Life Style

France seen by a head of school: “Among our young people, the desire to act is natural”



The Cross the Weekly : What makes you get 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 think of justice, solidarity, effort, joy… It’s a big challenge: when I was offered my job, I wondered if I would be up to running such an institution. !

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I don’t have the answer to this question, but in any case, I enjoy working there because I am convinced that the school is and must remain a strong institution. My work environment, too, is not negligible: Notre-Dame de Mongré is a prestigious history and an imposing heritage that we want to preserve. I find, for example, that these large spaces and this huge park are soothing for those who spend their day there, children and adults alike.

My job is time-consuming by nature, so I use the route between Lyon, where I live, and Villefranche-sur-Saône, where I work, as a decompression or preparation airlock. In the morning, I take the time to get all the energy and enthusiasm I need. I never know what the day has in store for me and I think I love it!

Seen from your establishment, how are the French doing?

SW: I honestly have the impression that the French are doing a little better than some time ago. Here, for example, smiles have returned to the faces of teachers and students since they have rediscovered the pleasure and interest of sharing the class. But I must say that the two years of the pandemic have transformed some people. The crisis has sometimes generated professional and personal problems within families, which have directly impacted the life and work of children or adolescents.

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And I am thinking above all of the teachers: some have developed anxieties, and we must reassure them, even today. In general, I also find that a certain anxiety has set in among high school students, especially since the reform of the baccalaureate. There is the difficulty of projecting oneself into secondary studies, the fear of not succeeding, and above all the weight of continuous monitoring… Seen from the outside, we can see many advantages in it, but when we are interested in felt by young people, we understand that they have the feeling that they are constantly playing their future.

What is your assessment of the past five years?

SW: I have the feeling that everything is accelerating, and I think it’s linked to the important place that digital technology has taken in our lives. Young people were born into a connected era and give the impression of perfectly mastering these objects, these formats, these languages. But around them, families and teachers quickly find themselves overwhelmed. Here, we have made a considerable effort to adapt, with a lot of advantages and disadvantages. As for communication with parents: if it has become faster, I find that it is sometimes intrusive…

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But what touches me the most are the consequences of social networks in the lives of middle and high school students. This transforms the management of their image, the nature of their relationships… Even if we carry out awareness-raising actions to avoid overflows, for a while now, we have chosen to redirect them towards two priorities: that teenagers use social networks to wisely and that they have a perfect knowledge of the issues behind all this.

Has a scene marked you recently?

SW: The outpouring of solidarity that was organized here immediately after the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Pupils and parents were very numerous to quickly bring products and clothes, and even to volunteer spontaneously to welcome single people or families. It is in these moments that we realize how natural the desire to act is in our young people.

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This reminds me of a group of college students who recently imagined and organized an “Earth week” to highlight the ecological approach. This energy and this creativity is very exciting. And when you are in charge of an establishment, you are delighted to see, or at least to think, that the transmission of our values ​​is bearing fruit.

What would you most not want to lose?

SW: Trust. It took a little time to build it, but it is what ensures, today, the proper functioning of Notre-Dame de Mongré. On a daily basis, it is illustrated by a permanent dialogue within the teams and between them, but we sometimes receive more explicit signals, as during the pandemic. As we struggled to preserve the teachings and keep the school open, we were inundated with messages of thanks and encouragement from the families of our students. At the end of the year, we prepared a small montage of the emails in question and we projected it in front of the teachers. It is important to know that one’s work is valued, appreciated, and therefore that it can be accomplished calmly.

What first step would you like Emmanuel Macron to take?

SW: I couldn’t say by what means exactly, but something that allows better recognition of the teaching profession. There is, of course, the salary increase, but not only. I think that we must considerably lighten the workload of teachers: we ask them to do more and more with few means. Then, and this is a slightly more delicate position, I think that we should distinguish in one way or another the teachers who are particularly invested in their establishment.

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When we are told that the profession is experiencing a real shortage of vocations, I am not surprised: by comparing the level of studies necessary with the working conditions and the average salary, we quickly see that there is a problem… We must make the profession attractive. Here, the teachers talk to me about it regularly, but apart from showing them my gratitude and organizing some convivial moments, I don’t have the power to change things.

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