MSU alum Ben Hawkins went from French aficionado to Kentucky French teacher of the year
Before Ben Hawkins (Class of 2005, 2009) made a career out of teaching French in the classroom, he originally planned to learn the language to make one of his dream travel destinations that much more rewarding.
“I started dreaming of going to France one day to Paris and seeing all the well-known monuments and sites that captivate the passions of so many world travelers. You know, like the Eiffel Tower, of course, or the Louvre or Notre Dame, all the reasons why Paris is still the number one most visited city in the world. And I always said to myself that if I ever had to go there, I would like to be able to communicate with the natives that I would inevitably want during such a trip,” Hawkins said. “I wanted to be able to have authentic, multifaceted conversations with real native speakers and not stick out like a sore thumb like a stereotypical tourist trying to get to these amazing places.”
What started as a college French class for fun became a passion that grew with her education, eventually leading to her earning a bachelor’s degree in French from Morehead State University and later a teaching French at East Carter High School in Grayson. . Now, Hawkins is recognized for his teaching abilities as this year’s French Teacher of the Year for Kentucky by the American Association of French Teachers – Kentucky Chapter.
“I am beyond humbled, honored and grateful to my colleagues for choosing me to be the recipient of this award this year, and I will be forever grateful to all of my teachers, mentors, students (current and former), their parents and colleagues, who have all been such great blessings in my life and empowered me to do what I love, who have each helped me become the teacher I am today,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins grew up in Erlanger and after first focusing on French in middle school, he studied it more extensively in high school and traveled to France for the first time the summer after his senior year. He decided to come to MSU after a trip to the campus in his freshman year for a one-day theater workshop that cemented his decision because of the beautiful campus and the quality of the student theater performances. He was initially undecided about his major but took the French 101 course during the fall semester of his first year under the guidance of the late and longtime French teacher Mary Jo Netherton (class of 1966).
“When Mary Jo introduced herself to us, who she had been teaching at MSU for 35 years, I thought, ‘I wonder if she taught my French teacher in high school?’ I couldn’t wait to ask her after class, to which she replied, “Oh yes, I remember Doris (Strilka, class of 1965)! She was my first student-teacher during my freshman year at MSU,” Hawkins recalled. “Mary Jo always called herself my ‘French grandmother,’ something I will always treasure.”
While Hawkins was taking every French course possible at MSU, he still decided to declare himself an art major and didn’t know how he could turn his knowledge of French into a job. Once, when Netherton was out of town for meetings and conferences with the Kentucky Institute for International Studies, she brought in Hawkins to fill in for some of her French 101 classes.
“I was there, handing out papers that Mary Jo had left for her students, starting class that day, following Mary Jo’s lesson plan like I was supposed to, and then all of a sudden, I I just stared at the back wall of the classroom for a few moments that felt like several minutes. I had a revelation,” Hawkins said. “I was like, ‘I could do this as a career. And I’d like it!’ I came out of the epiphany ecstatic and couldn’t wait to tell Mary Jo that I was going to change my major to French education.”
Hawkins graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in French in 2005 and landed her first job as a French teacher for Fleming County Schools the same year. He then became a middle school teacher at Rowan County Christian Academy from 2006 to 2007 before returning to MSU to earn a Master of Arts in Secondary Education, 8-12 in 2009. It was a degree he earned starting his current job as a Frenchman. Teacher at East Carter High School in 2007, a position he has held for 15 years.
In his classroom, Hawkins prides himself on immersing his students in French language and culture while prioritizing his relationships with students and making the material as engaging and entertaining as possible. He believes the ability to speak a second language, French or otherwise, will only benefit students in the long run.
“Monolingualism is one of America’s defining characteristics, unfortunately, with only about 20% of the population able to communicate in more than one language. Even if you wouldn’t use a global language most of the time working in your current field, having the ability to communicate in other languages brings a host of benefits, including having improved and advanced communication skills in your native language,” he said. “It is proven that studying another language and using it often strengthens your own communication skills and abilities, regardless of the language you speak at any given time.”
From being inspired by the language of a country across the ocean to being recognized as one of the best French teachers in the country, Hawkins admits that the transition from a childhood interest to a career fulfilling was made possible by becoming an Eagle.
“MSU has connected me to so many new people, new experiences, new places, new knowledge, skills and even wisdom that have enriched my life to heights and levels that I never expected. “, did he declare. “I am who I am today because of MSU. It is impossible to separate my current status and quality of life from the influence and impact MSU has had on me.”
To learn more about foreign language programs at MSU, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/study/languages or contact the Department of Communication, Media, and Languages at 606-783-2134 or [email protected] .
College can change lives and communities. A higher level of education increases tax revenue, lowers unemployment and even improves health outcomes. Learn more about the KY Council on Post-Secondary Education at kyhigheredmatters.org.