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Scottie Belfi teaches French at The Galloway School. She says she was inspired to take up the profession by her grandfather, a college president in Kentucky, and her own French teachers. She has been teaching for 22 years. “Teaching comes naturally and it makes me happy!” she said.
Q: What attracted you to teaching at first?  

A: Teaching has always been highly esteemed in my family: my grandfather was the President of Bowling Green Business University in Kentucky (which became Western Kentucky University) and he was a great inspiration to all of my aunts, uncles and siblings.  

As a high school student at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee, I was fortunate to have some wonderful French teachers, notably Libby Evans.  She organized my first trip to France during our Winterim program where I lived with a French family in Châteauroux and fell in love with the French language and culture.  From there it was La Rochelle, Angers, Limoges and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.  After working in Washington, DC for a United States Senator on the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee, I decided I needed to be in the business promoting language, global understanding and cultural exchange as a pathway to peace.

A dear friend of mine says “you’ve got to do what you do” – teaching comes naturally and it makes me happy!

Q: Has the appeal changed since you started?
A: Yes and no.  The joy and the challenge of connecting with each individual student is always fresh and new, but years of experience have deepened my love of teaching because I am always trying to improve and experiment with new approaches.  I have learned to make mistakes and try again.  I have loved honing my skills and passion in a wide variety of educational institutions, public and private.

Q: What keeps you going year after year?

A: At Galloway, I am surrounded by a phenomenal faculty across the academic disciplines; individuals who are passionate about what and how they teach.  So right now my colleagues are a tremendous source of inspiration.

Every year is unique.  The French language and culture are always evolving and changing, so there is no chance to become stagnant.  This year we have cultivated a new collaboration with the Lycée Saint-Elme in Arcachon, France and have been exchanging videos on topics such as the Baccalaureat, hobbies and holidays – talk about inspiring!  I am spending 10 days in France this summer with 9 Galloway students including a homestay in Arcachon – we are so excited to meet our friends face to face!   This year we have also welcomed Humphreys Fellows in Public Health from Emory University from Mali, Burundi and Cameroon into our French classes which has illuminated our perspective on the Francophone world.   New technologies are offering us opportunities to connect around the world so every day really does feel like a fresh start.

Ultimately, what keeps me going is my deeply-held belief that teaching French is about more than language itself but a holistic experience to help learners connect the dots between all of their classes and to grasp our commonalities as humans in a global world.  Being spontaneous to react and respond with the students when tragedy struck in Paris or Belgium or to do an impromptu project on the Marquis de LaFayette since we are all listening to the music from “Hamilton” encourages students to see that by leveraging the culture and language skills they have, they can really make an impact in the world.

Q: What do you think makes a great teacher?
A: I ask students this question and they talk about their favorite or greatest teachers as people who are passionate about their subject and really care about students.

At Galloway, we aspire to teach language, not “about” language, so I am constantly brainstorming ways to have students experience life outside of the classroom in French.

In the past two years, we have collaborated with the Théâtre du Rêve, a French-language professional theater company, on a workshop based on the Canadian graphic novel, “Jane, le renard et moi,” as well as with Lyonnaise Chef Adeline Borra (MaCuisinebyAdeline.com), on an immersive culinary workshop focused on French classics from Adeline’s childhood… Last fall, we had the incredible opportunity to welcome Ruth Hartz to our campus to share with my students her experiences as an “enfant caché,” a hidden child, during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II.  Hands-on, authentic, interactive activities are certainly part of the recipe of what makes a great teacher, plus a sense of humor, a lot of ambition, compassion and coffee.

Q: What do you want to see in your students?
A: I tell my kids that French is not a subject you are taking, but part of the person they are becoming. I expect to see zest and “joie de vivre” in their lives and in their learning. When they run in to tell me about a French movie that they just watched and loved on Netflix, or they bring their guitar to play a new Stromae song that they have learned, or they send me a photo of their bûche de Noël, or they recount bumping into a French family at the airport and having a conversation — that makes my heart sing.

Q: How do you engage your students?
A: One thing that is important to me is to really know them personally — to watch them play soccer, perform at a dance recital or theater production. Knowing someone believes in me makes me work harder too.

Secondly, I like to share stories with them — about backpacking through Europe, learning to wind-surf while living with a French family in La Rochelle, and traveling through West Africa for the International Trade Administration — so that they can catch a vision for the wonderful ways that becoming communicative and proficient in French can open doors for them.

Finally, encouraging them to use all of their senses and resources to express themselves in French — food, lots of food, music, sports, current events, theater, film — as they cultivate their personal passions, I want them to infuse it all with the beauty of the French language.

Q: Do you have a project or special program you use year after year?
A: One project that students universally love and remember from year to year is our “Fromagerie” in French 3. Each student learns the provenance, the characteristics, the accompaniments of one well-known French cheese — there are over 300 to choose from. After immersing ourselves in the geography and the history and the trends related to these cheeses, students host a cheese market for other students to come taste, while they share their complex understanding and insights.

Q: Is there a “trick” that works to get students involved?
A: One of my very respected colleagues says, “Students learn best when they are drawn into learning rather than pushed.”  Giving students ownership over their projects allows them the dignity and the motivation to surpass any expectations I could set for them.  It is a risky approach, but with trust between student and teacher, the results amaze me.

Q: What do you hope your students take away from your class?
A: Each student will take away something unique based on the influences that are at play in their lives at the moment, whether it is a deeper compassion for the world that they gained through learning about the enormous scope of the French-speaking or Francophone world, or a curiosity to travel and go and see more of the beauty the world has to offer when you are bilingual.

Ultimately, I hope that they can see themselves a little more clearly and they are equipped with the self-confidence to take risks in learning, growing and living.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.