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Crossing Cultures: Pauline Bera, L&L’12

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05/07/2012 12:02 PM
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After working in administration at the American University of Paris for a couple of years, Pauline Béra decided that she wanted to go back to teaching. First step: enrolling in the Ed School’s Language and Literacy Program (L&L) and working toward her master’s so that she could resume her career as a foreign language teacher.

“My teaching experience has been a bit all over the place: I’ve taught French, English, and Spanish as foreign languages in five different countries, age groups ranging from day care to adults,” says Béra, a native of Lyon, France. “I wanted to get a better sense of coherence by studying first- and second-language acquisition theoretical principles.”

Béra’s experiences allowed her to bring a unique perspective to her L&L courses.

“Pauline came to the L&L Program with personal and professional experiences in multilingualism and . Through these lenses she has approached issues of language learning and the cultural influences on classroom dynamics and the learning process,” says Lecturer Pamela Mason, director of L&L. “Pauline has been a catalyst in her classes on addressing the hidden ways cultural and language identities of teachers and students serve to promote or inhibit communication and learning. She is a thoughtful and thought provoking member of our L&L cohort.”

Béra is eager to go back to teaching full-time, so much so that she taught a section of French at the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences during her final semester. But she doesn’t think she’s done with her own education yet.

“My time at HGSE has made it very clear that I really want to get a doctorate,” she says. “I’m not sure what field though. Education? Applied linguistics? The new HGSE Ph.D. program seems really intriguing!”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for L&L, Béra answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

Favorite class?
[Visiting Lecturer] Bruno della Chiesa’s Learning in a Globalizing World: Language Acquisition, Cultural Awareness, and the Brain. What a shame that this was just a J-term course! It should really run as a full semester class. Maybe it’s because we’re both French, but he made a lot of sense to me. Bruno is an exceptionally committed and engaging professor, who consistently takes the time to acknowledge and think through the perspectives of his students. The class was deeply anchored in theory, extremely ambitious in the amount of content it covered, and addressed many of the issues that I’d been thinking about over the years. It opened my perspective up to the profoundly political nature of non-native language education, as well as to the importance of motivation in the classroom (beyond the trivial understanding that a driven kid will do better). Somehow his ideas keep making their way back into everything I’ve been writing since.

Is there any other professor who significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?
Tough one, every professor has in one way or another. I think each semester had a particular professor that propelled my thinking forward: [Professor] Catherine Elgin in the fall, della Chiesa in the winter, and [Assistant Professor] Paola Uccelli in the spring. They’re all extremely knowledgeable, and engage with students’ ideas genuinely, thoughtfully, and critically.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education?
The principle of Inter-Cultural Competence (ICC) as a fundamental element of non-native language instruction. It has helped me frame more concretely how to appropriately integrate critical thinking into the foreign language classroom, and better define the skills that should be the end goal of the classes I teach.

Any special study spots?
Sundays were usually “tour the libraries” day. I’d start off early in Lamont, head to Widener when it opened, and end up in Gutman when I needed to socialize a bit. It’s hard to just stay in one spot for too long! I get antsy. I also regularly invade my living room, and spread out all over the coffee table, couch, and floor.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program?
Enjoy! I’m so jealous, I wish I could stay an extra year. Pick classes and professors that you feel connected to; it’ll help with the workload. Also, warn your friends: this won’t be the most social year of your life!

What will you change in education and why?
What I will change? Who knows? I would like to change the monolingual/monocultural bias that dominates a lot of pedagogy, course content, and school principles (not to mention academic research). Most people around the world are bi- or multilingual, and it’s time institutions adapted to account for this, particularly in a context of globalization.

For the full list of recipients, visit http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/tag/intellectual-contributionfaculty-tribute-award/.

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