Anne Fischer traces her motivation to become a teacher back to the struggles experienced by her Italian Grandfather when he migrated to France. So when she qualified, Fischer took a teaching position in one of Paris’ toughest, most culturally diverse neighbourhoods. She was faced with the challenge of teaching a very mixed group of students, many of whom were first or second generation migrants to France, and came from poor socio-economic backgrounds. She saw immediately that the students were organising themselves according to their race and religion, and that there was a great deal of tension in the classroom.
Fischer was not satisfied with the school’s explanation of why this was happening. She challenged the prevailing assumption that it stemmed from the students’ limited French language and cultural knowledge. Instead, she built her engagement with the students on recognition of who each individual student was, and the value of their personal story. The change in the classroom was so striking that the other teachers in the school quickly adopted the same methods.
After a number of years working this way, Fischer decided she had more to learn. She went back to university to study multilingual teaching methods. She also took a period as a substitute teacher, working in a range of different schools, including teaching a class of deaf students. Suddenly she experienced exclusion herself, as she could not speak sign language. It gave her a new perspective on how her students with French as a second language experienced school and learning.
She developed a new way of working with migrant children that tailors their learning to their own particular needs. She now teaches elementary school in a UPE2A (unité pédagogique pour élèves allophones arrivants [teaching unit for incoming students who have French as a second language]). When a new child arrives at her school, Fischer works with them to find out how much schooling they already have, and to learn about their own culture and language. She uses this as the basis on which to develop a package of support unique to that child, whether they are 3 or 11 years old.
This year, Fischer’s students participated in the national competition “Nous Autres” [We Others] and were amongst the 30 winning classes in France. They were awarded their prize by former French national football player, Lilian Thuram, at a ceremony in Paris.
As the school’s first UPE2A teacher, she has worked hard to successfully gain recognition for the value of her methods. She has embedded her way of working across the school, for example acting as a bridge between the teachers in the UPE2A and the regular classroom teachers. At the invitation of the Head, she contributed to the school’s mission statement, and so integrated the approach into the heart of the school. Most importantly to Fischer, she has gained the confidence of the students and their parents, which is enabling them to engage more fully in the life of the school.