Started this discussion. Last reply by Gerry Apr 15.
Started Oct 25, 2012
Here is my own little story
I have been working with teachers since the 1990s and together we have shared many innovative ideas. These ideas aimed at transforming traditional or obsolete tools or methods into new ones. This has become a Leitmotiv for me which I will pursue in the years to come. NewYorkinFrench is a logical continuation of this reflexion. I owe it to the many educators who helped me be who I am. This platform is for them. And for the many inspiring French-speaking parents whom I have met in the last few years. Here is how my own personal story unfolds.
A native of Valenciennes, France, I was not the brightest kid on the block but always managed to get by thanks to my parents' love and patience. In the 6th grade I met a very inspiring English teacher who took me to England on a class trip. This teacher, and this trip to England, have had, and continue to have, an impact on my life. I kept on learning English and graduated from the University of Lille with a Maîtrise d'Anglais a 4-year program in Literature, History & Society of the US and the UK in 1995.
While I have had a strong interest in learning and teaching ever since I started college I came to fully understand the importance of innovative thinking when I wrote my thesis on Stanley Kubrick and his "Odysseys" for this Maîtrise. In my thesis I was trying to demonstrate that Kubrick constructed his movies with an Odyssean logic, both in the way he adopted the Odyssey archetype and in his questioning the possibilities of space, time and movement. My thesis, which was my first attempt at scholarly research, helped me understand the need to adopt a multidisciplinary approach - as Kubrick himself did in each of his movies - in order to take a new perspective on things and think innovatively. For this research I studied cinematography, literature, philosophy, visual arts, music and even some geometry. I enjoyed every minute of my 12 months spent on this project. It inspired me to the extent that instead of taking the teacher’s exam and becoming certified to teach English in the French school system, as most of my classmates did, I decided to begin my own Odyssey by leaving France and traveling the world of English after graduating. The full text of my thesis, which I wrote in English, is available here: TheOdysseysofStanleyKubrick
I had my first teaching experience in Lille, France, where I was a part-time substitute teacher of English between 1990 and 1995 while completing my degree in English and Linguistics. In college I took a two-year teaching course to prepare for certification and spent several weeks as an intern watching certified English teachers teach. I moved to Ireland to take on my first full-time teaching position as a French teaching assistant at Trinity College in Dublin.
At Trinity I taught French civilization, grammar, writing techniques to students of four different levels registered in the B.A. in French studies and the B.A. in International Studies. My work there included conversation classes on various subjects as I taught students of literature, European studies and economics and used contemporary sources to structure my debates. I focused my teaching on pronunciation and reading pace, vocabulary and comprehension, grammar and the techniques of French dissertation, treating topics as varied as Francophonie, politics, society, and culture. I took part in the organization of several activities in the Department of French such as a Ciné-club, where I presented French contemporary and classic movies to students of all departments, a Salon d'écriture, thus inviting students to take part in creative writing and literary discussions, and I even wrote and directed a French show called "The Greatest Show on Earth... French Style" featuring student plays, musicals and parodies. I went on to work for the now National College of Ireland (formerly known as NCIR)
At NCI I was recruited as Teaching Assistant but I quickly took on French Lecturer and Course Designer responsibilities. My teaching at undergraduate level to students registered in the B.A. in European Business and Languages encompassed the areas of Business French (advanced courses), French Society and Business, Grammar and Writing Skills, Phonetics and Phonology. I also taught at graduate level to students in the M.A. in Accountancy and Human Resources Management in the areas of Grammar, Writing Skills, and France on-line. I was deeply involved in redesigning a four-year degree course for French for the B.A. in European Business and Languages and in internationalizing our students through various exchange programs. Through the European Erasmus – Socrates programs I initiated agreements with 22 French Universities involving the exchange of 230 students.
In 1997 I was initiated to web designing and to the possibilities offered by the internet to design several language teaching tools. I was fortunate to join a team of educators and programmers and was involved in the design of a hybrid intranet/internet learning environment for French and German, called « Access-ok » which was mixing course materials from our curriculum with an organized series of tools, on-line quizzes, dictionaries, radios, televisions, newspapers from across the world, etc... The possibilities were endless and we not only wanted to give our students access to web resources but also have them do it while developing their language skills. This project received an award from RTE (Ireland's National TV channel) as the most promising educational project for 1997, and was considered by the Irish Ministry for Education to be adapted for use in most Irish secondary schools. This opportunity lead to the creation of the Center for Research and Innovation through Learning and Teaching (C.R.I.L.T) which sooned received contracts from corporations seeking to transform their traditional training programs into multimedia-based environments. This was the beginning of e-learning in Ireland. Unfortunately I had to leave Dublin before I could witness the Centre’s results as I had to fulfill my military obligations with the French Government which, instead, sent me to Boston, Massachusetts to become a Linguistic Attaché .
During my time in Ireland I developed a great interest in the Irish cultural revival, and in the Gaelic language which is still mandatory in schools and for public offices. After reading some of Douglas Hyde’s stories and studying his role in founding the Gaelic League I decided to submit a research proposal to complete an Advanced Graduate Diploma in English - a Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies (DEA) - which is equivalent to a Master’s Degree in the US. My thesis subject was entitled: Anglophone Culture vs. Indigenous Culture, Example of Interculturality: Ireland (1870-1921). I received this degree with honors from the Université de Caen (France) after 14 months of research under the supervision of Professor Paul Brennan. In this degree work I tried to present the various aspects and mechanisms of an intercultural conflict between a dominant English culture and an “indigenous” subculture (in this case the Gael’s). After hundreds of years of colonial annihilation Gaelic had disappeared almost entirely from Ireland at the end of the 19th Century. However, the cultural activists of the time attempted to revive both the language and the traditions of the Gaels and were hoping that educational and political reforms would help Ireland regain its culture eventually. This actually happened after the war of independence in 1916. The text of my thesis is in French: InterculturaliteGaelique.pdf
At the Consulate in Boston I was in charge of coordinating the French Embassy’s Boston education office and supervising joint collaborations between the French government and its academic partners. I was given the chance to visit more than thirty Departments of French and Foreign Languages in New England and work with Faculty specialising in every subject related to French and Francophone studies. I was involved in promoting the French language and culture in schools and universities and organizing workshops for teachers of French. I worked closely with the American Association of Teachers of French and the various regional Foreign Language Associations, and all of these groups have been very vocal in their appreciation of my efforts to further the cause of foreign language teaching in New England. Through these groups I have been directly involved with teacher training, bringing new teaching methods and materials directly into the classroom, creating tools such as the the Consulate's website or 'Accents de la Francophonie' an audio presentation for both teachers and students (see below for more information). I gave numerous contributions, speeches, workshops to a varying audience of teachers and students.
A presentation of Francophonie through an audio examination of the wide-ranging pronunciations of French. Several Francophone "accents" have been collected on tape and analyzed with a view to incorporating them in classroom-related exercises at secondary or undergraduate levels.
« Accents à la carte » was a continuation of « Accents de la Francophonie » which I designed while at the Consulate and which was originally played on tapes and distributed to 1000 teachers. My goal was to design a multimedia presentation of the French-speaking world which users could download from the web. The Francophone world was illustrated by a superimposition of maps which play out various recordings of French accents once you click on them. Users could travel through various regions of France, Quebec and North Africa and hear people speak French. Under its many forms this project has always been fairly successful and it even inspired the Museum of Science Boston which was preparing a special exhibit called « Messages » at the time. In 1999 I was hired by the Museum as a consultant and recorded French speakers from all over the world asking them to repeat either a specific sentence – for comparison with the other speakers – or speak freely. The recordings were used in the exhibit hall and on the Museum’s website.
In 1999 I worked as a consultant for a start-up, Dot-com Company on an American "alternative" text book for French which focuses on humorous, colloquial French syntax and phonology, coupled with a guide book and an illustrated story-line.
Once my military obligations fulfilled I continued designing websites free-lance and gave more workshops for language teachers until I was recruited by Ecole Bilingue, the French-American School of Boston where I inadvertently became Middle and Upper School Director.
At Ecole Bilingue I was in charge of managing and recruiting an international team of twenty teachers and ten administrative employees. I supervised all Middle and Upper School bilingual programs and watched over aproximately 100 students. I tried to implement the school bicultural mission through an intense restructuration phase which took a lot of my time and energy. I managed to design and implement new programs though and teach computer science to grade 11 and 12. Most of my teaching was focused on using the internet in an inovative way and explore the language abilities of my bilingual, bicultural students. We worked on projects such as « CB-J »: the school’s Cyber-Bilingual Journal or « Heritage », a history web-project on the French and Franco-American community in New England presented on our bilingual Web Museum… My time in Boston had come to an end though when I received an offer from the French Embassy to work as the Education Attaché in New York in 2001.
While touring some of the universities in Maine I realized that this state was probably the most Francophone in the country because of the waves of immigrants coming from the North at the end of the 19th Century. As I became more interested in the topic of the pronunciation of French in this area I wrote a research proposal on the Varieties and Structure of French Pronunciation in North America: the Phonological Particularisms of the State of Maine, which I submitted to the Centre de Linguistique of the Université de Toulouse (France). Based upon this research proposal I was accepted in the Doctoral Program in Sociolinguistics under the supervision of Professor Jacques Durand. My research was going to mostly focus on the socio-phonological characteristics of northern Maine and I started interviewing and recording the local citizens. French was their mother tongue but they spoke it with an accent which made it hard to understand, even for someone with a good ear like myself. In interviewing these citizens I discovered that their stories were also intriguing because most had suffered some form of childhood trauma while in Catholic schools. Their instructors - who often were priests - tried to teach them “correct” French through harsh discipline and even chastisement. While this discovery gave my research an interesting turn I, sadly, had to abandon my entire doctoral project because of lack of funding.
In New York I have been in charge of all Educational and Linguistic affairs for the French Embassy in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut area. I have coordinated all ten Linguistic Attachés posted in consulates across the country and administred the Embassy’s education budget. I have worked closely with teacher associations and Departments of Education in all states which I am responsible for. I have been in charge of “Internef”, the French Embassy’s on-line training program for the study and teaching of French and gave more than twenty workshops on teaching French through the web, some in very prestigious venues such as Princeton University, City University of New York, French Institute Alliance Française or the United Nations.
My work has focused on fostering educational cooperation between France and the United States, campaigning for the study of the French language in the United States, and providing training and resources to secondary school teachers. I also give lectures on the French educational system, the place of the French language worldwide, and the cultural policy of France abroad. Through many collaborative endeavors my work has resulted in the signing of two Memorandum of Understanding between France and the State of New Jersey in 2001, the State of Connecticut in 2002. These resulted in the opening of the Yale Center for the Teaching of French (www.yale.edu/macmillan/pier/rctf), and the opening of the Resource Center for the Teaching of French at Rutgers University in 2001: (frenchrc.rutgers.edu). Among my main achievements I launched several initiatives: the Paris - New York exchange program on alternative Education with former Board of Education Office of Alternative, Adult and Continuing Education in 2002; the National French Week school contests which now receive 2,500 entries from the tri-state each year since 2001; the electronic newsletter News on Language and Culture from the French Embassy which has now 18,000 readers; the Teach Europe training program which has offered workshops on a wide variety of subjects to 700 teachers since 2003 (www.teacheurope.org); the first festival Francophonie New York in 2005 to foster greater awareness of New York’s French-speaking communities; and the French Heritage Language Program in 2005 which brings French classes to Francophone children in public schools who recently immigrated to the US (www.facecouncil.org/fhlp). Lately I have been involved with the opening of French-English Dual-Language programs in New York City's public schools with the help of very motivated parents. My work was featured in an Associated Press article written by Verena Dobnik and reproduced in 150 newspapers and news websites worldwide.
I taught French to diplomats and the UN staff at the United Nations’ Headquarters, mostly in the evening. I have found this to be intellectually stimulating. I taught all levels of French in the program through the communicative and task-based approach. At the UN I also collaborated on a resource web page, which is now used in New York, Geneva, and in other, more remote UN offices. Along with designing interactive activities I used a digital camera to interview dozens of French-speakers from all over the world. I made these videos accessible to any students and teachers who wished to use them to get a sense of French variations available in pronunciation.
As I was seeking grants and scholarships for the French Heritage Language Program, I was impressed by the rapidity with which we convinced potential donors in New York, as well as foreign governments or international organizations, of the importance of this program and the positive impact that it could have on immigrant children who might now have the opportunity to return to their homelands as leaders for the future. I realized that an uncommon form of giving applied in the case of this project (and perhaps with any project dealing with immigrant children in US public schools). There was a form of giving, at the local and at the international levels, with individuals caring for social change and equity within the community as well as from organizations that are dedicated to serving other countries or increasing human development through supporting the children of immigrants. This led me to conduct preliminary research with the Sorbonne in the Doctoral Program in American Studies. My initial research indicated that philanthropic efforts are definitely playing a catalytic role in contemporary school reform, yet the results of educational philanthropy have often been disappointing. Neither the reasons for nor the consequences of this are well understood. Overall, not much has been written on K-12 school philanthropy and many questions remain unanswered as a result. For instance, is philanthropy fostering reform and improvement in urban school systems? What is its impact on school governance, leadership, policies, teacher training, infrastructure, talent and ideas? What is the scope and potential impact of philanthropy, inside and outside of schools, on the local community - or even abroad - when dealing with immigrant children? Is this philanthropy successful in improving these children's lives; particularly those who are first or second generation immigrants? More importantly, is it creating social change? Luckily, I was accepted in New York University's doctoral program in international education in 2007. I am now finished with course work and will soon defend my research project: a qualitative analysis of innovative programs undertaken by several major U.S. foundations to transform African universities.
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