SENIOR SECTION: French students reflect on three-year experience with Monsieur Williams

The class of 2021 has had a very unique high school experience, in ways not just related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students who took French their freshman year in 2017 and continued the class up to French 3 were taught by French teacher Justin Williams for three years in a row.

According to Williams, the circumstance was a coincidence of scheduling. 

“It’s just the way that the schedule lined up. There was no way that I could have predicted that I would do that (teach French to the same students three years in a row),” Williams said. 

With the uncommon situation, Williams said he felt added responsibility for the current seniors’ French ability. Though the weight of providing almost all three levels of language for his students was daunting, Williams said there was an advantage that came with the familiarity of the class. 

“I could really see (my French students’) progress,” Williams said. “I get to see (them) struggle and succeed and struggle and fail and then take (their) failures and build on them. That was really, really rewarding to see.”

For some students, Williams’s class taught them lessons beyond what was in their French textbook and gave them a sense of community. 

“M. Williams isn’t someone who holds your hand, but I also think that’s what made the class so engaging. It forced me to really take responsibility for my own learning and pushed me out of my comfort zone,” senior Jessica Nguyen said. “I made some really valuable friends from that class… Most of the students stuck with M. Williams for the last three years, so it was nice to have familiar faces.”

Many students who have had a class with Williams know about his unique teaching style. He often acts out one-man shows, or creates characters to teach grammatical rules and concepts.

“I always loved when the class did skits, especially when Mr. Williams was teaching us through his own (skits) – with props,” senior Logan Ganey said.

According to Williams, he adopted his three-dimensional teaching style from an Italian teacher of his, Brian Nielsen. 

“It (Neilsen’s teaching style) really fell in line with how I wanted to make language live in a classroom. I mean, I’m not in France. I’m not in Spain. I’m not in some place where I can show (my students) everything in the world,” Williams said. “But I can be myself and bring everything to (them).”

On top of Williams’ own performances, he would often have his students create and perform skits for the class, a memory he feels strongly about. 

“I can’t go back and see them (student-created skits) again. And I would,” Williams said. “It would be like pictures of my kids. I would want to see that over and over and over again.” 

Many students felt that Williams’ three-year French class created a close and comfortable atmosphere. 

“I loved how much of a family that class environment felt,” Nguyen said. “Because we had M. Williams for a few years, it felt like we got to know him and he got to know us both in a teacher-student dynamic as well as in an amis-amis (friend-friend) dynamic.” 

Senior Sophia Diaz, who takes AP French this year with French teacher Grace Garvin, feels that Williams’ class helped give her a strong foundation.

“Having one teacher and one consistent teaching style as we were learning the basics was the best for us, I think, because the complications that come with trying to adjust to different styles of teaching weren’t part of the equation,” Diaz said. 

From Williams’ unique teaching style to the effects of having the same teacher and classmates three years in a row, some alumni of his French classes, like Diaz, feel that Williams’ classes were some of the best memories of high school. 

“Looking back on that class, and remembering what me and my now-senior classmates were like when we started out as awkward freshmen compared to what we are now on our way to graduation is sweet because it makes me think of all the fun times and how much we’ve all grown,” Diaz said. “That class was always one I looked forward to, even when everyday high school life was dreary and stressful.”