Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL) recently announced the finalists for its 2021 Teacher of the Year competition. Among the 8 finalists is Stephanie Carbonneau, York Middle School French teacher and the Foreign Language Association of Maine (FLAME) 2020 World Language Teacher of the Year.
Stephanie Carbonneau has been teaching at York Middle School since 2004. She started teaching in 1997 and taught for 7 years in Massachusetts before returning home to Maine to continue her teaching career closer to where she grew up. She is known for her “Glow and Grow” approach to language learning in a mostly deskless environment that focuses on interactive communicative lessons, using authentic resources. Stephanie is co-creator of a Manie Musicale, now serving 2,000 schools both in the states and internationally. She has also been a regular guest on the podcast “Inspired Proficiency” and believes collegiality makes teachers strong and students stronger. The highlight of her year is the annual student trip to Québec City and witnessing her students take language risks. Carbonneau’s students regularly medal at the state and national level on the Grand Concours, the National French Exam administered by the American Association of French Teachers.
Her passion for becoming a French teacher came from her Québecois family roots. Her mother spoke French through her childhood and when her grandmother passed away, so did the family’s desire to continue speaking French at home. Yet looking back, the aspiring ballerina knew that French was a part of her and her family’s identity that she didn’t want to let die.
My freshman year of college I had a French professor who was really hard and he told me during office hours that I would never get above a C in his class because my French was weak and I should probably not sign up for any more courses. That made me mad! I set out to prove him wrong. Because I struggled as a language learner, I knew I could be a sympathetic teacher. I never ever wanted any student to feel badly about learning a language. I also fell in love with the language, the culture, the people as well as the identity I have as a French speaker. I believe those qualities surpass being an expert at the language itself.
In my class students begin to realize that language learning helps individuals recognize the value of each person in such a diverse world and asks them to contribute to a better one. Speaking another language makes us better humans. It provides an opportunity to “glow” and “grow.” Much like the feedback I provide my students, language learning provides us a purpose beyond ourselves and highlights the similarities, differences and injustices that exist in the world. It truly is important to me that these young Mainers can speak French better and can use it for a good purpose such as welcoming new French speaking Mainers and the thousands of French Canadian tourists that visit our state. THIS is the true value of learning a language to me: Finding our voice for social justice, through language and creating a welcoming community. There is a whole world that exists outside our small Maine town and the country we live in. I want my students to be able to say “I am a Mainer, an American, but I am also part of the world-wide Francophone community. I am a French speaker.”
The NECTFL regional finalists were recognized on April 26, 2021 at the annual awards ceremony. The event highlighted the exemplary practice of all regional winners as innovative practitioners whose work has inspired students and communities.
The NECTFL region encompasses 13 states from Maine to Virginia and Washington, D.C.. Each state language organization goes through a rigorous selection process to choose its best representative of excellence in world language teaching. Dr. Ashley Warren was selected as the NECTFL 2021 Teacher of the Year and will go on to represent the organization at the national language teacher of the year competition at the ACTFL Convention in November.
I am proud to have represented my state language association that far! The whole process was very introspective, reflective, and humbling. I grew so much as an educator and met a wonderful cohort of other language colleagues from the region I can now call friends. Most importantly, my students will reap the benefits of my reflections.
For more information about NECTFL, please visit their website: www.nectfl.org.