I taught French and a sprinkling of Spanish for 40 years. During that time there were many experiences that I am grateful for and a few I could have done without having. Teaching allowed me to learn as much as I taught, and I met some amazing people along the way. Here are my top ten memories.
The burning van.
I had only been teaching for three years when I had a nasty scare while driving a school van. It was a beautiful spring day and I had to drive my lacrosse team to a school two hours away. As we were driving, I smelled something burning. I asked the girl in the front seat to look out of her window to see if she saw anything. She said, “I see sparks coming from the tire.” I pulled over thinking maybe we had a flat tire. I asked Julie again to step out and look. She came back and said very calmly, “Mrs. Bonn, I think you need to come to look.” I came around to the front and saw flames coming out of the engine. I opened the side door and said calmly, “Girls, I need you to all get out and move away from the van down the road. We kept moving farther down the road. A bystander came over to me and said, “Did you hear the second gas tank explode?” I kept asking myself if I had done everything I could to keep the girls safe. The firetruck came and the fire station sent a van to bring us to the station. The headmaster came and took us for ice cream and then took us to see the van. It was a burnt-out shell. When my husband came home it hit me that all of us could have died in that van. I started to shake and couldn’t stop for a long time.
The French trip when we drove.
I went on 18 school trips to France and some of them were more memorable than others. One of the ones I will never forget is when we drove. I am a nervous driver in the best of circumstances, so imagine me driving in France. I also need to mention that this was before cell phones and GPS so every day I was terrified that I would lose the other teachers in their vans. There were three vans and I drove a very comfortable car. The students in my car and I became family as we navigated through some adventures. I went the wrong way on an exit ramp but managed to turn around quickly, we reenacted the car scene in European vacation as we kept circling the same area in Avignon trying to reach our hotel because there were so many one-way streets. It was also rush hour. There was an older couple on the sidewalk and we were stopped in traffic, so I asked the boy in the front to ask how to get to our street. I told him how to say it in French, and he said it perfectly. I didn’t hear what the couple said because I was so focused on not wrecking and praying that I would someday see our group again. The couple walked away, and I said, “What did they say?” Frank looked at me and said, “You’re kidding right? I didn’t understand a word they said!” Lol. Suddenly one of our vans popped out of a side street gesturing wildly at us, so we followed them and finally arrived at our hotel.
The funniest moment was when we were leaving a parking garage. One of the vans was driven by Madame, our group leader. Madame was about four feet tall, tough as nails, and as no-nonsense as you can be. Madame was in front of us and as we were leaving the parking garage she discovered the van was too high for the exit because of a sunroof. Madame decided we were going through anyway and she floored the van sheering off the sunroof which landed in front of our car. Frank jumped out put the sunroof in our trunk and yelled, “We are all good Madame!” and off we went. We were trying not to laugh because we knew Madame was upset, but that only made us laugh more, and then a boy in the van stuck his hand out of the roof and waved to us and Madame hit a speed bump too fast and we watched the boy in the back take air while gripping his boom box.
Le Réveillon is the name for the Christmas dinner in France. One year, I thought it would be fun to have a potluck version of the dinner. I invited everyone to the French program and their families. We set up tables in the alumni center and decorated it for Christmas. I remember being so nervous that no one would come, or that there wouldn’t be enough food, but each year there were more people and the tables were overflowing with food. I asked several students to sing in French as well.
The dinner was a chance to show that the French program is alive and well. It also gave parents a chance to make connections with other parents, it allowed everyone to show some culinary skills, and parents could see their students perform.
When I changed schools, the dinner became an anticipated event, and parents of seniors asked me for invitations for the next year. I always felt like a member of a family who was surrounded by love.
The last French trip
On my last trip, we had 32 participants. I was so nervous about taking that many people, but everyone stepped up to help at some point during our stay including two girls with Global passes who went through customs ahead of us and collected all our luggage, so it was waiting when we came through. (Our bags had tags for the trip, so they were easy to spot) I was so proud of everyone. We had incredible food, I’m not sure we could have laughed more, and I enjoyed watching everyone enjoy the country I love. I remember in one café, two of my students were in the back and I told the waitress I would pay for them. She asked me if they were my daughters, and I said they were my students, but I thought of them as my daughters too. You cannot go on a trip like that without feeling like family in the end.
The teacher's trip to Belgium
One school where I taught offered me a chance to go on a trip to Belgium for teachers. The school paid for everything because the headmaster knew I would take what I learned and use it in the classroom. I am so grateful for that chance to travel and learn.
When I taught in North Georgia, we used to go to a world language competition at Western Carolina University. There were competitions in trivia, art, music, video, and theater. We became very good at knowing how to win, and one year we swept the whole competition. Here are a few of the moments I remember.
When freshman, Guleus Edwards sang Bring him home in French and a lady in the front row started to cry, and when he finished the applause exploded. Guleus performed every year. I think it was his junior year when we wrote a French rap. The scene was a wax museum with famous French singers as statues. The two people visiting would put a coin in and the singer would come alive. When Guleus performed the rap as M. C. Solaar, the applause was deafening. When I went into the bathroom after, the girls were all talking about how cool he was.
We re-enacted the battle scene from Les Misérables, made funny videos, and enjoyed using our language skills and our other interests.
The funny moments
There have been so many funny moments and I will always believe that laughter makes everything better. Here are a few.
One day, we had just finished a craft project and the students were back at their desks. A student asked me a question and I was looking at him while I was walking across the room. The only problem was I forgot about the plastic craft boxes and I was wearing tall platform shoes. My foot went into one of the boxes, I slipped, and I went down hard. I jumped back up and threw my arms in the air and said, “whoo! I’m o.k.” There was complete and utter silence which made me feel even more foolish. The next day, they told me they were horrified when I fell, and they thought I was hurt.
I have worn 2 different earrings and two different shoes, and I have had the bottom of a shoe disintegrate.
We had a guest writer from France come to visit and she did not speak any English. I told the students the day before she came that when you are in front of a native speaker for the first time you forget your name. She came into my French 3 class, turned to the quietest boy in the room, and asked him in French what his name was. He was frozen like a deer in headlights. His friend whispered, “Your name is Josh.” He said, “Oh, Je m’appelle Josh.”
I have coached cross-country skiing, field hockey, lacrosse, and soccer, but my favorite was cross-country running. I had so much fun with our team. Many of the students were with me from 6th grade through 12th so we were like family. I will always treasure those moments.
I have always been the only French teacher, so by the time a student entered A.P. we knew each other fairly well. A.P. French is taught by themes and there are some topics that can be controversial, so not only did the students learn French, but they also learned how to respect each other’s opinions.
Forty years of teaching gave me so many memories as well as giving me the opportunity to meet amazing people. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to teach.
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