Franco-German exchange: a twinning legacy to share

Published on 09/06/2023 | La rédaction

France, Germany

On the eve of her retirement, Christiane Behnke is watching the little Franco-German seed she has sown grow among her pupils, and she is impressed by the commitment of some students that goes beyond the classroom. Christiane, a German who has lived in France for 40 years, has been teaching German since 1989. Every year, she organizes a Franco-German exchange for her students. And this year, the exchange will continue during the vacations for some of the students, who will in turn organize a trip to the partner town in Germany. The next generation of Franco-German involvement is assured with this generation.

A look back at a career as a German teacher

Christiane has been teaching in Saint-Péray, Ardèche, for 10 years, with additional teaching duties in Tournon. She's retiring in a few weeks. Her career has been an epic, just like that of her pupils, as she recounts to Café pédagogique. Having passed her first Staatsexamen, the final exam for future teachers in Germany, Christiane returned to school in her3rd year in Grenoble, France. Holder of the CAPES in German, she was a TZR for 8 years in the Allier region, teaching grades 6 to BTS, before being transferred to the Ardèche, near Valence. At the start of her career, Christiane taught LV1 for 4 hours a week, and LV2 for 3 hours a week from4e onwards. Due to low pupil numbers and a refusal to open a bilangue to " reinforce LV2," Christiane predicted to her boss "that he was going to kill German. Unfortunately, I was right, and from 2005 onwards, there was no more German at the collège. Since then, Christiane has worked in two schools. This is a fairly typical trajectory for German teachers, who have been hard hit by the reduction in hours since Najat Vallaud Belkacem's reform. " Thanks to an Alsatian head teacher in Tournon, the 6e bilangue was reopened two years after the reform. "Christiane had a lot of fun teaching, but today she wouldn't recommend the job of German teacher, working in shared shifts, sometimes in three schools, sometimes with 6 or 7 levels and always with the anxiety of having too few pupils. However, on the eve of her retirement, Christiane prefers to remain optimistic and keep the positive aspects, the joy and enthusiasm of her pupils, which she will miss.

Franco-German exchanges at the heart of an increasingly difficult profession

Christiane loves exchanges. Wherever she has taught, she has continued an existing exchange, or created a new partnership. This year, the Franco-German exchange between the classes took a unique and historic turn. The German teacher raised awareness among her students. What touches me is that we are part of a history ", she says. The trip to the German pen pals is part of the Franco-German exchange project that the teacher has been running for several years.

A journey through history

This year, Christiane chose the origins of exchanges in general, and of the twinning between Saint Péray in Ardèche and Gross-Umstadt in Hesse in particular, as the theme for the exchange.In preparation for the trip, she is working on the 1963 Elysée Treaty between France and Germany. Following this diplomatic treaty, twinning committees developed between towns in both countries. Between Saint-Péray and its partner, there was no interruption in the exchange from its inception in 1967 to 1992, i.e. for 25 years. After a brief interruption, the exchange resumed. When the pupils were staying with their German counterpart, the group was welcomed during the school exchange by a representative of the twinning committee, whose mother was one of the founding members. He presented photos and projects, and recounted the history of the twinning. The Germans first visited France in 1967, by bicycle.

Pupils: a link in the twinning story

Three of my pupils liked the story so much that they persuaded their parents and two friends to cycle with them from Saint-Peray to Gross-Umstadt. On their own initiative, the students then contacted the local newspaper, the town hall, the twinning committee, the Lion's Club and the local MP. They set up an Instagram account and a fundraising campaign. In this way, they found funding, launched a collection and obtained the loan of bicycles and subsidies from the town hall. Christiane continues to describe their exploits: " Montbeliard, the first French town twinned with a German town in 1950, is going to welcome them. Gross-Umstadt is preparing a royal welcome for them.

At the end of the exchange, the students read texts they had written, recorded them and illustrated them with photos. One student, less at ease in German, made the slide show. Everyone found their place in this interdisciplinary, cooperative project. The final production was sent to the department, which provided a grant for the Franco-German meeting.

" It's not my project, it's the students' project ".

The students are reviving the spirit of Franco-German twinning, and are going to get involved in the youth twinning committee. There's a strong link between the school's exchange project and the town's twinning.

"Cycling to Gross-Umdtadt from Saint Péray has nothing to do with the original project. It's the result of a very strong feeling: these students understand that they are part of history, part of a chain of events that keep the exchange alive. They want to do their bit to keep the story going. They've understood everything.

Christiane sums up that in just two months " all together, they've lifted mountains to get to the goal."

" It's not my project, it's their project," says Christiane with modesty and sincerity. The teacher takes a back seat to the students, before bowing out, leaving her place. She had never imagined that the students would seize history to write a page of their own.

Christiane's Franco-German project has taken the pupils back into the past, into the history of the twinning, but also into the future. As bearers and inheritors of history, they become transmitters.

A German by birth, Christiane is keen to empower her pupils, and they see this in her lessons, which they are now putting into practice.


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