GoAbroad Interview

Christelle Thorel - Director of Studies & French Teacher

Christelle Thorel - Director of Studies & French Teacher

Christelle studied English at university in France, she then lived in England for eight years where she completed her QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) in Foreign Modern Language teaching French in High Schools and preparing students for their GCSEs and A levels. After traveling for some years, she settled in the French Alps and joined Alpine French Schools first as a teacher and then as the Director of Studies and Helen’s business partner.

Your academic background is in English, and you spent eight years living in England. How did this experience contribute to you wanting to teach French?

My academic background made me fall in love with England! I then settled there and decided after a while that it was time to catch up with my qualifications as a language teacher, which had always been my professional will. Living in England, it made sense to teach French and share my culture. I remember thinking at the time: “What a sensible and easy option!” But, I  soon discovered that ‘easy’ was not quite the concept of teaching French to kids!

Sitting on a rooftop in South India

On a rooftop in South India.

You spent seven years traveling the world before landing with Alpine French Schools. Where did you go, and what was the impetus for your journey?

I couldn’t imagine my life without those seven years of traveling! In total, I spent nearly two years in India. I can’t describe how amazing my Indian experience was. My second longest stay was on the North American continent, on the West Coast and in Quebec. I also spent time in Central America, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam. My impetus was to learn what you can’t learn about life and human nature at school or in books! I wanted to be exposed to other ways of living and thinking and experiment. And I certainly did!

You’re big on making students accountable for their own learning. What methodology do you use in your role as Director of Studies, and French Teacher, to encourage this?

I realized that the backbone of progress was a solid teacher/learner relationship. Therefore, we always develop relevant active learning where students are involved and feel that what they’re doing is useful, important, and fun. We also keep students involved outside the classroom using our interactive e-learning platform, bringing what they learn during lessons into real life situation thanks to our “Friendly French Scheme”. Also, students have homework which can be interviewing French people, creating an advertisement, writing a song, and also grammar activities. These types of language learning activities enable students to gain structural independence to be able to ‘create’ their own French.

Volunteer at the Mother Teresa Hospice in Calcutta

Mother Teresa Hospice in Calcutta.

What does a typical day look like as the Director of Studies and French Teacher for Alpine French Schools?

No such thing as a typical day! I spend a lot of time to monitoring students progress assessing their level to provide adequate answers to each student’s needs and our objectives. In parallel, my role is to ensure the pedagogical coordination with teachers, which always ends up with us sharing exciting ideas, successful activities, student achievements, and a good laugh! Inevitably when teaching, I do research, create, prepare, cut, paste, copy!

Helen (The Director of Alpine French Schools) and I also allocate time to putting in place strategies to provide the best possible service and experience, as well as time to research for ideas.

You have a passion for dance, are you able to incorporate dance or any TPR (Total Physical Response) methods into your teaching French?

Although I wouldn’t use this method exclusively, I find TPR very inspiring and in line with the ‘new’ learning era. I share the view on the fact that learning a language comes through listening comprehension (LC) and we implement an active LC politic. Our project for 2015 is to provide new ways of learning with our “off the chair” salons. One would be a zen salon where students would tune into their learning potential through meditation, and one would be a ‘boot camp’ approach salon where students would learn through strong loud input. We still need to look into the pedagogical set up to make those salons a true success.

Alpine French Schools has a diverse student body, where do most of your students come from?

Most of our students come from Europe, but we also have students from South America and Australia.

Students with their teacher

Christelle in action.

As Director of Studies, you pride yourself on making sure courses stay relevant and innovative, what has been the biggest innovation over the last year?

Our “Friendly French Scheme”! It’s a partnership between the Alpine French School and local businesses where students get to have a real French experiences and exchange when approaching all kind of services and shops around Morzine. French people will support their learning in being patient and helpful. A real success both for our students and the town!

You focus on teaching higher level French, as well as DELF exam classes, what makes these classes unique from other French schools out there?

Teaching higher levels and more specialist disciplines allows me to create innovative teaching material to really target the specificities that students need to work on, as well as meet exams obligations. I thrive on finding inspiration from different sources and mediums to keep up with up to date support material like media, powerpoint, and the internet in order to deliver efficient interactive lessons.

What is your favorite part of your job with Alpine French Schools?

Creating and recreating the learning process! That part of the job is so alive and also needs a structure leading to clear objectives. I love the double sided challenge! As Director of Studies, the learning process is a leading thread to our whole organisation, a key to success!

Teacher teaching French

A proud teaching moment.

What has been your biggest teaching accomplishment?

It’s always an accomplishment when students have a laugh or smile! I’m more than convinced that the way we feel influences the way we learn (and the way we teach!). Therefore, providing a relaxed, safe, fun and creative environment for students and teachers is an everyday priority for Helen and I and a real accomplishment. From my experience, I would say that the biggest accomplishments don’t necessarily lay in extraordinary outcomes but rather in the little things that make any learner feel big!