France as seen by a school principal: "In our young people, the desire to act is natural
By Eve Guyot, 29/5/2022 at 04:05
In this election period, La Croix L'Hebdo is giving the floor to French people from all walks of life to share their aspirations and convictions. Today, Sandrine Widemann, head of a school in Villefranche-sur-Saône (Rhône), answers our questions.
La Croix l'Hebdo: What gets you up in the morning?
Sandrine Widemann: The desire to help our young people grow, in every sense of the word. Here, we transmit knowledge, of course, but also life skills, which involve human, social and spiritual values. I'm thinking of justice, solidarity, effort, joy... It's a big challenge: when I was offered my job, I wondered if I would be up to leading such an institution!
I don't know the answer to that question, but in any case, I enjoy working there because I am convinced that the school is and must remain a strong institution. My working environment is also important: Notre-Dame de Mongré has a prestigious history and an impressive heritage that we want to preserve. I find, for example, that these large spaces and this immense park are soothing for those who spend their day there, both children and adults.
My job is time-consuming by nature, so I use the journey between Lyon, where I live, and Villefranche-sur-Saône, where I work, as a breathing space or preparation time. In the morning, I take the time to get all the energy and enthusiasm I need. I never know what the day will bring and I think I love it!
How are the French doing from your school?
W. I honestly feel that the French are a little better than they were a while ago. Here, for example, the smile has returned to the faces of the teachers and pupils since they have rediscovered the pleasure and interest of sharing the classroom. But I must say that the two years of the pandemic have changed some people. The crisis has sometimes generated professional and personal problems within families, which have directly impacted on the life and work of children or teenagers.
And I am thinking in particular of teachers: some of them have developed fears, and we still have to reassure them today. Generally speaking, I also think that a certain anxiety has set in among high school students, especially since the reform of the baccalauréat. There is the difficulty in projecting oneself into secondary studies, the fear of not succeeding, and above all the weight of continuous assessment... Seen from the outside, we can find many advantages to it, but when we look at the feelings of young people, we understand that they have the feeling that their future is at stake their future at all times.
What is your assessment of the past five years?
W. I have the feeling that everything is speeding up, and I think this is linked to the important place that digital technology has taken in our lives. Young people were born in a connected era and give the impression that they have mastered these objects, formats and languages perfectly. But families and teachers are quickly overwhelmed. Here, we have made a considerable effort to adapt, with a lot of advantages and disadvantages. As for communication with parents: although it has become faster, I find it sometimes intrusive...
But what touches me most is the impact of social networks on the lives of secondary school students. Even though we have been carrying out awareness-raising activities to avoid excesses for some time now, we have chosen to redirect them towards two priorities: that teenagers use social networks wisely and that they are fully aware of the issues involved and that they are fully aware of the issues behind it.
Has there been a scene that stands out for you recently?
W. The outpouring of solidarity here immediately after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. Many students and parents quickly brought in goods and clothes, and even spontaneously offered to take in single people or families. It is at times like this that we realise how natural the desire to act is in our young people.
This reminds me of a group of schoolchildren who recently imagined and organised an "Earth Week" to highlight the ecological approach. This energy and creativity is very exciting. And when you are in charge of a school, you are happy to see, or at least to think, that the transmission of our values is bearing fruit.
What is the one thing you would not want to lose?
W. Trust. It takes a little time to build it, but it is what ensures that Notre-Dame de Mongré functions well today. On a day-to-day basis, it is illustrated by a permanent dialogue within and between the teams, but we sometimes receive more explicit signals, as during the pandemic. As we struggled to preserve the teaching and keep the school open, we were inundated with messages of thanks and encouragement from our students' families. At the end of the year, we prepared a small montage of these emails and showed it to the teachers. It is important to know that one's work is valued and appreciated, and that it can be done with peace of mind.
What is the first measure you would like Emmanuel Macron to take?
W. I don't know exactly what to do, but I would like to see something that would allow for better recognition of the teaching profession. There is, of course, a pay rise, but not only that. I think that the workload of teachers must be considerably lightened: they are asked to do more and more with fewer resources. Secondly, and this is a slightly more delicate position, I think that we should distinguish in one way or another between teachers who are particularly committed to their school.
When we are told that there is a real shortage of vocations in the profession, I am not surprised: when you compare the level of education required with the working conditions and the average salary, you can quickly see that there is a problem... We must make the profession attractive again. Here, the teachers regularly talk to me about it, but apart from showing them my appreciation and organising a few convivial moments, I don't have the power to change things.
Collected by Eve Guyot
Read the article here (in French)