Diana Kuznetsova ’18 sat down with High School French Teacher Ms. Brigitte Cazebonne, who has taught at TASIS since 1993 and was the Khan-Page Master Teacher Award recipient in 2012.
When did you start at TASIS, what classes do you teach, and what else have you been involved with?
I came to TASIS years ago in 1993. The School was very different back then—it was much smaller.
I’ve been involved in many aspects of TASIS. Of course I’ve primarily been a French teacher, but I’ve also worked in the dorm and in sports activities. At one point I was the coordinator for weekend travel, and I’ve also helped coordinate Academic Travel. I feel like I’ve done a lot.
Can you please describe your educational background and your career in education prior to TASIS?
I did my undergraduate studies in the US because I left France right after my baccalaureate, and I majored in Music. At first I was a music teacher, and then I did a course in Tours, France, for graduate studies. I later studied at Cambridge University for my master’s degree.
I taught mostly in the US before coming to TASIS. All my positions were at college preparatory schools. I started out as a music teacher, but I ended up switching to French very early in my career after substituting for the French teacher, who was sick at the time.
Can you please briefly describe your teaching philosophy?
That’s a tough question. My teaching philosophy, first of all, is not set in stone. It has evolved throughout my long teaching career in the US as well as at TASIS. I was also greatly influenced by my teachers when I was growing up in France. I was very lucky to have excellent teachers—not just teachers in high school but also in elementary school. I feel that we don’t give enough credit to our elementary school teachers. They are the ones that deal with us first, and they are the ones that really make a great first impression on us.
I was also very fortunate and very privileged to have an excellent French teacher who introduced me to the philosophy of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, who discussed education and said, “Mieux vaut une tête bien faite qu’une tête bien plein.” [Loose translation: A well-structured knowledge is better than a simply quantitative one.]
Now I always put my students in the center of my teaching. But I will not teach every class and every student the same way. Because my students are different, my teaching needs to be different.
What do you like the most about working as TASIS?
Ah! What do I like the most? Two things: First, I like being a member of the Modern Languages Department. I see it really as a privilege to have the colleagues I have. It’s a strong department, and also everybody that works in the department is very, very nice. We discuss everything and have a great working relationship.
|Now I always put my students in the center of my teaching. But I will not teach every class and every student the same way. Because my students are different, my teaching needs to be different.|
Second, I like the fact that working at TASIS has given me the opportunity to have a real career. I mean it’s been a long career, and I’ve been able to do so many things. I’ve been able to teach in two different languages [EAL and French], and I’ve also taught all the levels. So it’s been really nice to have a full and rewarding career. I think that’s what I like the most about TASIS—the fact that I’ve been given the opportunity to do this.
What would you say has been your biggest success at TASIS?
That’s another tough question because I don’t think I’ve had one great success—I feel I’ve had a series of successes. For example, I consider it a success when I have a beginner student in French 1 who only joins the class because of the parents’ decision but then starts liking the class and reacts to my teaching—so much so that the student wants to participate as much as possible and enjoys learning all those French phonetics to the point that he or she begins to correct other students in the class.
I think that’s very important, but I also feel that I have had a success when an IB student comes to me and says, “I want to get a 6 or a 7—do you think I can get a 7?” And I always say, “Of course. If you work hard, anything is possible.” Then it’s also the way the students will get me involved in their work. Sometimes they come after school—they know that I work in my little world, in my little classroom at certain hours—and they will just come and sit there and work at the same time and ask questions. I find that this is also a success because it shows that they trust me.
Another success is when I encounter a former student and they address me in French. I feel that’s incredible. I haven’t seen them in years, and they address me in French, and often it’s very good French because they have continued to study the language or they use it at work.
I think all of these things are successes, and I don’t feel that one is greater than another because they are all very important to me. But it’s always related to the student—always.
What do you envision for your students?
This touches on sadness for me because I’ve seen how the world has changed. I’ve seen what has happened in France in the past few years, and I’ve seen what has happened in the world. This is very personal because I’ve seen how my sister reacted to what happened in Nice. And I’m worried about my students—I really am. I feel that they’ll have to live in a world that has changed. I just hope they can live in a world that is free of terrorism, that is free of danger—that they can have a full life and achieve what they want to achieve peacefully, to have what they want, and of course to continue speaking French, so that when I meet them again one day, they will address me in French. That I really enjoy.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
It’s weird for me to be interviewed because I’m always the one who asks questions. But I’m particularly pleased that it is you, Diana, who is doing the interview. I’ve enjoyed it. Merci!
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