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Working @ the CAPES!

Intro & Working Methods For Website
Méthodes CAPES 2023-24: General Working Methods.

Intro : what is methodology all about ?
The Capes is a funny old thing, and to pass it is all a matter of  speed and reaction time; how to pass your driving test in 10 days and that in a Maserati not in a Peugeot 208. Because you don’t have the luxury of time to waste or even to spend : 6 months or even less to get your act together, I have tried to dig out some useful tips and ideas from the official recommendations, from my own experience, and those of my friends and colleagues (some of them are still living) to help you work more effectively from the start. The second time I passed the Capes, and the Agrégation, (yes I had to have 2 goes at it, as I got disqualified 1st time) I understood better how to work; I have to admit I worked less during the second year but more effectively. If the old adage “love is always sweeter the second time around” is true, (I have proof of this!) then this class will endeavour to save you the pain of heartbreak and get it right first time!! Having said this, if you have been here before, don’t worry, just think of those people who never even try….We’re going to take a look at general work methods, translation; how to attack the literature subjects, and civilisation questions in collusion with my partners-in-crime.

Reading the books and the critics:
You will have heard tell that there is no longer a set programme as in years gone by. Well, it’s true. Some of you will lament the books you haven’t read throughout your university courses.   Well, this will become your primary occupation for the next six months. If you have done so, then, well done. Now read them again, and again, and……. Establish a reading list for yourselves according to your tastes and ideas. Some literary classics are unmissable and incontrovertible: the CAPES jury will not forgive you if you have not read Jane Eyre or Frankenstein. I realised that when I started working on my CAPES literary corpus, I had never read Hamlet, though I knew the story like everyone else does….more or less. So I bought a dog-eared copy and started reading it. Get rid of the idea that you don’t like writing in books, you can always buy yourself a fresh copy, that is if you can bear to open it up again after March 2021…Read with a pencil and note down everything that you think may be of interest, themes, quotations, oddities,…..

As far as critics are concerned, either read 20 or none at all. That is to say, don’t get so drawn into the view of one critic that you begin to adopt his ideas, because the different views of the different critics are usually well known to the members of the Capes jury, and you might find to your horror that the people who wrote some of the contemporary criticism of a said author are actually on the jury which marks your papers ! So read lots, compare their ideas, and there are good and bad ones, but above all, build up your own ideas and opinions on the works. This you can only do when you have read them several times, opening a page at random, you can tell exactly where you are at a given point in the narrative.
Take notes every time you read the book, and you will find that there are 30 or so possible themes in the work. Start to build up a set of “fiches” on cards for example with quotations and you will begin to build your possible range of essay questions :

love/hate/passion/comic/tragic/wit/wisdom/dependency/irony/women/men/betrayal/power & greed/betrayal/….the list is literally endless, but you will begin to see that some themes come very quickly to a dead end, and others just open out to more explanation. These are the ones to keep and expand upon with every reading, and they will form a thematic approach to your essays and commentaries.

Something else that I would advise you to read are the “rapports du jury de Capes…” but only after a double gin and martini… They have the ambiguous advantage of making you wise after the event, but you can glean some ideas of what they are looking for. They will bemoan the fact that students seemingly cannot structure their essays or commentaries, and make the most ridiculous mistakes in translation in the heat of the action, but if you can overlook the tone and read between the lines, there are some practical pieces of information. They used to be a diatribe at the lack of student knowledge and lament the intellectual level of wannabe teachers, but in later years they have become far more conciliatory and helpful. They are in the Capes section of the library, or online on the SAES website. Read, learn, inwardly digest, and then back to the G&T.

Working and reading.
Many people have the impression that when they read and take notes, then they are working; not so, I’m afraid. When you fling your Lear text at your boyfriend/girlfriend/significan and curse Shakespeare to hell at 3am having just finished your final essay, spattered with blood, sweat and tears, then you can say you have been working. When you ask yourself why on earth you ever embarked on such a mad quest and surely you could have become a regional champion in badminton if you had put all the effort into that instead of the Capes, then you know it is getting to you. When you can’t go to sleep without your dose of governesses, immersed in the merits of jail bait and dream of treachery and betrayal (not so close to home, please!) then you are on the right track. I can tell you, you will wake up in a cold sweat long after the ordeal is over, wondering if you really did give that essay in…and then suddenly realise that you don’t have to anymore. It’s like taking morphine, the withdrawal symptoms, the cold turkey, is worse than the actual dose…and I know what I’m talking about!!

So make yourself a timetable divided into working sessions and reading sessions. I found I could work more easily in the morning on translations, in the afternoon on the literature or civilisation questions and in the evening I was so damn tired that all I could do was read. People will tell you that you will never watch tv again, no more dinner parties, no more walks in the Vosges and your children will forget you even exist. That’s not quite true, but you will have to find yourself periods of time when you can work uninterrupted; all this depends on your potential distractions. I worked as a teacher at the FLSH during those 2 years and envied those who were ‘real students’ and had all that time to themselves; then I looked at those who had kids and counted my blessings! I had to learn how to prioritise my time, and it more or less worked out. Take a sheet of timetable paper and book yourself hours when you do this and that and put it on the wall for all to see. Get out of the house if you are tempted to scrub the floor instead of reading Brontë…go to the library or to a friend’s house who works during the day, no phone, no distractions, no kids….le rêve quoi!

Alone or in a twosome/threesome?
This all sounds like a hard slog, but there are ways of making it a little easier. Working with a friend, or in a threesome is much more fun and productive too. Comparing translations after having worked on your own particular one (and not the other way around) can help you to see where you can improve yours, or how much better you are than the other two….!! I worked with a colleague during the 2 years and we ended up ex aequo at the end! Figuring out the possible ways of attacking an essay/text commentary (composition in French), going away and working on it, then reading it to the other when you have finished it give you an added impetus to get down to it. Somehow, you can hide from a teacher, but hiding from friends or colleagues is a bit more difficult. But don’t commiserate with each other (too much), be ruthless! Exploit their intelligence!!

Perhaps this is the moment to hear a word from the people who have been this way before… so that they can tell you what worked for them and what did not. Things they would do that they didn’t do last time, things that they would certainly not do again….

Last word :

if all this seems too much to take on, just take a deep breath ; you are at the beginning. Everybody has a right to be a beginner. Don’t listen to those horror stories from people who say “My cousin sat the Capes 6 times…” well so what? You are going to get it in fewer than 6. Treat yourself when you finish a translation or an essay question, chocolate, amère bière, whatever your pêché mignon happens to be. And remember, if people like me can get it, then so can you. There is no earthly reason why not. As one of my esteemed colleagues says: don’t panic: work!!

Unofficial comments : I know we are going through a period of change (yet again) in the teaching profession : believe you me, we are in the front line! Despite all the uncertainties going on at present, don’t lose sight of what you want to do. Teaching is a wonderful and terrible job all at once: hard on the nerves and the physique, leading to all kinds of doors, opportunities and dead ends, but you are dealing with living material, ready to go out and take on the world. And it gives you time and opportunity to enjoy yourself outside work; bring up a family, go gold-panning in Alaska, get crazy about dogs, indulge in humanitarian activities, fall in love with Tuscany and all things Italian….It keeps you young and if you can stand the pressure, then it’s the best job in the world. Don’t knock it. It’s probably one you will enjoy best, and there are many areas in which you can teach, not just the Ed.Nat. There is specialist teaching, private sectors, adult teaching, business training…but getting the CAPES means you have choice over where you work (to a degree) and with whom you work. We all aspire to learn, and so teaching is a must in all shapes and forms. And it will impress your bank manager when you want to buy your very own flat/house/barge/BMW….