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The student news site of The Archer School for Girls

The Oracle

French, film, fundraising: Passion drives language teacher

Photo credit: Katie Ray McKillop
French teacher Laurence Clerfeuille sits at the desk in her classroom. She currently teaches French 1B and French 3 Accelerated. “I’m lucky,” Clerfeuille said. “I don’t think any one can love their job as much as me.”

Desks are pushed together to form a “U.” Vibrant posters of famous French landmarks, female authors and key phrases for French students decorate the walls. Whiteboards, adorned with red and blue tassels, flank each end of the room with important notes jotted down. This classroom is where French teacher Laurence Clerfeuille’s French 1B and French 3 Accelerated students learn every day.

What Clerfeuille’s students may not see is that, beyond being a French teacher, Clerfeuille is a writer, reader, film enthusiast and volunteer. Her passions are all driven by a love of learning about different cultures.

Clerfeuille was born and raised in Bordeaux, France. She received a maîtrise, or master’s degree, in France and was the first person in her family to attend college. Since she was young, Clerfeuille said she knew she wanted to teach.

“I never had any other dream for a profession … since I was young enough to understand what professions were,” Clerfeuille said. “I saw my first school teacher, and that’s when I wanted to be a teacher.”

When Clerfeuille started learning English in sixth grade, she soon realized she wanted to be a language teacher. After graduating college in France, Clerfeuille traveled to America to pursue education at an exchange program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was then that she realized French is the language she wanted to instruct.

Clerfeuille received a Ph.D from the graduate program at the University of Southern California. She wrote her dissertation on Haitian literature and developed a love for learning about French literature from places outside of France, such as parts of Africa and the Caribbean.

“I knew absolutely nothing about French-speaking literature from outside of France,” Clerfeuille said. “In fact, I had never even thought that there was literature. [It] sounds very maybe close-minded, but it never occurred to me that it existed. So, when I learned about it talking to people in the department where I was teaching, [I thought], ‘Oh, that’s what I should do.'”

Clerfeuille began teaching at the university level before becoming a middle school and upper school French teacher at Archer four years ago. World Language Department Chair Travis Nesbitt said, overtime, she has embraced working with younger students.

“I think that in high school and middle school, we’re more concerned with the whole student,” Nesbitt said. “Not just as [a] French student in my classroom, but someone who is growing up, discovering who they are [and] who they want to be in the world. And she’s really embraced that sort of attention to the whole student.”

Clerfeuille’s love for language also translates to a love for international films. Among her favorites are works by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, who Clerfeuille said is loved by people of all ages in France. She also loves Iranian films.

“Because it’s a culture that I don’t know, I love hearing Farsi. I think it’s probably, to me, it’s the most beautiful language to hear,” Clerfeuille said. “I don’t speak it, but I just love hearing it.”

French student Sylvie Haacker (‘26) said she appreciates Clerfeuille’s enthusiasm for language and the energy she brings to class every day.

“I think she really cares about all of her students, and if there’s more quiet people in the class, she’ll involve them in a way that doesn’t feel really stressful or in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming. Or when teachers cold call, she does it in a way that’s more so … you learn, which I think is different [than] some teachers — they just want you to participate,” Haacker said. “She just wants you to be able to practice the language in her class.”

Clerfeuille also engages with language and art as a reviewer for the French Review. She’s been a part of the academic journal since 2015 and mainly covers female French literature from outside of France, though she reviews a wide range of authors.

“I really like to get to read books I would never have picked … I get to read all different types of stuff, and that’s what I like. I like to be surprised by literature,” Clerfeuille said. “To me, when I read, I travel … You’re discovering the world, you’re opening your eyes and you’re surprised. You learn things that you didn’t know you didn’t know, and that’s what’s interesting in life.”

Clerfeuille also volunteers for a Senegalese school, Le Grande Royale, and hosts fundraiser each year by orchestrating a GoFundMe. Her current goal is to help them build a community health center and establish a library. Clerfeuille first traveled to Senegal while at USC and discovered her passion for helping their community.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that was amazing.’ I want to go back, but now, I would like to be a little bit more active,” Clerfeuille said. “Instead of just seeing the problems that exist, I would like to do something myself.”

While working at St. Michael’s College, Clerfeuille took a group of her students to Senegal just before the COVID-19 pandemic and said she would be interested in coordinating a trip to Senegal through Archer Abroad.

Nesbitt said he values the diverse perspectives Clerfeuille brings into the classroom. She not only teaches about France, but also French-speaking Africa, Haiti and Quebec.

“She brings a real international perspective,” Nesbitt said. “That’s a real gift for our students.”

In the many ventures and passions that fill Clerfeuille’s life, she said it comes down to being able to do what she loves and what makes her happy.

“I love talking; I love listening to others — their view on life and everything,” Clerfeuille said. “When you see that from the outside, it can look boring to people: reading, films, just talking to friends, dinner. Yet, to me, it’s wonderful.”

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About the Contributor
Katie Ray McKillop
Katie Ray McKillop, Staff Reporter
Katie Ray McKillop joined The Oracle as a staff reporter in 2023. She is on the surf team and swim team at Archer. In her free time, Katie Ray enjoys painting, baking, reading, and spending time with her friends.

Comments (3)

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  • D

    Dr. NesbittDec 15, 2023 at 2:08 pm

    What a beautiful profile of one of our community’s precious assets! We are lucky to benefit from Dr. Clerfeuille’s experience, perspective and dedication.

  • M

    Maya HernandezDec 14, 2023 at 9:17 pm

    Katie Ray!!! This is incredible, you capture her so beautifully. I’m so proud of you!!!

  • J

    JanetDec 14, 2023 at 8:35 pm

    What a wonderful portrait of a fantastic teacher! I really enjoyed getting to know more about Dr. Clerfeuille!