French in Appalachia

There are so many stories I’ll never be able to tell my first year with my own classroom. You know the drive, and you’ve gotten a couple of clever quips from the children here and there, but that’s probably all I’ve said about that year. Truth be told, it was a very difficult year for me, but it’s important to me to remember that it wasn’t just something I white-knuckled till June.

I had a varied list of assignments. The ages and abilities of the children that came through my doors spanned almost the entire school. Being as rural as it was, ours was a K-7 school. I was a 6th grade homeroom teacher, but we tried to “departmentalize” our upper grade classes to prepare them for high school. I taught 6th grade remediation English, and a 6th grade History class. (or two? It’s really getting blurry.) I taught 2nd grade Reading extension to a small, pull-out group. I also taught French to the gifted group (grades 5-7.) It wasn’t an ongoing program, the French class, it was something conceived during my interview when the principal saw on my resume that I was fluent in French. The curriculum was entirely up to me.

I immediately logged into and ordered everything I thought my be helpful; I think it came to 10 items. At the time Amazon was the only way I could get books in the middle of nowhere and their foreign-language selection was even smaller than it is now. I emailed family and friends begging for help. My mother found some books discarded from the library of the French Immersion school up in Whitehorse, and my friend Michelle hit up the rummage sales in Montreal.

So then I had books, but what to do? These children were classified as “gifted” in our school not necessarily because they were, but because they outperformed their peers. My Tuesdays were split between teaching French to the children who could actually read and write in English, and then teaching English to those with little command (or regard) for the language. I worked through the bilingual books, working on a few key phrases and routinely singing repetitive songs. All in all, I think it was just an enrichment experience. They probably don’t remember a single word, but they probably won’t forget the teacher that didn’t belong there.

Also, of my handful of children (five? seven?) one of them was instructed by her father to stop coming in the spring, “because those French traitors are not supporting us in the war.”  What can I say?  It was 2003 and tensions were high.

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