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French language and culture – the life of a teacher Posted by on Dec 19, 2017 in Culture, Film, History, Literature, Vocabulary

I think education has the power to change the world. One of these days, I hope to put my love of French and my passion for education to good use teaching French at a local school. Thankfully, being a teacher today – while still a difficult job – isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be! At least judging by the latest internet meme from ma tante Rose.

As I mentioned last week, Rose sent me a courriel (email) with an attachment related to education, at least indirectly (you can see it in the image above). In searching the internet for a source for the image, I came across a number of discussions casting doubt on the authenticity of the original image (the font and the layout – not to mention the fact that it is typed vs. hand-written – does make its origins questionable), but a little additional research confirmed that at least some key elements of the document are representative of reality.

Like this passage:

XIII Garder* la maison d’école propre, balayer le plancher de la classe au moins une fois par jour, frotter le plancher avec de l’eau chaude et du savon une fois pars semaine, laver les tableaux au moins une fois par jour.

You can find the translation below**, but here is some useful vocabulary that should help you interpret:

propre / (adj). clean

balayer / (v.) to sweep

plancher / (n.) floor

frotter / (v.) to scrub

savon / (n.) soap

laver / (v.) to clean

tableaux / (n. plural) chalkboard

According to Historica Canada, teacher salaries in the early part of the 20th century were pretty much in line with the $75/month salary specified for 1923. And teachers in rural areas were often “assigned to spartan, ill-equipped, one-room schools and were often obliged to function as janitors”. Which just goes to show, that sometimes even dubious internet memes have some basis in historical fact.

* Remember that as discussed in this post, the infinitive verb form is used when giving instructions.
** Section 13 Keep the school house clean, sweep the classroom floor at least once per day, scrub the floor with hot water and soup once per week, wash the chalkboards at least once per day.

By the way, if you’d like to read more about what being a teacher in early 20th century France was like, Marcel Pagnol – whose father was an instituteur – includes glimpses in his autobiographical works La gloire de mon père and Le chateau de ma mère iof his father teaching. His play Topaze also focuses on the life of un instit. For a story particularly resonant at the Christmas time of year, check out Merlusse. All of them are available in print, film, and as bandes dessinées.

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris