“It’s been quite a journey, but I’m very happy with where I am now. I never imagined these kinds of opportunities when I was coming in.”
That’s what Noah Lawing ’21 had to say about the course of his cadetship, which has involved a change of major, a change of heart about commissioning, and now, an accepted invitation to participate in the Teaching Assistant Program in France. This program, which is sponsored by the French government, recruits approximately 1,500 American citizens and permanent residents each year to teach English in French public schools, not only in France but also in French-speaking countries.
For Lawing, who matriculated as a chemistry major, teaching overseas was the furthest possibility from his mind during his rat year. He’d had four years of French in high school, but he didn’t sign up for language classes immediately upon matriculation. He’d planned to commission in the Navy and thought that a STEM major would make him more appealing to that branch of the service.
By the end of the first semester of his 3rd Class year, though, Lawing could see that his plan wasn’t working. His grades were low, and the Navy didn’t seem as appealing. He then switched his major to modern languages and cultures (French) and tested his way to placement in a 300-level class.
Right away, Lawing felt at home in the department, and he quickly developed a rapport with Lt. Col. Jeff Kendrick, Ph.D., and Lt. Col. Abbey Carrico, Ph.D., both associate professors of modern languages and cultures.
“They both care so much about education and about their students,” said Lawing. “They’re the best professors that I could have asked for.”
The professors, meanwhile, return the admiration. For Kendrick, there’s enjoyment in having an independent learner such as Lawing in his classes.
“It’s a lot of fun to teach a student like that because they’re always challenging you,” he said.
“His French is already at a very good level,” said Carrico. “This [experience] will help build his confidence speaking it.”
In spring 2020, Lawing studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, an ancient city in southern France. “It was the time of my life,” he recalled, with fellow students from around the world and plenty of time to explore a new country. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic brought his study abroad experience to an early halt, as it did for thousands of students around the globe.
Less than a year later, Lawing found himself applying to TAPIF. He’d learned about the program from Carrico, who participated in the program herself as a graduate student in 2009, working with elementary schoolers at three schools south of Paris.
“This program usually attracts French majors from colleges,” she noted. “It’s often people who want to work on their French, have a cross-cultural exchange, and also want to see, ‘Hey, is teaching for me?’”
That’s exactly the appeal for Lawing, who is now leaning toward graduate study and possibly earning a doctorate in French.
“I think the main reason I wanted to do this program is so I can get some experience teaching before I decide if I want to go to graduate school,” he stated.
Lawing has yet to receive his official school assignment, but he has requested to be placed in a small- to medium-sized city near Toulouse, which is in the southern part of France and north of Spain. It is a city he visited while he was in France last year and one that he remembers fondly.
Another attraction is the traditional language of the region, Occitan, which is a Romance language that’s considered endangered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Red Book of Endangered Languages.
“I’m just fascinated by it. I like old languages,” said Lawing, who added that he might study Occitan in graduate school.
Lawing has learned a few things about studying a language—among them, that just going to class and doing the assigned work aren’t enough if one wants to become truly proficient.
“I’ve done a lot to immerse myself … in French, even before I went to France,” he stated. In his spare time, Lawing likes to read books in French and also watch French TV shows and movies. He also dipped his toes into teaching by facilitating the Miller Academic Center’s group study session for cadets in lower-level French courses.
Thinking over his cadetship, Lawing is surprised and pleased at the direction he’s taken, especially as he contemplates following his mentors into the teaching profession. “It’s not something I’d ever expected out of myself, but now I’m kind of thinking about it.”
Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing