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Faculty Spotlight: Madame Reagan, French

What do you teach?
I teach French to grades 1-8.

How long have you taught at MWS? What did you do before this?
I have now taught a total of 17 years at MWS! The first 8 years I was blessed to be a class teacher and graduated my class in 2006. I then subbed, ran the Aftercare program and finished the year with a stint as the French teacher for grades 1-4. A 7-year interlude at L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion school teaching kindergarten and then first grade was my next experience. I returned to MWS, this time as the French teacher, in 2014. This year’s 8th graders were in my first grade class that year. It is bittersweet to see them graduate.

Before moving to Minnesota to teach at MWS, I led a rich and varied life that always included children. I grew up in upstate New York with four younger brothers and graduated with top honors from Vassar College, majoring in French and earning my elementary teaching certificate. While teaching the early grades, I pursued a Master’s in French Language and Civilization at New York University. Summers backpacking around Europe with my trusty tent—my home away from home– and studying in Paris led me to accept a teaching position at the American School of Paris. I hoped that by truly immersing myself in another culture I would be able to answer my burning question of “How different are people really?”

Marriage, children and moves ensued. I discovered Waldorf Education through an article in “Mothering” magazine, which eventually led to my Waldorf certification through Antioch University New England. From there I happily taught two years in a Waldorf kindergarten in Pennsylvania before deciding to fulfill my dream of being a class teacher.

How did you learn French?
I began learning French in 7th grade and continued through college and graduate school. The most influential course I took was a phonetics course, which gave me the confidence to actually speak French. Of course, living in Paris and later the Central African Republic were immensely helpful. My child- and school-centered vocabulary broadened considerably when I taught at L’Étoile du Nord French Immersion school, where a number of my colleagues were native French speakers.

Why do children start learning French in 1st grade?
One generally thinks in terms of the pragmatic value of learning a language and how useful it may ultimately be in one’s travels or career. In a Waldorf school we prioritize the development of the child and his/her capacities with an eye to the future of humanity and its social fabric. One’s mother tongue is, to a certain extent, one-sided and limited in its expressive capabilities. Another language opens a new window into the world. It gives us insight into how others experience themselves and their environment, schooling us in tolerance and promoting multiculturalism. We learn to empathize with other people and take delight in differences.

The linguistic differences awaken us to our own language and its structure, giving us another dimension to our own self-knowledge. How many of you really only learned English grammar through the study of a world language? I know I did. There is no single way for a thought to be correctly expressed. Depending on the language, for instance, verbs can be found at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence.

To learn another language one must cultivate stillness, listening skills and concentration on the one hand and confidence to jump into the unknown and learn from mistakes on the other. The children learn to be patient and comfortable with ambiguity. They hone their skills of imaginative guesswork, taking in the sensory experience of the sounds, gestures and context of the language. All this promotes flexibility of thinking.

A Waldorf school ideally offers two world languages of contrasting roots, thus creating a 3-legged stool from which to view the world and develop the capacities of thinking, feeling and willing. Speaking is concentrated and internalized bodily movement. It has been said that each sound we are exposed to creates a different air flow, which surrounds the body. It is a whole gesture, a whole being, and provides a modeling of a different aspect of will. Learning another language enlivens our thinking, stirs our feelings and engages our will. The goal is not to acquire proficiency in the language at this point, but to connect the children to another cultural perspective, to another aspect of humanity, to enrich and diversify their inner life and to develop their capacity for learning and curiosity.

If you could be a student in any other teacher’s class for a day, which would you pick and why?
I would love to be a student in Ms. Lume’s recorder class for more than a day. I did not grow up playing an instrument, but as a Waldorf teacher, I learned to play the Choroi flute and the recorder well enough to lead my class the first six years. I would love to hone my rudimentary skills and learn how to be part of an ensemble making beautiful music.

What is your favorite festival and why?
The Advent Garden/Winter Spiral is my absolute favorite! The quiet, reverent beauty of the growing light in the midst of the dark mirrors my soul’s mood at that time of year.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love the great outdoors: camping, hiking, gardening, swimming, water aerobics, cross-country skiing and skating. Of course, reading and traveling with my husband are also favorite activities, and visiting my baby grandson on the east coast has become a recent priority.

Is there anything else you would like families to know about you?
I haven’t always lived my life in conventional ways, as evidenced by camping in my tent outside of Paris for two summers as I took graduate courses; by my two homebirths—one in Paris and one in Tokyo (a fascinating example of the differences between the two cultures!)—and by my stint homeschooling my children. As the wife of a diplomat, I lived in four different countries on four different continents: Paris, France; Washington, DC; Tokyo & Yokohama, Japan; and Bangui, Central African Republic. At various times, I have spoken French, German, Spanish and Japanese.

I serve on the Educational Support Committee and several others. I also represent our school at our regional and national AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America) meetings several times a year. I am so impressed and inspired by the work that AWSNA is doing to truly live out of its principles.

I love teaching. I love your children. I can’t imagine a more fulfilling career than the one I have here at Minnesota Waldorf School!