I'm posting from Louisville, Kentucky, where I'm spending the next week scoring AP French exams. These written and oral tests determine whether high school students will receive college credit for their advanced French class. It's my first time here, and it's intimidating. I'm realizing that I've gotten used to being a fairly big fish in a smallish pond--directing plays in French, authoring a CD-ROM of interactive exercises to accompany a French textbook, leading a summer study abroad program in Grenoble, serving on the Board of the state foreign language teachers' organization, giving workshops. Here, I'm a newbie, generally clueless, apparently a too-generous grader (based on the assigned criteria--my students might disagree, though!), clearly a non-native speaker, and what's worse, a weak speaker compared to my new colleagues. I've spent a great deal of the past two days feeling incompetent, and it's painful. My accent--particularly intonation--just isn't good enough, my phrasing sometimes strikes me as English instead of French, and often I find myself resorting to mundane words because I can't find the mot juste or anything more descriptive in French.
Have I always struggled this much? Has it been too long since I've spent time in France? Do I not make enough effort to expose myself to French outside of school? Are my native and native-like colleagues too indulgent with me, letting my errors and infelicitous expressions pass by without comment or correction? And, at the core of these fears, am I jeopardizing my students? Or at least putting them at a disadvantage? What does this mean for my nephew, for whom I am pretty much the only live input he receives in French?
What's important for me this week, though, is to push through these insecurities and get the most out of this experience as I can. I'll develop skill and speed in reading and assessing these essays, I'm sure, but I also want to improve my own skills in French. To that end, I'm encouraging myself to seek out the native speakers to chat with, to swap teaching ideas, to jot down idiomatic expressions and phrases I want to make my own, to finesse my listening comprehension. Because, you know, now I have a higher goal: not just to teach my college students the grammar they need to know to take the following class, but rather to help my baby nephew acquire a comfortable, natural, colloquial, useful French so that when he's in his thirties and finds himself surrounded by French speakers, he feels just fine, unlike his Tatie Sarah right now.
PS: My roommate here is also an aunt teaching her baby nephew French!