Worlds apart but with a common chosen profession, student teachers from the United States, Brazil, France and Russia talk about their training, the challenges they face and what the future holds
Catherine Hutzler decided the direction of her career early on. "I had two long-standing passions - to work with children and in the theatre," she says.
After university, she spent six years in a theatrical troupe. Now 28, Catherine is training to be a primary school teacher at the Institut Universitaire de Formation des Matres - the university institute of teacher training - in Paris.
France radically overhauled its teacher training system eight years ago. Previously, primary teachers (instituteurs) and secondary teachers (professeurs) were trained in separate establishments and had different status, and instituteurs did not need a degree. Since 1991, emphasis has been on raising teaching standards and equality of status for all teachers; whether destined for a nursery school or lycee, trainees must have at least the equivalent of a BA, and everyone is trained at an IUFM. Primary teachers are now called professeurs d'ecoles.
Catherine is fairly representative of the new intake. Women outnumber men, representing nearly seven out of 10 of IUFM students, and graduates in arts and human sciences proliferate. They are older when they start training and better qualified than their predecessors.
The programmes mix theory and practical work. While the training of primary and secondary teachers differs to suit their jobs, with secondary trainees specialising in one subject, all the students follow core subjects such as the history of the education system and child psychology. Catherine Lacronique, who is in charge of primary training at the Paris IUFM, says courses dealing with such issues as violence or cults are now in demand.
In 1997-98, 83,000 student teachers were attending the 29 IUFM, with others following the first year by distance learning while at university. At the end of their first year, students take a competitive exam. More than half of last year's 58,000 candidates sat for the Certificat d'Aptitude au Professorat de l'Enseignement Secondaire, the general secondary teachers' certificate. The primary trainees numbered about 15,000.
A stiffer exam option is the Agregation, which leads to higher level, better paid posts. Those who pass are considered public officials and are paid during their second year. The course involves intensive training with bouts of teaching experience which count towards final assessment, along with coursework and a memoire, a report presenting the student's personal teaching experiences, problems and solutions.
Since the reforms, teaching has risen in public esteem, says Mme Lacronique. Though job satisfaction might be higher than pay, as a career in public service it offers security, defined hours, generous holidays and respect for seniority.
Catherine hopes to teach 10 to 11-year-olds, but as a new arrival she might be disappointed. On the first day of the school year the teachers' council decides who will take which class, and those with longest service choose first.