A Tribute To My First Teacher

by Dylan Lee

I have been learning French since I was 15 months old. Between my parents, there are seven languages in total that they speak. However, they decided that French, a language neither of them understood, will be their offsprings’ second language. My first teacher was the late Madame Catherine Jolivet who had been running a French immersion program for over 30 years in Lafayette, a small town in the East Bay area. My mother discovered her language immersion program called French For Fun which started with parent-child classes to kindergarten programs in the mornings and continued with middle school and high school immersion classes in the afternoons. Madame (as everyone fondly called her) taught me French until I was 13 years old. My siblings and I were one of her very last students before she was diagnosed with cancer and died 8 months later in 2018. She taught me my first nursery rhyme in French, Ainsi Font Font Font followed by French expressions like petit chat, gros chien and dans la maison. During most of our childhood years, my siblings and I would only speak French with her and no one else even though our comprehension level was quite good.

Madame introduced many French festivals and celebrations, food from different regions, cultural etiquette and even taught me cursive writing with a French flair. My most cherished memory of Madame was when I was six years old, when we painted the “Japanese Footbridge” as she told us all about Claude Monet and his home in Giverny. Madame started me with “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge”, “Cendrillon”, “Le Chat Botte”, followed by many other French novels like the “Petit Prince” and “Le Horla” that I read on my own during my middle school years. I was very lucky and will always treasure her as my first teacher and then, Mr. Jefferson Loubet who was my class teacher at the East Bay Waldorf School who also happens to be half French. Mr. Loubet had encouraged me to write in French in some of my regular school work and often, I would mix both English and French into my main lesson books and early writings. In high school, I am also very grateful that Madame Davis saw this hidden passion of mine which I don’t share or talk about much. She had cast me as “Toussaint” for the 10th grade play, “for colored girls” last year. 

After Madame Catherine’s passing, I committed myself to learn more French after school primarily with native speakers, which continued into high school. I completed the AP French course last year and for the past year and a half I have been postponing my travels to do an exchange program due to the pandemic and the borders being closed. 

Today, as I board my flight to Paris, I will remember all the teachers who silently encouraged me to pursue my destiny to live and go to school in France. I hope to share my experiences this semester as a WSP exchange student at Ecole Perceval in Paris, with all of our Waldorf Chronicles readers. Wishing everyone a great start of “togetherness” in the new 2021-22 school year and I know you will enjoy yourselves at the high school retreat next week.

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