flashcards for this class is missing – she probably left it in  the  car when she reorganized her supplies. Madame looks for space on the chalkboard to illustrate vocabulary but notes and  chart paper cover the walls, and there is no  room  to  demonstrate the lesson.

The bell to end class finally rings, and Madame proceeds to  climb the stairs, milk crate in hand, to get to Room 26, at the other end of the school. The principal stops her along the way to confer about a parent issue, and she arrives five minutes  late,  reducing  her  colleague’s preparation  time.  This  grade  7  class runs a  little more smoothly, although she has to deal with two ESL students who have just registered. Class  over,  Madame  now  heads  to her other school, but  a  train crossing puts her behind schedule, and she again arrives late, this time for outdoor duty. At least tomorrow is a PD day. Then it occurs to her: the morning agenda calls for a session on using manipulatives in math, and the afternoon will focus on team planning. Where does core French fit?

 

The challenges of FSL

Recent studies and surveys have verified the discouraging state of FSL teaching and learning.1  Unfavourable conditions for  FSL  (especially  core  French)  relative to other “core” subjects reflect its diminished  status.  Teachers  and  students are expected to make the situation work,  and  to  achieve  high  standards that require considerable resources and support, even  when these are in short supply.

The issues  are  many:  itinerant assignments (between  classrooms  and schools); lack of designated classrooms; limited  support for IEP and ESL students;  scarce  resources;  requirements to provide preparation time and supervision  duties;  isolation  in  school  and board communities. Added to the list: expectations  to  integrate  technology despite  insufficient software and computer access; few professional development opportunities (for the most part sessions are  offered only after school); and a lack of an autonomous budget and funding. Is it any wonder that almost 40 percent of respondents to a survey done by  the  Canadian  Association  of  Second Language Teachers (CASLT) have considered leaving FSL teaching, at one time or another?2

 

FSL is not a ministry priority

Support at the ministry level is also lacking: currently, there is one FSL portfolio at  the  Ministry  of  Education  for  the entire  province.  The  result  is  missed opportunities and insufficient curriculum  support.  The  message  from  the ministry appears to be that the FSL curriculum (the chief vehicle for teaching and learning our other official national language)  and   the  related  classroom environment  are  less  important  than other programs.

For example, Ontario teachers and students have missed out on interprovincial programs such as the Summer Language  Bursary  Plan  because  there are not enough ministry staff to handle the administrative duties. There is little curriculum support for French immersion  classrooms.  Immersion  teachers must   individually  adapt   curriculum support  materials  intended  for  English-language  or  francophone  schools. Neither is  appropriate for the immersion  classroom,  and  because  teachers translate in isolation there is a great deal of duplication of effort.

Tracking provincial funding for FSL is also problematic. Although information is available about the FSL allocations for each  school board, it is not possible to determine how these funds are actually spent, or whether they actually reach the FSL classroom.

 

Accessing federal  funds

Ontario  has  also  been  slow  to avail itself of federal funding. Although the federal government announced Action Plan  2013  for  improved  French-language education in 20043, it was only in the spring of 2006 that Ontario school boards were  invited to submit project proposals  (on  extremely  short  deadlines) to fulfill the mandate of the action plan – that is, to double the percentage of  bilingual  students graduating from high school by 2013.

A  variety  of  initiatives  have  been (and will be) implemented with limited chance  for  success.  These  innovative and exciting endeavours will be carried out in the context of the everyday FSL teacher’s  experience  –  no  designated classroom, no support for challenging students,  and  continued  demands  to cover preparation time and supervision duties.  Again, FSL teachers (especially core French teachers) will be expected to  make the action plan work and to achieve  the  results  anticipated  by  the mandate of the grants.

 

FSL teachers can have an impact

As  professionals  with  an  important national  and  social  mandate  (to  provide  quality  official  language  education  to  our  citizens and  immigrants), individual French teachers also have an important role to play. Yes, professional development   sessions  are  offered  for the most part after school, but if French teachers  don’t  show  up,  the  message will be that we aren’t interested. Yes, we have  no  designated classrooms, yet  if administration doesn’t  hear about  the deficiencies of  this  arrangement, they will assume that we are satisfied with the situation. Yes, we all have challenging students, yet their success in French is as important as their success in any other curriculum area. Teachers must be determined in seeking support for students with special needs. And yes, none of this is just – why do we have to spend so much time and energy advocating for ourselves and for our students?

ETFO’s  FSL  Standing  Committee  is working hard to improve the prospects for our members who teach French. We have met with members of other groups interested in improving FSL education in Canada and hope that ETFO will become part of a strong FSL network in the province, intent on improving the learning and teaching conditions for everyone.

We all are responsible for raising the marginal status of FSL, and for suggesting solutions and alternatives. With the consistent support of ETFO (ask your local to establish an FSL committee to help raise the profile of our issues), we can make changes. It is time to organize and consolidate our efforts to achieve quality  teaching  and  learning  conditions:  our  teachers  and  our  students deserve better!

 

Notes

1  A. Mollica, G. Phillips, & M. Smith (2006), “Teaching and Learning French as a Second Language:  Core French in the Elementary  Schools of Ontario,” Ontario Modern Language Teachers’ Association and Brock University; S. Kissau (2005), “The Depreciated Status of FSL Instruction in Canada,” Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, no. 44; Canadian Parents for French (2006),  The Statof FSL Education in Canada 200 Report CASLT (2006),  First National French as aSecond Language Teacher Survey;  ETFO FSL StandingCommittee (2006),  Survey of Local Presidents Regarding FSL.

2  CASLT Teacher Survey.

3  Kissau (2005)