My high school offered two languages: Russian and French. There was one class in every grade that took Russian, and two that took French. The other classes didn’t take a language. The three language classes were smaller than other class sizes, and we stayed together from tenth to eleventh grade (we didn’t move classrooms for different periods, the teachers came to us), while the other classes got mixed up from year to year. In the language classes, we all formed a fairly close bond after being together for four afternoons a week for two years. To quote Mme Galler, “Assez, that’s enough!”
In 2012, after I had graduated college but before I started grad school, I taught at my old high school as a substitute for two teachers who went on maternity leave one after the other.
At the end of one day, I passed Mme Galler on the stairs. In the crush of girls streaming out of class, we didn’t have a chance to really talk. I said hi, she said hi, she said something to me in French. I was flustered and it was noisy, resulting in a combination of me not hearing her and not understanding what I did hear.
I shot back (as we passed in opposite streams of bodies) “I don’t really know French anymore!” It was a lie, of course. I had taken an additional three semesters in college and I struggled through French Young Adult novels every now and then for fun.
I don’t know why I said that, really. But I have regretted it ever since, remembering how her face fell in response to my disavowal of speaking French.
Mme Galler was one of the few college-educated teachers in our school. I don’t know why she taught in Bais Yaakov, why she didn’t teach somewhere her efforts would be more appreciated.
But after that brief interaction with her in the halls seven years after I had been in her class, I couldn’t help feeling that I had let her down – that among all the Bais Yaakov students who may or may not actually care about French, she had expected me (and a few others pictured here, probably), who had shown such passion and interest in the language, to remember it years later – and I had flippantly told her I don’t…
So Mme Galler, know this: you were a shining light for me in that abyss where knowledge and intellectual inquiry go to die; your lessons contributed so much to my passion for and understanding of language, grammar, and linguistics; and I most certainly do still speak French.