A Conversation with Middle School French Teacher Monica Melton

Monica Melton discusses the joys of teaching at Collegiate, her teaching style and the fun of learning.
Each spring, Middle School French Teacher Monica Melton, now in her 18th year at Collegiate, takes a group of 8th Graders to France. During the 10-day trip, students do more than simply practice their French. In addition to total language immersion, students learn to connect what they’ve learned in the classroom to the broader world. “That trip for me encapsulates everything that I think education is meant to be,” Melton says. “Yes, students will become more comfortable speaking French, but they’ll also learn to connect with people living lives that are different from their own and they’ll learn how to independently manage being in situations that are totally novel.” In so many ways, this is Melton’s daily approach to teaching: encouraging students to embrace the exciting challenges of discovery. Melton sat down with Spark to discuss the joys of teaching at Collegiate, her teaching style and the fun of learning.

What makes teaching at Collegiate so special? 
The small class sizes we have at Collegiate give me the time to really see my students. This gives me the opportunity to understand what brings them joy or what overwhelms them or what challenges them, and I try supporting them the best way I can.

The difference, for me, between just teaching a student and seeing them as a learner is knowing that education goes further than a letter grade. As an educator at Collegiate, I feel that my charge is to really support these students in every aspect of their life. This goes beyond teaching them world languages. This means connecting with them during other activities throughout the day. It’s about seeing them as an individual community member.

What is your approach to teaching?
I like to build a culture of comfort in the classroom. If students feel comfortable, then they’re able to take more risks when learning a new language. I often do that by sharing with students anecdotes of how I’m still making mistakes as a language learner. Language isn’t about perfection. It’s about expression. It’s about having fun with language. And if I can affirm for them along the way that they can be successful in expressing themselves, then students will continue to have fun and take those risks.

What is something that your students have taught you? 
Gosh, students teach me something every day, which is part of the joy of working in the Middle School. My students teach me humility. And by watching them learn and progress as students they remind me that language is a process. They’ve also helped me understand that everyone’s learning experience is different and that everyone’s emotional experience is different. Each student is energized in a unique way, and you have to connect with students on an individual level. As a teacher, that’s really exciting — to have the privilege of getting to know a student in that way, of understanding how each one of them learns.

What do you hope your students take with them when they leave your classroom?
An awareness of what’s going on around them. In this way, learning a world language becomes more about engaging with the people and communities who speak that language. I want my students to recognize that the French language represents many different stories from diverse Francophone people and experiences. It’s special to see that awareness shift happening in real time, especially when traveling with students. Whether they learn French or another language, I want all of our students to feel empowered that they can learn to communicate in a second (or third!) language.

What are you most proud of?
As a language teacher, my goal is always communication — for a student to connect with someone that is speaking a different language. Whenever those aha moments happen, when students stop trying to think in English and are able to just express themselves in a second language, that’s always wonderful. The biggest smiles come when students are able to authentically express themselves.

What do you find exciting about the future of Collegiate?
It’s encouraging to me to see Collegiate continue to embrace the whole student. So it’s not just about the learning that happens in a classroom. It’s also about the learning that happens during a Capstone, or the learning that happens in an assembly or out in the community. Collegiate is continuing to consider the different areas where learning takes place.