By Max Sarinsky
Bernadette Robine’s job is somewhat unusual for a teacher in the United States: immersing her students in French language and culture. But her students aren’t the only ones learning a foreign culture.
Learning the nuances of American life has been a welcome adventure for Robine, a Parisian who moved to New York four years ago and now teaches first grade at the International School of Brooklyn (ISB) in Carroll Gardens. Robine, 32, said she developed a strong sense of wanderlust as a graduate student in Italy. When her husband received a job offer in New York, they jumped at the opportunity to move abroad once again—even though her English at the time was limited.
“You don’t learn as much when you stay in your own country,” Robine said. “I think [we] are more open-minded when we have the opportunity to discover another culture.”
Robine is a five-year veteran of Parisian public schools, but her position at ISB marks uncharted territory for her. The school is bilingual, with students receiving half their instruction in English and the other half in either Spanish or French. Robine’s class is conducted entirely in French, but her students hail from all different backgrounds—approximately 50 different nationalities are represented at the school—and some have only limited exposure to French outside the classroom.
“I wasn’t trained to teach my own language,” Robine said. “You really have to…try to make it more understandable for them.”
Occasionally, she added, students will interchange French and English mid-conversation—or even mid-sentence—when they stumble on a word. This is the very type of cross-cultural bridge that Robine encourages.
“I’m not going to say, ‘You have to speak French,’” she said. “It’s like a big salad bowl.”
Sophie Ferguson, whose daughter is in Robine’s class, praised Robine’s ability to accommodate students of varying proficiency levels. “She is an effective teacher who has been able to work well with different levels of both the French language in her class and the great diversity her group encompasses this year,” Ferguson said. “She is there for our daughter…[and] has been instrumental in helping her both with her developing written and reading French skills.”
After three years at ISB, Robine will be leaving after the current school year wraps up to spend more time with her two children: a 4-year-old daughter, who was just an infant when the family moved from France, and a 2-year-old son born in the United States. French is spoken in the family home, but Robine expects to stay here for years to come and hopes to enroll her children in a bilingual school.
“She has better English than me,” Robine said about her daughter. “She corrects me sometimes.”
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