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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Supplément de travail et de colère dans les bahuts

by Marie-Noëlle Bertrand

More work – and anger – in French schools.

Translated Saturday 15 March 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

Education. The increase in overtime hours in French junior and senior high schools has sharpened already high tensions among teachers.

As if it wasn’t enough for the government to axe teaching jobs. On top of that, they’re making teachers make up for the shortfall. As the schools learn of the operating credits that they have been granted for next year, teachers are voicing their anger. Strikes have broken out in the Midi-Pyrénées département in southern France, and in the Alpes-Maritimes département, also in southern France, nearly half of the school governing boards have already rejected the budgets proposed by the board of education. In the Paris region, the scattered grumbling heard just before the winter holidays is likely to be heard again when schools re-open. Last but not least, the trade unions are calling for a national teachers strike on March 18.

An increase in overtime hours.

The problem, of course, is the lower number of teaching hours funded by the state, with some schools losing dozens of class hours per week. But, added to these cuts, which have become chronic over the past four years, there is a new factor: the overtime hours, which have been increasing at the same time that jobs have been disappearing. “At the beginning of the 2007 school year, state funding at our high school made 200 hours of overtime teaching necessary. This year, it’s 317,” explained Mireille Bournot, a maths teacher at Jean Macé high school in Vitry-sur-Seine, south of Paris. At the same time, seven teaching jobs are likely to be axed, and maybe even eight, according to the projections made by the local board of education before the holidays. “It’s a question of having just 11 maths teachers instead of 12” was the example given by Bournot. So it will be up to the remaining teachers to make up the difference, in overtime.

At the national level, there not really anything surprising about the whole affair. The French president, prime minister and minister of education have all repeated that teachers will have to participate in the effort required by government reform. Coupled with President Sarkozy’s slogan “work more to earn more,” the result in November 2007 was a 2008 budget that provides for the non-replacement of 11,200 retiring teachers. Nearly 3,500 of those jobs are to be compensated for by overtime.

But a budget cut is like a slap in the face: it’s not the threat that hurts most, it’s when the slap actually hits. Teachers are all the more bitter as the government isn’t even trying to hide its card in this round of three-card monte: the economy, come what may. Because, while a fall in the number of pupils is often used to justify cutting jobs, the implication does not automatically hold in the opposite direction. Due to an increase in pupil enrollment, the Vallées du Paillon de Contes junior high in the Alpes-Maritimes département should be opening two extra classes. “But, out of the 51 extra teaching hours a week that we’ve been granted, 30 are in the form of overtime,” explained Alain Galan, a technology teacher who is also the deputy secretary for the SNES-FSU trade union in the département. They manipulate teachers’ sense of professional responsibility – they know we aren’t going to leave our pupils without their lessons.”

Teachers’ sense of professional responsibility won’t be the only thing spurring them to do overtime. The need to increase their buying power will probably also push many to accept overtime. At a time when some teachers have already signed petitions in which they vow not to accept overtime hours, the government measure is likely to divide the teaching staff.

Another measure may bring them together, despite everything: changes in their job description. These changes were begun this winter with the work of the Pochard commission, and they are to be completed by June. At present, a teacher can only be forced to do one overtime hour a week. It’s a safe bet that that number is going to be pushed up.

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