French program seeks full-time teacher

September 4, 2015 — by Fiona Sequeira and Rachel Zhang

The administration has been scrambling to find a qualified full-time French teacher to teach all five levels of the program. French students have had three different teachers in the first three weeks of school and are currently taught by part-time substitute Scott Nelson, who does not speak fluent French and was left without any lesson plans. 

The administration has been scrambling to find a qualified full-time French teacher to teach all five levels of the program. French students have had three different teachers in the first three weeks of school and are currently taught by part-time substitute Scott Nelson, who does not speak fluent French and was left without any lesson plans.

“We really appreciate all of [Nelson’s] hard work, but we’re still searching for someone who is much more qualified in the French language,” principal Paul Robinson said.

The lack of a permanent and qualified French teacher was in part due to the administration's late start in interviewing potential candidates after the departure of former teacher Laura Lizundia to Gunn High School in June. According to Robinson, it was late July when the hiring process began. The administration was excited when it found Lori Carbone, a highly qualified French teacher from Scotts Valley High School, to fill the spot.

Carbone and Katia Touma Saade, another qualified French teacher, taught all of the French classes during the first week of school. Before SHS could fully bring Carbone on board, Scotts Valley strictly enforced her contract and demanded she stay.

Although Carbone returned to Scotts Valley, Saade stayed to teach the French classes during the second week of school. Shortly after at the end of the second week, she too left, opting for a full-time position in the Campbell Union High School District.

“There’s a teacher shortage in California, and I think we’re really seeing that in this situation,” Robinson said. “We’re actually looking at credentialed folks who have been academic French tutors to come on board and team up with students in the French classes.”

Current French students are disconcerted by the succession of teachers in the first few weeks of school and are hoping for more stability.

“Everyone is confused about what the future holds for the French program and for us as current students,” senior Darby Williams, a French 5 AP student, said. “We are all excited to learn French and it’s unfortunate that we don't have a teacher to help us.”

According to Robinson, 100 students signed up for French this year, and 35 students are enrolled in French 1. These numbers are far smaller than those of Spanish and Chinese.

Kim Bergkamp, who taught levels 1 and 3, left for a full-time position at Los Gatos High School, where the French program is growing. Lizundia, who taught levels 2, 4 Honors, and 5 AP, decided to teach French at Gunn High School, which is closer to her home and has a robust French program.

“Both Madame Lizundia and I love our students and the program at SHS,” Bergkamp said. “We fought hard for support of our program, but we were not given any guarantee that the French classes would survive the next couple of years. We talked a lot about it, and with heavy hearts, we had to look ahead.”

Thirty-eight students are currently enrolled in the newly combined first-period 4 Honors/5 AP class. Many of these students are frustrated by the lack of organization and believe that the current combined structure is detrimental to their progress in the language.

“We are not doing much in French class right now, so it’s a waste of time,” junior George Wang said. “With two teachers, this structure would have worked out pretty well, but with one teacher managing both classes, especially with the size of the 4H/5AP class, it’s hard to get the same kind of attention from the teacher.”

In addition to the 4H/5 AP combination, French 2 (12 students) and French 3 (14 students) have also been combined into one class this year due to a shortage of students.

Despite the less than ideal circumstances, students are trying to see the positive side in the situation.

“It’s upsetting that [Mr. Nelson] doesn’t speak French, but he’s doing his best,” French 3 student freshman Khiara Berkowitz-Sklar said. “He’s teaching us aspects of French culture because he used to live in France.”

According to Robinson, the future of the French program depends on the level of student interest.

“If students are iffy about their commitment to French, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense for [the program] to continue on,” Robinson said. “We may see that we phase French classes out over time, but I don’t believe that will happen. I believe we’ll find the right combination to get us through the year and then find the right person who can really revive this program.” 

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