Back to School in France – Where The Teacher Rules

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“La Rentrée” is looming over Paris this week, that fabulous time of year when everyone goes back to school and most people go back to work.  School starts on September 3rd for the teachers and September 4th for the students but the headaches associated with this event have already started for the parents.  Just visit the school supplies section of any department store – you’ll see several parents with lists in their hands and children at their feet trying to make sense of just what they are supposed to buy for their child for the first day of school.

Stress and Shopping for Supplies Go Hand in Hand

The stress factor in this shopping aisle is high, extremely high.  This is attributed to three things.  First of all, the List is extremely complicated and precise.  You cannot just buy any old notebook – Mom or Dad has to check the number of pages, the color, the binding, the size, and the squares or lines that are depicted inside.  It’s the same story for pens, pencils, bookbags, markers, scissors, calculator – even the glue!

Secondly, the parents cannot usually find everything in one place.  Either the store is out of stock already or the super-creative, impractical primary school teacher has requested something that is nearly impossible to find.  There is not much standardization in the area of school supplies so each teacher can pretty much ask for what he or she wants and the parents had better provide it from Day One.  No substitutes allowed.  (Let me just mention that, here in France, the teacher rules, not the parents.  They literally dictate what the students have to bring to class.  Nothing is up for discussion.  Teacher school supply rules are meant to be followed by children and parents alike.)

Here’s who really rules when the French Go Back-to-School

French Government’s Role in School Supplies

Thirdly, every little thing that is thrown in the shopping cart adds up – often to a substantial amount – money that families who are just returning from vacation simply do not have.  Fortunately, the French government does help out with the school supplies allocation.  With the newly-elected Socialist president, Francois Hollande, the subsidy has even increased by 25%.  That means families who meet the income limit (23,300€ for one child; 28,554€ for two children and 33,908€ for 3 kids) will receive from 356€ up to 388€ per child to help pay for their back-to-school clothing and supplies.  Eligible families automatically receive the check on August 21st, plenty of time to go shopping before the first day of school.

If you don’t have school-age children yourself and want to have fun in Paris, just go to the school supplies section of a big department store between now and September 4th.  I was there by accident this past weekend (didn’t stay long though) and was amazed to hear how loud and ludicrous the debate could be about something as simple as paper.  Couples were arguing in front of their children and befuddled clerks; angrily waving the school supply list like a flag they wanted to burn.  It was sad and a little scary.

Is There an Easier Way?

I don’t understand why some graduate student has not yet put a website together that would save all this hassle.  Wouldn’t it be great and oh-so-modern if parents could just submit their list; pay online and the supplies would be delivered magically to their doorstep.  It is 2012.  It is possible.  This could probably save a lot of marriages.  But, on second thought no, it would take away all the fun of watching how the French teacher rules – even before school begins.


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