World-traveling French teacher finds home in Blair
Name: Lucie Austin
Department: Foreign Languages
Came to Blair: 2012
Classes Taught: Hon. French 3, French 5, French 6, AP French Lang
Education: Majored in Middle East Studies at Oberlin College, graduate school certificate in elementary-school teaching and French
Previous Jobs: Substitute teacher, scheduler for construction projects
Hobbies: reading, traveling, swimming
Extracurriculars: Head of French Honors Society
Lucie Austin never thought she'd grow up to be a French teacher. Nonetheless, she now finds herself in the language hallway, speaking rapid-fire French to the other teachers, laughing and commiserating about their students.
Most of her time is spent in her classroom, grading, teaching or working on lessons, and pausing only to answer an occasional question from a student. Becoming a teacher was a wise decision, for both her and her students. Austin is an enthusiastic teacher, and she especially enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for French. "I like working with young people," she says. "I like helping people move towards their goals.”
Austin studied French for twelve years, from second grade to her first year of college. However, Austin says, grinning, "I don't know that I really was interested in French.”
Nevertheless, before leaving graduate school, where she had been studying elementary-school teaching, she decided to also take the French exam. "Why not?” she says simply. "You never know what the future will hold.”
What the future held for her was soon made clear. One day, while Austin was substituting at a school in North Dakota, the school French teacher quit. Austin was the only available substitute who spoke French, so she took the job. That decision shaped the rest of her life. "I just enjoyed teaching French so much I decided to be a French teacher instead,” she says, smiling.
Austin partially attributes her own interest in languages and culture to her unusual upbringing. Although she was born in the United States, and lived in both Florida and Virginia, she moved overseas at the age of five when her father joined the Foreign Service. From then on, her family moved every two years. Over the course of her childhood, Austin lived in Ethiopia, the Congo, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, Kuwait and Egypt.
The experience, Austin says, made her a "cultural chameleon.” She describes herself as very adaptable and flexible, particularly when it comes to accommodating to new places and people. One of the reasons for this flexibility, she says, is because she has a love of and gift for languages. She also loves traveling, and has what she describes as a ‘European way of thinking': "People worry too much about germs!” she says, laughing.
After attending Oberlin College, where she studied Arabic and Russian and majored in Middle East Studies, and finishing graduate school, Austin began teaching abroad. She spent one year in Lebanon, which she says is her favorite of all the places she lived as a child. Then she spent two years in Hawaii and a year in Argentina. Though she's no longer interested in teaching abroad, she still loves traveling and wants to visit Australia, New Zealand, Japan, countries in French-speaking West Africa and, of course, Lebanon. Austin describes Lebanon as the one place she really wants to go back to, due mostly, she says, to the beautiful scenery, interesting people and delicious cuisine.
For now, however, she's content to stay where she is. Although this is her first year at Blair, Austin has been living in Maryland for 17 years, 14 of which have been spent teaching in Montgomery County. Most recently, she taught at Sherwood HS for seven years, and at Northwest HS for five years. Last year, following the departure of former French teacher Michael Honigsberg, a position at Blair for a French teacher opened up. Austin had heard that Blair was a good school, but the most appealing aspect of the school was the short commute, she says, laughing.
In all seriousness, however, one of Austin's favorite things about Blair is the diversity. Growing up in Africa and the Middle East, she attended American, English-speaking schools filled with other children like herself who had parents in the Foreign Service. Her schools, she says, didn't reflect the diversity of the population. The experience students get at Blair is very different from the one she had in high school, and while she has nothing against the education she got, she believes students at Blair are lucky. "They learn how to get along with lots of different people,” she says.
To Austin, variety is one of the most important parts of an education. "People should never limit themselves in what they study,” she says. "You don't know what your life will be." Take her, for example: she had no idea French would be useful to her, and now she teaches it to students every day. She describes learning as a partnership, and says that the hardest thing about teaching is when kids aren't invested in learning.
Still, it's difficult for her to think of anything else she'd rather be doing. When she was little, she wanted to be an airline stewardess, a translator or a forest ranger. Unfortunately, when she graduated from college, openings for those positions were difficult to find. Now, she would consider being a travel and tour guide, but wouldn't give up teaching to do it. "I like teaching a lot," she says simply, grinning. In the future, Austin says, she plans to stay at Blair, from which she hopes to retire. "But not before 2020!" she says, laughing.
In her classroom, which she has only been in since September, Austin seems relaxed and confident. Having lived all over the world, Austin has finally come home.
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