Pretty soon, Michel Courchesne's Lewiston Middle School classroom will be filled with the smell of crepes and the off-key sound of young teenagers singing "Alouette." Courchesne has taught French for 34 years, most of those years at LMS.
It's a job he loves.
And not just for the crepes.
Name: Michel (Mike) Courchesne
Family: Married to Elizabeth Courchesne for 35 great years. We have a daughter, Aimee, who is now married and lives in New Gloucester with her husband, Rusty.
Job: I am Lewiston Middle School's seventh- and eighth-grade French teacher.
What else do you do in the community and school? I am a member of the board of directors of the Franco-American Heritage Center and a member of the friends board of the Lewiston Public Library. At school I am involved in induction of new teachers and mentoring. I am the unified arts team leader and one of the founders of an annual school fundraiser called Chocolat.
Did you grow up speaking French? Yes, I grew up in Lewiston on Bates Street speaking French until I went to school. My parents and grandparents were all French speaking and so I have spoken French all my life long.
What drew you to teaching? I participated in a pre-educational experience while at the University of Southern Maine. I worked with a group of seventh-graders making model rockets, and kept returning to that classroom. It was a reward to see young students experiencing the "wow" factor as they saw their projects blast off into the sky. It's the experience that hooked me in.
I have heard you're an entertaining teacher. How do you make learning a language fun? It's really about finding the activities that kids like to do. Middle-schoolers are really social. They like to interact with each other and don't want to sit through an entire class. So we get up, move around, sing ("Alouette" and other songs) and work through different activities. At times we'll eat crepes, baguettes and Brie cheese. We also have to read, write, listen and speak "en francais." I make efforts to keep a good pace and vary activities and assignments.
What is the hardest thing to teach kids about French?: The most difficult aspect about learning any language, or perhaps any discipline, is taking time to practice. We all need to practice anything we want to do well.
What do students most want to learn to say in French? I often hear my students say they want to know what their parents or grandparents are saying about a birthday or Christmas gift they will receive in the near future.
What's been your proudest moment as a teacher? Teaching presents lots of successes every day. Seeing your students succeed daily is awesome, but the best moments come years apart. In June, I have watched hundreds of eighth-graders leave the middle school the evening of their promotion. Later on, I am proudest when I see these same graduates as adults. The majority seek me out at the grocery store, at the Colisee or I see them at work. They tell me they have made their way in life and find that, although life is challenging, they are succeeding. That I have been a part of their formation and development is really my proudest moment as a teacher.
After 34 years, do you think about retiring? I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I will be around for a while longer.
What's the one phrase everyone should know how to say in French? "Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?" And introduce yourself. "Je m'appelle Monsieur Courchesne." Being French and knowing about French culture means being polite and to know how another person feels prior to holding a conversation.
Is French still spoken in Lewiston-Auburn? Yes, French is still spoken in Lewiston-Auburn. You may hear it at the Franco Center on the first Friday of the month at "La Rencontre." You can hear it at the middle school where I work. I greet most everyone in French and they respond and work to answer a question or two. I hear it at Shaw's every so often and some of our immigrants who have arrived from French-speaking African countries, like Togo and Dgibouti, speak absolutely beautiful French. I admire them.
Have you ever been to France? I have not been to France as yet. It's on my to-do list. I have been to Quebec and often teach about the province and the city. It is a wonderful place to visit.