From New England to New Mexico:
Mrs. Schmidt Retires After Teaching in 6 Decades
NEIRAD enilno edition
“I’ve enjoyed my stay here, but it’s time for me to move on.” DHS’s very own Barbara Schmidt, known as both Madame and Señora, expressed her plans to retire as a foreign language teacher. She feels sadness to be leaving but a definite eagerness to begin a new chapter in her life.
Originally from Michigan, Madame has lived in New Canaan for 39 years. A decade of this time was spent at DHS teaching French at the 300, 400 and AP levels as well as Spanish at the 300 and 400 levels.
Prior to her position in Darien, she also worked in Bethel, New Canaan, and Greenwich. “I was part of a three-teacher group that developed a program to teach kindergarten through 5th grade Spanish in Greenwich,” Madame said. The program which she helped create at Greenwich Country Day is still successful today. After teaching at every grade level besides 1st and 3rd, Madame decided it was time to return to the high school level. “As a Mom I was kind of done with the little kid stage,” she said. “I enjoy the intellectual challenge involved in teaching at a more advanced level. It’s more interesting.” Madame expressed that she enjoys bringing students to a higher level of learning, something she has certainly done in her AP French class.
“For the majority of the year we prepare for the French AP Exam. We go to the lab a lot to work on speaking exercises,” senior French AP student Taylor Wells said. “The class is really challenging because Madame Schmidt expects a lot from her students.” Madame explained that her students need to be willing to work and embrace the knowledge that she presents.
“We do a ton of speaking, grammar, reading and writing,” senior Andrea Smelser said. “There were also weeks where we would take an entire AP over a couple of days of class so that we weren’t unfamiliar with it when May came.”
The dedication required to succeed in Madame’s classes can certainly be attributed to the rigor of her own education. Madame graduated with honors from Cornell University and went on to attend Wesleyan University in Middletown. She received a teaching degree while taking courses as French major.
Though at first perplexed by the option of either studying English or French, the decision quickly became clear. “I just decided French was cool,” she said. Madame has also enjoyed the difficulty that came with learning a foreign language. “It didn’t come particularly easy, and that made it intriguing.”
Madame went on to teach French exclusively for years until eventually going back to school to learn Spanish, dedicating about eight hours per day studying the language through classes at Yale University. “It was a terrific challenge,” she said. That fall after learning the language, she was teaching a Spanish 1 class. This fact may come as a major surprise to Señora’s Spanish students, as her lessons seem to reflect a vast knowledge she has for the Hispanic culture.
“I learned a lot when we watched the program ‘Destinos’. We always talked about the cultural background of the show, while learning a lot of vocabulary at the same time,” junior Molly Marren said. Marren was in Señora’s Honors Spanish class freshman year and said the class was definitely a challenge.
This rich cultural insight which Señora gives her Spanish students comes from her own experience spending two summers in Seville, Spain on scholarships from Yale University. She has been enriching the lives of both French and Spanish students ever since.
There is no doubt that Madame has provided her students with an in depth understanding of foreign language; The question now becomes what lies ahead in her post-teaching future? “The plans have been there for a while,” Madame said with a smile and enthusiasm. Her husband Mark, a special education teacher at Middlesex Middle School who she met at Cornell, has been retired for a while. “He’s been waiting for me!” she said.
The two have purchased land in New Mexico, an area Madame said they chose because of its diversity in culture as well as its favorable climate. “We love that the Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo cultures all seem to co-exist there,” she said.
Madame’s acreage of land will be part of a large ranch on which they will build their own home and have their own horses. “We just can’t fence it in because the ranch owner will be grazing his cows,” she said. Interestingly enough, their house will be designed by sophomore Michael Johnston through a project in his drafting class right here at DHS.
“I’m making a 2,000-square- foot Pueblo style house,” Johnston said. As far as working with Madame, Johnston says he feels “really fortunate to have met such a great teacher before she retires”.
Madame and her husband hope to make the move shortly following the end of the 2010 school year, with Johnston’s finished plans in hand, where they will meet with an architect and construct their home.
Their retirement relocation will surely involve a huge lifestyle change from their suburban home in New Canaan. “The nearest big grocery store is 75 miles away,” Madame said laughing. On the upside, she and her husband will be free from traffic and, although their new Pueblo home will be somewhat secluded, it will be located a little over an hour away from the lively cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
The move will, however, place her further from her family which includes two daughters and one granddaughter. “I’ll miss my granddaughter immensely,” Madame said.
In terms of the school she is leaving behind, Madame had a lot to say. “Sometimes I think that students here need to work a little harder,” she expressed. Madame feels that there is too much of an emphasis placed on sports in the Darien community, and among universities as well. She considers this a disservice to the students who excel academically instead of athletically.
“In the long run the most important questions become ‘What did you learn?’ and ‘Can you apply that to the real world?’ That’s what really counts,” Madame said. She feels that as long as her students have truly learned something, and understand that mastering a foreign language is an ongoing process, then she has been successful.
However important Madame feels that cultural and education enrichment is, she believes there is too much of an emphasis placed on grades. Madame said that she would “gladly get rid of grades” and substitute them with written comments. She thinks that students need to be able to understand what they’re doing well in, as well as what they need to improve. Madame claims that, “One letter does not tell you that.”
This is a practice she integrated somewhat into her French class. “We never actually had real quizzes or tests. The grades she would take from us would be the practice grammar and reading we would do for homework or in class,” Smelser said.
Technology, too, is something she feels hinders the educational process. “I don’t text!” she said, expressing that she believes cell phones are for emergency purposes only. “Students have to be able to communicate and actually use the language. I worry that we’re losing that ability,” she said.
However after teaching French for almost 40 years and Spanish for almost 20, Madame has definitely demonstrated her love for the languages, as well as teaching. “Looking back, it’s been pretty good!” she said in good spirit. The foreign language department, as well as the whole DHS community, will certainly be sad to see her go.