Profile: Doctoral student Alyssa Smith is passionate about French language

Imagine completing assignments and a full class schedule for a doctoral program, all while teaching classes at MU. For most, the demands of graduate school are so overwhelming that little time and energy can be placed elsewhere. Student and teaching assistant, Alyssa Smith, somehow finds the time to juggle everything smoothly.

Her devotion for helping students fully understand the material they’re being taught, and her passion for teaching French, help students and colleagues alike see what a devoted individual she truly is.

“She puts thought in ways people learn,” said previous student, Connie Housley. “She goes above and beyond to help her students learn French, to be sure they learn the material, not just memorize it for exams.”

As French Coordinator of French 1100, 1200 and 2100, Annice Wetzel has observed and evaluated Smith’s teaching for the three years she has been at MU.

“She creates a warm culture in her classroom,” said Wetzel.  “She injects grammar lessons with her whimsical sense of humor. As coordinator, I compile quizzes and tests from items that instructors submit. She is always prompt, but not only that, her test submissions are always well thought out, testing the main points that should be learned, not just the exceptions.”

In addition to being dedicated to her studies and teaching, Smith has worked to become more diverse over the years by spending time in other countries. She has traveled to Montreal, France, England, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. She made the trip to France while studying for her Bachelor of Arts in French and her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in marketing at Missouri Western State University. Smith learned a balance of becoming familiar with culture and studying from home. She said it was this trip that helped her transition into a more independent individual. This experience, along with a great French teacher, helped her decide to pursue French.

“I just reached that level where it all came together – the culture, the language, the literature,” she said.

Smith transitioned to the University of Missouri in ’09 to pursue a master’s degree in French Literature. This was also the year she started teaching French I, II and III for the university. She earned her M.A. in ’11 and is continuing with her Ph.D. in French while still teaching French I. She has helped with the continuation of Table la Française — a weekly meeting where students converse freely in French.

According to Smith, there are four skills the teachers grade their students on. These are reading, writing, speaking and listening. Of these four, the speaking aspect is the one students tend to struggle with the most. The Table la Française helps address most of the issues associated with speaking, and this is why she is a strong advocate of the extra practice these sessions are able to give.

 “Being able to sit down and talk about whatever is so beneficial to students,” Smith said. “It’s a low anxiety environment so the students are less concerned to make mistakes.”

Her passions for helping students learn and her love for French culture make her recommend students take a foreign language.

“I feel like, to me, it’s as though you live in your own world in English, but once you learn another language your world becomes so much larger,” Smith said. “You have these opportunities to communicate with people that are made possible with the acquisition of an additional language. We can benefit from this because our world has become so much more global, it eliminates boundaries based on geographic location.”

After graduation she said she may be interested in being a tour guide for a small amount of time, but revealed no further plans yet.

“I would like to see myself utilizing the French language,” Smith said. “But we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds.”

While she may keep everyone guessing where she will head next, Ms. Wetzel shared where she could see Smith in the future.

 “I taught 39 years in high school and enjoyed the work with that age,” said Wetzel. “She would be a wonderful addition to a high school program with her ability to identify with student needs, her high level of subject matter proficiency and her skill, creativity and sense of fun.”

Whether she’s touring across Europe or teaching a class full of French-loving students, one thing for sure is that she has left her mark within her few years here at Mizzou.

“I have seen her grow from her first class, where student evaluations told her to be more authoritative, to the confident powerhouse of a teacher that she has become,” Wetzel said.  “I truly enjoy working with her.”

Ashley Craft

About the Author Ashley Craft

“I have a question,” used to be my most frequently used statement when I was younger, according to my entire family. It wasn’t until my sixth-grade teacher noticed my talent for asking questions and writing that I knew I had a possible career on my hands. I may seem quiet at first, but when you get to know me, it’s hard to believe I ever was. I’ve got an opinion or a question for just about everything and an incredibly nerdy fascination to learn about almost anything, especially issues pertaining to the environment, weather or music. Even though this is my junior year at Mizzou, this is my first official semester in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. I’m excited to be joining the graduating class of 2014 with a B.S. in Science and Agricultural Journalism with an emphasis in Marketing.