By: Samantha Wright
“Simi, present. Claire, absent. Dominique, present…” said Dr. Kate Bonin to herself, taking attendance as her French 102 class at Arcadia University began on Monday afternoon. When she finished, Bonin began walking around the classroom, listening, and occasionally participating in the conversations the students were having about what they did the past weekend, “en français.” Many times during the hour-long class, Bonin had the class break up into pairs, “bonjour partenaire,” to work on different parts in the textbook as she walked around the classroom and conversed with the pairs to keep them talking or answered any translation or grammar questions.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Kate Bonin, age 42, a 1994 graduate of Rutgers University’s Douglass Residential College, always knew she wanted to be a teacher. However, up until her senior year of college, she thought she was going to be an English professor. “I was taking a year off to teach English in France, so I didn’t apply to grad school that year,” she said. During that year, she watched many of her friends apply, and get waitlisted, or even get rejected; it was demoralizing for her.
“My favorite professor in French told me that there are more places available if you teach foreign language, and I thought, I like literature, I like English, I like French, why don’t I teach French? So I did.” Bonin graduated from Rutgers with a BA in English and French. The following year she applied to grad school and got accepted to UC Berkeley, and later received her PhD in French there.
This is Bonin’s first year teaching at Arcadia. “There’s a good opportunity here,” said Bonin. “It’s a small department, so I get to do things that kind of fit me pretty well.” Bonin is an Assistant Professor, working at the school full time. This semester, she is teaching two sections of 100 level classes, one 200 level class, one 300 level class, and a thesis student.
“It’s a full plate, but everything is a little bit different,” she said with a laugh. “There’s just a lot of opportunities, and there’s a whole range of courses available.”
Bonin’s excitement in teaching at Arcadia comes with many reasons. Before getting her job at Arcadia, Bonin was working as a part time professor for 10 years. She taught at Ursinus College in Collegeville and Widener University in Chester. Then, in addition to teaching at Widener, she served as a visiting assistant at Lehigh University in Bethlehem for a year. After that, Bonin was an Adjunct until she got this full time job at Arcadia.
With 20 years of teaching under her belt before arriving at Arcadia, Bonin has a lot of teaching opportunities to look forward to. “At the upper division, Dr. Jojo Lucena, the head of the department here, told me I could do what I wanted. I thought ‘Oh that sounds really good,’ so I get to develop courses that I’m interested in,” said Bonin. “I get to teach Cinema, I get to teach Business French, Literature, and Civ, and like everything.”
In light of this recent success, Bonin says that she would not have been able to get to where she is today without the help of her colleagues and professors from when she was learning to be a teacher. “The woman who taught me how to teach composition, Dr. Jean Schultz, she helped me develop a 200 level course,” said Bonin.“I think it’s really good at meeting the needs of students who are moving from first year language study to upper division culture, literature and civilization classes. Second year is where they have to be able to make that transition, and Jean taught me how to do that.”
Another role model that Bonin had was at Widener University. “I had a very good colleague who hired me and helped me, her name was Dr. Stephanie Schechner,” said Bonin. Schechner is currently a full time professor. “She knew I was an adjunct and she was really good about sharing upper division courses with me. I got to teach 300 under her.”
Schechner also mentored Bonin on how to be published. “I would write an article and want to give it to a small literary journal and she’d say ‘You know what, why don’t you try this bigger literary journal?’” said Bonin. “I was like oh wow, because I was kind of timid about it.” With Schechner’s help, Bonin was able to promote herself and her research.
Since coming to Arcadia, Bonin has learned to love the modern language program for many reasons. “It’s big, there’s a lot of languages offered. It’s such a rich selection,” she said.
French is just one of many languages that can be taken at Arcadia, in addition to Spanish, Italian, American Sign Language, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, and German. “It feels like a really healthy department, and students here all tend to be very attracted to study abroad,” said Bonin, who finds that the Study Abroad program at Arcadia attracts more people to the language department so they can learn their preferred language before traveling.
In the upcoming years, Bonin hopes that along with the help of Lucena, she can help students use their major together with their language study in ways that will really enrich the modern language program. Afterall, Bonin’s secret advice to any foreign language student is: “If people put in the six hours that they’re supposed to be, in studying outside of class, they would find that it’s much more doable. That would be my ‘secret advice’, maybe it shouldn’t be secret.”