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Artisan French teachers

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

This discussion is really close to my heart, at the core of our practice and of the relationship we want to build with our students and within our team of teachers. This has been a fundamental reflection that birthed Fais-le en français - Do it in French, a force that has gathered teachers together and that has sustained our will to do things differently (want to meet the team?).

It definitely stems from a vision of society that gives time, relationships, care and tailored quality their true place: at the center of everything we do. Cringingly French? Oui.

So, where do we start ? By a definition, playing into metaphors, maybe?


This word has become capable of selling everything three time its usual price: from bread to furniture, to clothing. It is in the air with IPA beers, farmer markets and sustainable farming.
I hear you.
But acknowledging the current marketing force of this word doesn't deny the efforts of genuine artisans trying to make things taste or feel better, nor the growing interest of the public towards a way of doing things that is more respectful of the humanness of our needs, and of the time it takes to meet them correctly.
Artisanal is trendy because we are a growing number to intuitively sense that the one-size fits all mass production system of producing doesn't truly satisfies us.
And this is true for education as well.

Artisans are people who are very skilled at a trade they have learned, usually gaining knowledge by observing technical gestures during a long apprenticeship.
They also have learned how to work at a human scale, adapted to a human pace, from and for a human perspective: following their senses and good practical sense, they are building work around what is reasonably feasible by hand, with love and care.
Love and care require extra time, attention to details, a personal investment in efforts, and it is what guarantees the quality of the job done.
This is why artisans are not forcing their work force into the cadence of a machine, but instead, are following the natural pace imposed by the project they are tending to, from its beginning to its end.
Bakers give time to the dough to ferment, rise and cook ; potters give time to clay to dry and cook.

Artisanal labor is not only about mastering handy skills.

The true remarkable artisans are letting their curiosity guide them though in depth books and theories. They are able to inject ancient technics and inspirations into their current skills ; they are able to dig into the root of their trade to fulfil immemorial humans needs : to eat, to drink, to cloth... and to learn.

Because they are able to sense a need, analyze the situation and engineer a solution to it, they answer the needs of their community.
They are able to channel their skills towards the particularity of one project, turning their attention to this one specific mission at hand, which they overtake in its entirety.
Working from the beginning to the end on one project allows them to truly transform a matter, give it shape and imprint it with their own personal flare.

And this perspective, miles away from the chants of quick-fixes, standardization, profit over quality, and race to global scale-ups, is what makes artisans work stand out.

How does this apply to teaching?

In three words: brain is matter. De la matière grise, indeed! While potters work with clay and bakers work with dough, brains are the matter teachers work with.

1. Teaching is a true Human relationship

It is about two Humans taking the time and putting efforts, being mindful that they are having an impact on each others. It is about this connection that will make students learn better, and that will make teachers reflect on their practice.
Artisan teachers take the time to notice how individuals learn because they don't have to make them fit into a group of learners following a levelled curriculum.
Artisan teachers are free to deal with individual brains, one at a time.

2. Time is a real third player in this relationship

To learn anything and especially a language, a student needs to not only give it time, but trust that their teacher know how to play with time: alternating wisely between pushes and pauses.

To learn a language is not a race against time to keep everything fresh in your memory up to the day of the exam, as if your brain was a giant vase in which to collect all the French drops, filled to the max, before spilling everything in one go on the day of your exam and hoping for the best.

It is more a dance with time, where you are given the time to understand, make hypothesis and test them, make mistake, correct yourself, learn from it. You are given time to memorize, practice, become really good at something...and then forget all about it.

Yes, you need to have time to forget, and learn how to remobilize this knowledge once again. Frustrating? Yes.
But this is where progress happen! You will need to go back and forth several times on one concept, forgetting, remembering, forgetting, remembering, forgetting, remembering again before being able to fully master it.
It is really into this back-and-forth that your brain will build French roads for you to have an easier access to the information.
Because, just like clay needs to dry and just like dough needs to proof, brains need to work on their own time.
**To help you think about it, you can read this article exploring a crossover theory between second language acquisition as an adult and child development, as well as the series of articles exploring the "how long will it take" question.**

3. Artisan teachers are professionals, skilled and trained teachers

They have learned about pedagogy and andragogy, they have observed classes led by other teachers, they are really educated about teaching methods and try some of them to only keep what was working for them, they are constantly improving their skills, and they know how to channel it all to help their students learn.
Of course, every francophone can try themselves at teaching French...but if you have ever tried to make a baguette at home, you know the value a professional can bring!

4. Specialization is key

Artisan, professional French teachers have some degrees or certifications during which they have learned how to teach a language to students who don't speak it.
In France, for example, we have a couple of Master Degrees specially designed to train teachers to teach French as another language, usually with adult students in mind. And yes, it is a different program than the ones French teachers working with kids in the French school system followed. Because these are two different things.
You wouldn't expect a potter to bake beautiful bread, don't expect a biology teacher to be a good French teacher if they are not trained for it - and don't ask me to teach biology!

5. Caring is key

Artisan teachers put their heart into their work. Because of the relationship they have with the student, the time they have with them and the specialized training they had, artisan teachers know how to design a one of a kind training plan fitting into the situation, and they have fun teaching it: because it makes sense, and they know it will work.
They even have learned how to manage the hard times you will encounter and will ride, alongside with you, the emotional roller coaster that is learning French...because they have seen so many students riding it before.
You know how food taste better if it's cooked with love and care? Just the same with teaching.

In summary

Most things in life that are better executed by professionals, and the teaching-learning complex is no stranger to this.

But I would say there is something to be said about how teaching is generally perceived, that touches to how education is also factored in:
- from the university students who are sent to South Korea or Europe for one year to teach English,
- to the primary school teachers put in front of classes who do not speak French enough to teach it properly and who come to ask for our help to better their French for their students,
- to the francophone with no qualification nor professional teaching experience put in front of adult students in schools trying to answer the need of the Ottawa area,
...there seems to be a lack of understanding of what it means and what it takes both to learn and teach a second language.

Of course, it is a great opportunity for university students to -attempt to- teach abroad for a year...but aren't they usually realizing it takes more than being an anglophone to be able to teach English?
Of course, all primary school French teachers are not in the position talked above -but it does happen more than it should.
Of course, individual teachers are not the main bearer of the responsibility: if there is no training available to them, if they are left alone in this vastly disorganized system, how could they have a chance at getting better?

This lack of understanding really reflects as amateurism and seems to be both the cause and the main symptom of the vicious circle we keep spiraling with, regarding the French education question in Ottawa.

There has to be another way !

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