“Grad school *does* come true!”, or “Once again a French teacher”

Written by: Spencer Greenhalgh

Primary Source: Spencer Greenhalgh


One of the hardest parts about applying to grad school and choosing to come to MSU was having to explain to Mme Burton-Ratcliffe and Mme Thompson that I was leaving my brand new French teaching career to go study Educational Psychology and Educational Technology. Mme Burton (as I had known her) had been my high school French teacher, and the more time I spent teaching French, the more I appreciated all of her talent and hard work during my four years at BCHS. I was happy that she approved of my career choice, and it hurt when I had to tell her that I’d put that career aside for the time being.

Mme Thompson was a little more used to students leaving secondary teaching to go back to grad school. She’d been my professor for three-and-a-half French classes at BYU, and the “and-a-half” just barely put her in first place for the most classes I took from a single professor. Mme Thompson had also been my boss for the four semesters that I taught French 102, so she’d been a mentor for me literally from my first week of college to the day I graduated. I wasn’t the only of her students to go off to grad school, but most of my colleagues picked programs in French or language acquisition. It was uncomfortable explaining that I’d said little about French education in my grad school application, especially since we were speaking in English, a sort of surreal rarity when one spoke with Mme Thompson.

I wasn’t abandoning French, I told Mesdames Burton and Thompson (and myself, more than once!), I was just eager to add some more subjects to my studies. I had a minor in political science teaching, but still knew very little about the “teaching” part. I still had hopes and dreams of learning a little more about programming. The world seemed to need more research on ethical and civic education, and the Internet was exploding with new possibilities for teaching and learning. I also had this crazy idea that maybe I could get away with researching games and education. There was always the possibility that I couldn’t keep French teaching a priority, but I felt it was important to take that risk if it meant broadening my horizons.

I’ve largely met these other goals. Just in the last 24 hours, I’ve read works on psychology and philosophy, messed around with a helpful programming language, chatted with a professor about the Arab Spring, written part of a conference presentation on educational games, and given some suggestions for a grad school version of “Jabberwocky.” It’s hard to imagine that my horizons could be any broader or that I could be any happier! On top of that, there are a surprising number of people in our department who speak French, and everyone else has learned to tolerate my digressions on linguistic features that I find interesting. Despite all of this, though, there were several moments (like when I read this post from Dr. Leigh Graves Wolf) where I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d left my French teaching days too soon.

Fortunately, it turns out that I haven’t left them at all! For at least the next two semesters, I’m ecstatic to be working with MSU’s Residential College of Arts and Humanities as a language mentor supervising a French Integrated Language Option. The ILO experience promises to sharpen my language teaching skills, inform my thinking about language education, and even further my research by providing a context in which to carry out my second year practicum and other projects! I look forward to sharing more of my French teaching experiences with you soon!

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Hi there! My name is Spencer Greenhalgh, and I am a student in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology doctoral program at Michigan State University. I came to Michigan State University with a strong belief in the importance of an education grounded in the humanities. As an undergraduate, I studied French and political science and worked as a teaching assistant in both fields. After graduation, I taught French, debate, and keyboarding in a Utah private school before coming to MSU, where I plan to study how technology can be used to help students connect the humanities with their lives. I have a particular interest in the use of games and simulations to promote ethical reasoning and explore moral dilemmas, but am eager to study any technology that can help students see the relevance of studying language, culture, history, and government.