By Brenna R. Kelly
Laura Roché Youngworth didn’t plan to be a French teacher. She didn’t even plan to be a teacher.
“I was supposed to be an architecture major,” she said. But missing the entrance exam made her rethink that plan and recall a love of English.
“I thought, I’ll be an English teacher,” she said. But she also continued to study French, something she had been doing since 7th grade, and quickly earned a double major.
Teaching the language of her ancestors hadn’t crossed her mind, but a University of Kentucky professor persuaded her to student teach a high school class.
“The second day, I knew French was it,” said the teacher, who goes by Roché professionally. “It was so exciting to teach a content that the kids didn’t know. You see them grow, you share your enthusiasm with them and it’s really contagious with the kids.”
More than 24 years later, Roché still feels that same passion.
“To be able to open students’ eyes to other cultures and people around the world and how they think and how they are similar and different, it’s just really exciting,” she said.
Roché, who has been teaching at Beaumont Middle School (Fayette County) for six years, was named the 2015 Kentucky World Language Association’s (KWLA) Outstanding Teacher. She was chosen from a group of four candidates, each representing different Kentucky chapters of language teaching organizations. Roché was the Outstanding French Teacher honored by the American Association of Teachers of French – Kentucky chapter (AATF-Ky).
The award was announced at the 2015 KWLA Fall Conference in Louisville.
“Everybody else was just so amazing, I thought, ‘It’s not going to be me,’” she said. But then her picture appeared on the screen.
“I was just so honored and really shocked by it,” said Roché, who has been a member of KWLA since college. “To be recognized by an association that you’re a member of just makes it even more special because you are being recognized by your colleagues.”
Roché began her career at Scott High School (Kenton County) and then moved to Anderson County High School, where she stayed for 17 years and built the program, from French I to Advanced Placement. She also shepherded students to France six times.
Roché decided it was time to make a move when a position at Beaumont, which is closer to her Lexington home, came open.
“I always had been intrigued by that age group,” she said. “Middle schoolers are beautiful; they’re pure souls. They’re so enthusiastic. They are excited and they will do anything you ask of them.”
Beaumont’s approach to world languages also stood out. The middle school offers three languages – French, Spanish and German. Sixth-graders study each language for three weeks in a course designed to help them choose a language.
“French is the first choice at this school, I’m very proud of that,” Roché said. While that means large classes, it also means her students are motivated. Roché also gets to teach over two years the same material she taught in one semester in high school.
“This school really places a value in understanding it takes a while to learn a language and the younger you start the better,” she said.
As her school’s Global Competency and World Language Program Review coordinator, Roché also makes sure all the students at the school are able to understand the world is larger than Kentucky. The implementation of the program review showed that the Kentucky Department of Education values world language and the skills that come along with understanding another culture, she said.
She hopes more Kentucky middle and elementary schools will begin teaching world languages.
“Kids brains are like sponges and the younger they are, the easier they can absorb a language, the more native they sound,” she said. “It’s really difficult to get an adult to sound native.”
Roché, whose family traces its roots to France, was lucky French was offered when she attended Tates Creek Middle School.
“It was always the subject that I would take home and practice at home and try to do the best I could,” she said.
And even when she eventually retires from teaching French, Roche plans to use her skills to teach aspiring educators how to teach world languages. Roché earned her doctorate of education in administration and Instruction in 2014 and plans to become an education professor.
“One of my passions is not just what I do in the classroom,” she said. “It’s helping other teachers be really successful in their teaching. I just love that.”
She worked with Jeanmarie Rouhier-Willoughby, a Russian professor and chair of the UK Modern and Classical Language Department, to create a hub of resources for Kentucky world language teachers. The pair also has launched KWLA Language Talk, a monthly podcast on the KWLA website aimed at kindergarten through college educators. The broadcast has gotten hits from Spain, France, Turkey and other countries.
“We thought maybe five people will listen to this,” Roché said. “It’s so exciting to think that people around the world are listening to it.”
The podcast’s topics range from Program Reviews, to the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System to proficiency-based teaching. The pair is also planning to begin podcasts for administrators.
“I love sharing, connecting and collaborating with other teachers,” said Roché, who speaks at conferences across the country.
But she’s most at home in her classroom covered in posters of France and where she plays French music as her students file in. It’s where she see the payoff for all her work.
“By the end of class, my students can do something with the language and it’s so apparent, not just to me as the teacher, but it’s apparent to them,” she said. “They can say I learned this today in French class.”
Laura Roché Laura.Roché@fayette.kyschools.us