Edna-May Hermosillo teaches middle school French at Pace Academy and is middle school director for global leadership.
Q: What attracted you to teaching at first?
A: I have many childhood memories of convincing my younger brother he wanted to be my student in my pretend classroom. I think I’ve been training to be a teacher for a long time. I had already worked with children quite a bit as a high school and college student—I was a ski instructor, a taekwondo coach and a Girl Scout leader—so it seemed like a natural fit. I actually got my first teaching job right out of grad school partly because the head of the World Language Department remembered my work as a Girl Scout day camp counselor.
Q: Has the appeal changed?
A: I think you have to reinvent yourself sometimes so that, while what attracted you in the first place may change, you still love what you do. Recently I have become involved with Pace Academy’s Isdell Center for Global Leadership (ICGL). My role as director of Global Leadership in the middle school allows me to be a classroom teacher while also having a hand in developing programs and education for students and teachers around an annual global theme, and to help teachers create a series of domestic and international study tours for our students.
The past two summers I’ve had the incredible experience to lead an ICGL service trip to the Dominican Republic. Pace Middle School students plan and lead a week of activities at an English-immersion summer camp for underprivileged children, mostly Haitian, in partnership with Project Esperanza. We teach English, practice French and Spanish, and we try to learn Creole.
We say that we are “changing our stars together.” I would never have imagined this sort of student trip as a first-year teacher.
Q: What keeps you going year after year?
A: I love the rhythm of the school year with a fresh, exciting beginning every August. There is time to learn something new and refresh over the summer, and the start of the next school year is the perfect opportunity to implement new, creative ideas and reflect on what has worked well and what should be changed. I’m not sure there are other professions in which one gets a redo every 12 months.
I also typically teach the same group of students for two to three years, and it is incredibly motivating to see how much progress they make as French speakers from year to year.
Ultimately, though, what truly motivates me is a sense that I am helping my students see that there is a world outside of Atlanta.
Q: What do you think makes a great teacher?
A: I have always believed that great teachers come in a lot of flavors and that students can benefit greatly from working with all kinds of teachers. Of course, a passion for the subject and truly caring about kids is essential. The great teachers I know work hard every single year, have good senses of humor and are entertained by their students; they know how to roll with the punches, are always learning and improving, and are never really “off-duty.”
Q: How do you engage your students?
A: I prioritize making my classroom a student-centered microcosm of “all things French.” It’s like a flea market of objects I’ve gathered in my own travels…from a Haitian Mardi Gras horse mask to Moroccan shoes. And we listen to music, watch films, meet people and learn about the culture of a variety of French-speaking places.
I work diligently to create opportunities for all students to participate enthusiastically and actively in learning activities that run the gamut from artistic to technological to competitive. I expect students to use the language to sing, dance and create in French, and not just learn about it.
Q: Do you have a project or special program you use year after year?
A: Each year is a little different and my students do many projects, but one thing I try to do is find opportunities for students to realize that French is real and it is all around them.
For example, I have accompanied students to see many French plays at Atlanta-based Théâtre du Rêve, to practice their skills at several different French restaurants around the city, to learn about West African art at the High Museum, and to travel on trips to Francophone destinations like France, Quebec and Haiti. We have engaged in the classroom with guest speakers such as returned Peace Corps volunteers and refugees from Rwanda—we’ve even Skyped with Haitian students.
And, of course, students always look forward to when we make crêpes and also indulge in chocolate fondue!
Q: Is there a “trick” that works to get students involved?
A: There are no tricks, but I think over the years you develop different layers to your class so that there are many things going on at once. A casual observer might not notice those various layers, but the teacher and students understand. I try to create a fun atmosphere in which everyone feels involved and participates.
Q: What do you hope your students take away from your class?
A: My hope is that students will come to understand that learning another language is not an end unto itself. The ability to speak another language not only helps them in their own lives and careers, but also gives them a tool to better understand other people and cultures. Ultimately, my goal is to inspire students to want and have the ability to make a positive difference in the world around them.
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