This month’s Francophilia newsletter was dedicated to French teachers and, in it, I asked members to share stories about their French teachers on their Francophilia blogs. So I decided to start things off with my own French-teacher stories, and to publish them on Francophilia and here…
I started taking French in California in the 7th grade (age 12). My first teacher was Mrs. Yoshonis, an American with very big hair who wore a dress every single day. I distinctly remember sitting in her classroom and pointing to the flag saying “Voilà le drapeau,” and being incredibly excited when the French club went to Chez Michel for dinner; it was terribly exotic to go to a French restaurant… Mme Yoshonis was lovely.
Then we moved to Guam, and my teacher for the next two years (8th and 9th grades) was Mme Cheeley. She was a Frenchwoman; elegant and beautiful. She looked a lot like Ségolène Royal, in fact, though with a tan. I was fascinated by her. She was the first real French person I’d ever met…
In 10th grade (at 15) I had to skip French! (Parents divorced, all hell broke loose, they put me in a lousy high school that didn’t have 4th-year French.) When I was in 11th grade, we moved to Hawaii, and I found myself in another school that didn’t go past 3rd-year French. But Mme Woodrum was more than happy to make me the 4th-year (and 5th-year) class. I sat in with the 3rd-year kids, but she designed an advanced program just for me and let me help with the class.
This was 30 years ago! And I am still exchanging an annual catch-up letter with Mme Woodrum at Christmas… (She was very happy to learn I’d moved to Paris and started Francophilia.)
Madame Woodrum is special. She’s one of those teachers who leave a lasting impression on your life. I hope you have had at least one of those.
Madame also taught Spanish and Hawaiian. At lunchtime, she taught hula dancing to the Hula Club. My friends and I hung out in her classroom at lunch, listened to the Hawaiian music and watched the show. I asked her if she could do the can can and she said yes. She told us about her university studies at Middlebury, and how all the French students were in the same dorm and weren’t allowed to speak anything but French. She filled our heads with visions of Paris and châteaux and Frenchmen who pinch bottoms in elevators if you don’t watch out.
Because my parents had just gotten divorced, I went from being a straight-A student to having C’s and D’s and worse. I skipped school and went to the beach. A lot. But I never skipped French. And I kept my A in French. My passion and my passionate teacher were lifelines when I was lost at sea. Gradually I found my way back, but who knows what might have happened if it hadn’t been for Madame.
I am forever in her debt.