Teacher slams French education in suicide note

Colleagues and politicians have reacted with shock and sadness after a dedicated school teacher in Marseille killed himself on the eve of the new school year. Pierre Jacque left a suicide note containing fierce criticisms of France’s education system.

Teacher slams French education in suicide note
An empty space. Colleagues have been shocked by the death of a dedicated teacher in Marseille, whose suicide note contained criticisms of France's education system. File photo: Cali4beach/Flickr

The 55-year-old teacher of electronics at the Lycée Artaud in the southern city killed himself at his home on Sunday, just two days before the beginning of the new school year in France.

The suicide was “completely linked to the exercise of his profession,” according to a joint statement by Jacque’s colleagues, who called him “the father of a family, with great professional integrity and limitless erudition.”

In his suicide letter, Jacque condemned France’s education system in particular the “panic” and “roughness” of reforms by previous education minister Luc Chatel, as well as the policy of the current government, which he described as “an infamy.”

The former electronic engineer begins: “I am sharing with you my decision not to take part in the new school year in 2013.”

“Basically, I cannot accept in good conscience what the [teaching] profession, at least in my speciality, has become,” said Jacque.

“I could have set myself on fire in the middle of the schoolyard, the day the pupils came back to school,” Jacque wrote, referring to a shocking incident in 2011 when a maths teacher in the southern city of Beziers died after self-immolating in front of her students.

“That would have had a certain style, but I don’t have the virtue for that,” Jacque added.

“When you read his, I will already be dead,” he concluded.

Alain Barlatier, a teaching colleague of Jacque’s and a representative from the SNES-FSU union in Marseille, told AFP the 55-year-old had not been depressed, but was “extremely critical, like a lot of his colleagues.”

“The teaching profession is evolving into simply carrying out instructions, but [what Jacque started in] was a career where he could design and conceive things, and was in charge of his own work,” said Barlatier.

A team of psychologists has been put in place at the Lycée Artaud, and Barlatier and his colleagues have arranged for a memorial on Thursday, during which classes will be cancelled at the school.

Emphasising the “great consternation and emotion” of the teachers, Barlatier said on Monday: “We don’t want to just go back to work as if nothing happened.”

Daniel Robin, from the SNES-FSU union told The Local on Tuesday that the government must learn something from this "tragedy".

"For many years teachers in certain disciplines like technology have complained about the fact are they are asked to teach certain topics and subjects for which they have not been trained," Robin said.

"This puts teachers under enormous pressure and in an intolerable professional situation. How they can be expected to teach something they know nothing about?

"We want the government to take note of this tragedy and realize the difficulty some teachers are in. It needs to provide them with help on a personal level."

For his part, French Education Minister Vincent Peillon expressed to AFP his “deep sadness” at the death of Jacque, and vowed to “give back” to French teachers “the consideration they deserve.”

CLICK HERE to read Pierre Jacque’s letter in full (in French).

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Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules

Around three-quarters of French teachers plan to go on strike onThursday to protest the government's shifting rules on Covid testing for students, forcing the closure of half the country's primary schools, a union said Tuesday.

Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules
Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

The strike led by the Snuipp-FSU union, the largest among primary school teachers, comes after the latest of several changes on testing and isolation requirements for potential Covid cases announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex late Monday.

After seeing long lines of parents outside pharmacies and labs in recent days to test children in classes where a case was detected, Castex said home tests could now be used to determine if a student could return to school.

But teachers say class disruptions have become unmanageable with the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

“Students cannot learn properly because attendance varies wildly, and a hybrid of in-house and distance learning is impossible to put in place,” the Snuipp-FSU said, adding that absent teachers are not being replaced.

It is also demanding the government provide facemasks for staff, including the more protective FFP2 masks, and CO2 monitors to check if classrooms are sufficiently ventilated.

“Not only does the current protocol not protect students, staff or their families, it has completely disorganised schools,” the union said, claiming that classes have effectively been turned into “daycare centres.”

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has said the government is doing everything possible to avoid outright school closures that could cause havoc for parents and jeopardise learning for thousands, especially those in low-income families.

“I know there is a lot of fatigue, of anxiety… but you don’t go on strike against a virus,” Blanquer told BFM television on Tuesday.

As of Monday some 10,000 classes had been shut nationwide because of Covid cases, representing around two percent of all primary school classes, Blanquer said.