Reflections on a Semester of Teaching French

This past school year brought a different family season for us as we temporarily left homeschooling and I began teaching French full-time at a local high school because of their last-minute need. This meant a whirlwind of change for my family, but we agreed to try out this season of work and private schooling. For the first time, our older two children are attending school three days per week (in English, not French, unfortunately) but we expect to return to homeschooling after our stay in France next fall. (I'll share more about those travel plans in a future post. You can read about our last stay in France here and our French schooling here.)

  With a few students outside the Alliance Française de Seattle

With a few students outside the Alliance Française de Seattle

Was the school's French program saved?

No. I wish! I had a fantastic time teaching and I think my students really benefitted from this past semester of French.  But even after I agreed to teach all four levels of French, the district administration decided to eliminate the first-year French classes as a way to cut the entire French program next year.

(They also decided to double-block the remaining French classes so that my students would receive a year’s worth of French credit in the half-year that I was teaching. This allowed the school to avoid having to hire someone to fill my position once I went on maternity leave in February, while the students still received adequate class credit in one semester to meet the full-year language requirements.)

I wish I had had some say in whether the school's French program would continue--I know my students are sorely disappointed that there will not be French classes next year. Many staff members and parents have also expressed their disappointment to me that French will no longer be offered. I sincerely hope that the school will bring back French classes in a few years, if not sooner. (They currently offer only Spanish, with hopes to hire someone for a few ASL classes next year.)

 My classroom  / Ma salle de classe

My classroom / Ma salle de classe

Frankly, there's a widespread lack of knowledge about the prevalence (and growth) of French as a worldwide language--French is the sole language besides English officially spoken on every continent, and is the second most studied language worldwide after English. In the past four years, the prevalence of French has grown at a rate of 7% here in the U.S. (Here's one of my sources.) French/English bilingual schools are being added rapidly in areas like New York City and Utah. Nonetheless, I've met too many administrators who view French as an outdated course of study. They are sorely mistaken.

What did I love about this semester of teaching?

  Hammering Man outside the Seattle Art Museum (the 4th floor of the museum is dedicated to European art)

Hammering Man outside the Seattle Art Museum (the 4th floor of the museum is dedicated to European art)

Due to the block scheduling of this year's French classes, a fair amount of students could not fit the block course into their schedule, so I had very reasonably sized classes--between 17 and 23 students per class instead of my school's typical 36-to-45 students for a language class. Getting to know my students was a joy, and I was able to really emphasize speaking and conversational skills due to the smaller class sizes. Many of my students commented that we were able to learn quite a lot of French language and culture in one semester! 

Other highlights: I brought back maple sugar candies and shared photos from a quick trip to Quebec. Similarly, my students really enjoyed researching and presenting about a French-related personal interest project of their choice.

I also loved our French Club activities. We visited a crêperie in Portland, spent a weekend in Seattle seeing European art and participating in an atelier on Versailles, had two fêtes de fromage (cheese sampling parties), and enjoyed delicious galettes for Three Kings Day.

  Une crêpe (sans gluten) & Orangina from  Chez Machin  in Portland with the French Club

Une crêpe (sans gluten) & Orangina from Chez Machin in Portland with the French Club

What was the strangest adjustment?


Technology! I've stayed up-to-date as much as possible by keeping my teaching license active and attending conferences like ACTFL, but still, technology changes required the quickest learning curve. Yes, overhead projectors have long been replaced with document cameras, but most teachers rarely even use doc cams and instead prefer projecting their computer screen in front of the class. I re-learned how to use a SMART Board and taught myself Google Slides, which look far better than PowerPoint (as my students were quick to point out!). If I had had more time to prepare and a full year of teaching ahead, I would have set up Google Classroom, which so many teachers now use to post their assignments and to test students.

Cell phones are undeniably present in the everyday classroom, even when teachers forbid them. One of the strangest observations I noticed in coming back to teaching was that students arriving to afternoon classes automatically plug their phones into various outlets all around the classroom (including beneath the front whiteboards) due to their waning phone batteries. It was astonishing to me that they found this behavior completely normal and that phone use was so prevalent during school that students routinely used up their batteries by lunchtime.


As a side note about phones, my rule was that phone use was only permitted at times when I encourage their use for translation tools. I highly discourage Google Translate--it leads to error-ridden writing. (If you want more evidence to see why Google Translate is a poor choice for essay writing, check out a few of the Google Translate Sings videos). Instead, I encouraged students to use context-rich translation tools like Linguee.com (and their fantastic free app). My students who used Linguee showed markedly better written expression than those who lazily relied on Google Translate.

I hope French is thriving in your area! Do your local schools offer French? I plan to share my favorite lessons and ideas for teaching and learning French in future posts, so feel free to sign up for email updates if you'd like to receive those posts in the future.