Please note: This was published over a year ago. Phone numbers, email addresses and other information may have changed.
Speaking From The Heart
Photos and Story by James Hill
French instructor Heidi Cropsey has taught at Portland Community College for nearly 20 years and last fall she was honored by the Confederation in Oregon of Foreign Language Teachers as its Outstanding Teacher at the college level. Cropsey was born in Corvallis and as a child moved with her family to Peru. As an adult, she’s lived in Scotland, London, France and Mexico. She speaks fluent French and Spanish.
I am proud to be part of an institution that serves as a bridge between high school and the university.
I was once the proverbial starving student, not unlike many of my own students. One day, I went to the registrar’s office to pay my tuition, for which I had sacrificed virtually everything in an already tight budget, only to discover that I had miscalculated. There had been an increase, really a nominal amount, but what seemed a crushing, insurmountable obstacle to my dreams. I considered myself a good student, and this apparent setback seemed so unfair, that I reacted viscerally and tears welled up in my eyes. The lady processing my application took pity on me and an exception was made. It was an act of kindness from someone who did not know me.
As a teacher I try to be attuned not only to whether my students are mastering their subject, but also to the circumstances of their lives. Teaching a two-year sequence in a foreign language helps me to get to know my students in a way that teaching a one-quarter class does not.
I am proud to be part of an institution that serves as a bridge between high school and the university. I am proud to have played a role in the success of my students, and use every means in my limited arsenal to help them. Nothing inspires me like the ones who exhibit tenacity and determination, methodically working toward their goals.
I teach French at PCC and Clackamas Community College. At both schools the curriculum is based on Pierre Capretz’s French In Action from Yale University. It is a rigorous, immersion program, conducted entirely in French. We speak only French after the first class, and I make no apologies for deducting points for speaking English. My classes are accredited college courses that are transferable to four-year colleges. I would be doing a disservice to my students by lowering my expectations, giving them a watered-down version of the program.
I believe there are many ways to inspire and motivate my students. I use songs, poems, drama, videos, games, whatever I can get a hold of to not only teach the language, but the culture, which is inseparable from it. Hopefully, students not only learn but have fun at the same time.
Students interact in French, and even perform in French depending on their talents. Over the years my students have sung French songs (from popular to operatic), read and acted out poems in French, danced traditional French dances, played musical instruments, and written and performed a puppet play. The goal is for students to attain oral proficiency, develop grammatical competence, literacy and intercultural awareness, and have a foundation for future academic development, travel and work. I have great expectations of my students.
I also know that for many of them the opportunity of a college education can be a daunting challenge. During my college years a professor who had a reputation for expecting much from his students recommended me for a fellowship, Assistance Étrangère, which allowed me to study and teach in Paris. I have set up an emergency fund for students unable to pay the tuition for their French courses. I’ve also used the informal mechanism of recommendations to help students realize their dreams.
My students may not realize that their teacher owes a debt of gratitude to numerous people, that small acts of kindness have made enormous impacts on my life, and that the teaching profession is collaborative. If I perform well in class, it is because I have the support of other teachers and the institutions’ anonymous network of technical staff, librarians, secretaries and administrators. I have been blessed by exceptional students, people of excellent character, who honor me by pursuing their dreams.
For the stories of other students, faculty and staff: Get a copy of the Kaleidoscope – a quarterly publication of Portland Community College.