Faculty Profile: Jessica McCormack, World Language Department Chair and Upper School French Teacher
October 23, 2020
Tell us about your path to Léman.
I grew up in New Hampshire. I went to a liberal arts school, Beloit College, in Wisconsin, where I studied music and languages.
And when I did my study abroad in Senegal and France in my junior year, I decided to pare it down to focusing on French and music. After college, I wanted to continue studying French but also have more exposure to the language and culture. I moved to France to work through the government in a program where they hire non-French speaking people to teach their own language in the school system. I did that part-time for a school year.
I decided to move to New York because it's an international city and the fact that I knew that I could continue interacting with Francophone people here. I started out working for a French family as a nanny as well as worked part-time at a Montessori school in Brooklyn where I taught French. I also volunteered as a French to English interpreter for victims of torture seeking asylum in the U.S. through the Program for Survivors of Torture at Belleview Hospital. Working at the Montessori school made me realize I loved teaching and that I wanted to make that my career choice. I applied to some schools and ended up working at KIPP, New Jersey in Newark, where I became a French teacher full-time. It was there that I met some of my current colleagues at Léman.
I worked there for four years and did a lot of pedagogical training, which was intense and difficult. From there, I went to teach in the public system in New York City for a year. While I was working there, I ran into my former colleague, who was then working at Léman. She was very enthusiastic about the school. I loved that it was international, and it sounded like a great community. She connected me with Jerry Maraia, and, after a few interviews, I was hired as the World Language department chair.
What do you like teaching an IB School and at Léman in particular?
I absolutely love the international curriculum. It has broadened my ideas of what language content should be.
In the IB, you teach language through the concepts and cultures of other countries. We of course have lessons on grammar, vocabulary, and construction syntax, but I also teach about problems and social issues and celebrations in the Francophone speaking countries through French.
As the World Language Department Chair, what are your priorities for the department and how do you see your leadership role?
I feel that it is important to bring out other people's strengths in our department. I want them to feel like they love what they are doing. As a department chair, my role is to get us to a point where we are doing what we love to do as well as help the members of my department thrive.
When I worked at KIPP, my department chair did that for me. I feel like that is a really important role and I do not think I would be the teacher I am today without that mentorship. Luckily, we have teachers in the department who are extremely knowledgeable and skilled, and experienced. They are also supervised by members of the administration, which allows me the freedom to help them improve as teachers and find ways to infuse passion into what they do, which has a greater and more widespread positive effect on our students' lives.
For example, we need to align our curriculum so that we know what we are doing is effective and we can collaborate between languages and levels. Everybody is an expert in something. What are you great at? Please bring that to our department so that we can learn from you. That was our focus last year and it was so enriching.
The next goal I have is that I would really like to do some kind of internal disciplinary projects with people, which we’ve been discussing in our department like doing some cross-collaboration with the arts and potentially even athletics for instance focusing on the World Cup or the Olympics or things that involve multiple countries and cultures and languages.
What do you think is the benefit of being a multilingual person?
Being multilingual can open endless opportunities for friendships and learning, as well as career choices, humanitarian work, and environmentalist work.
Our students do not know what that language impact will have on their future right now. I certainly did not know when I was studying in high school that French would open up a whole new world of relationships and passions for me.
I have gone through life learning languages; I know exactly how wonderful and beneficial it can be to people and what kind of career opportunities are just passion opportunities await them through language. For example, I keep in touch with my I call them my French family and my Senegalese family with whom I lived when I was in college. I have a colleague who teaches English and we are going to do correspondence with our students between French and English. But of course, there are so many opportunities that being bi-lingual opens up, like working with Doctors Without Borders in West Africa. It grows our capacity for intercultural sensitivity and understanding which is very important, it always has been, but it's becoming even more important at our present time.
I try not to make it only about the career because I do not think that that is the only thing that makes people happy in their lives. There are just so many other things that I think typically what makes us the happiest is our relationships with people and the experiences that we have. Language opens a world of possibilities for those things, and then, of course, the obvious one is, is career opportunities as well, but also opportunities to help other people. We have to get better at intercultural relationships, it's urgent, we cannot get worse, and learning a language which is a key to another culture is integral to that growth we need to make.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I am a passionate family cook and I love cooking recipes of all different cultures. That brings me joy. I love meditation and yoga as well as jogging, which I do for pleasure and health!
My husband's English and my daughter's a dual citizen, so we travel to England frequently. I wish I could go to France even more often than we do. But I do love going to French-speaking countries as much as possible. I also love to paint and play music. We have dance parties with my daughter all the time to listen to music. We just pop on some dance tunes, get the energy out since we can’t go frolicking outside as much these days!