These three French teachers don’t simply teach: They live the language and celebrate it, sharing that joy with their students.
Lily Baumil retired last spring after 16 years at South Aiken High School. In a short period, she has bonded closely with Tracey Glass, a veteran teacher starting her second year at South Aiken, and Sabrina Smith, an enthusiastic, first-time French instructor.
“Tracey and I have gotten to be such good friends,” Baumil said. “The kids will like Sabrina’s spark. I offered her the stuff from my classroom, and she accepted all my junk.”
Baumil grew up in Aiken and found a lifelong interest in French as a ninth-grader. Teacher Helen Butler was a “wry little rascal” who threw erasers around, “but I loved French because of her.” Years later, Baumil lived in France for nearly a year on a Fulbright Scholarship. Over many summers, including this one, she has taken students to France and other countries.
Glass, too, was influenced by a teacher. She grew up in the small town of Greensboro, Ga., where everybody seemed like everybody else. Then an intriguing French teacher landed at their new high school. She had lived in France during World War II before marrying an American GI, “and I was hooked,” Glass said.
While later pursuing a graduate degree, she earned a government scholarship to teach English in a French high school. Over the next year, she also played city basketball and made one of her best friends.
“A huge part of my life is taking kids abroad,” Glass said. “The amazing thing is that the kids always go back. It opens up their worlds, and some go on to live all over Europe for their jobs.”
Smith, 27, might have most eclectic background of the three teachers. She is an only child and military brat, and her mother is German. The family lived in Germany, England, China and Japan, and Smith admits she was lonely at times. Yet she made friends quickly, even as she knew she would soon lose them.
As a teenager, she moved with her mother to Augusta and enrolled at the Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School. And no surprise: Smith gained inspiration from the French teacher, Michael Dockery, a “really cool guy” who connected with all his students and seemed to know where they were going and why. Smith had some serious plans of her own and made them happen.
By what she describes as determination and sheer luck, A huge part of my life is taking kids abroad,” Glass said. “The amazing thing is that the kids always go back. It opens up their worlds, and some go on to live all over Europe for their jobs Smith was accepted into the King’s College at Cambridge University in England
“Cambridge is a dream school,” she said. “I’m a big literature buff, and all these English authors and my teachers had been there.”
Smith spent a year abroad in France, living with a wonderful, old-school family that opened their home to her. She returned to America in 2009 and later obtained certification to teach French and secondary education. A year ago, she moved to East Hollywood where her dad lives, and taught Spanish, mostly to immigrants. She is thrilled to return to the area and get the French position at South Aiken.
“I met Tracey and felt welcomed and right at home,” Smith said “Then I met Lily when she came to my interview and asked questions. That was slightly intimidating, but she is great. I’m so glad she was leaving me in good stead.”
Glass is beginning her 23rd year as a French teacher. She enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with Baumil last year and was saddened when Baumil retired. Now Glass is delighted that Smith is so engaging and has arrived with plenty of good ideas.
“Lily is such a part of the Aiken scene,” Glass said. “Everybody loves and respects her, and she has left a standard for us to live up to. We’ll pick her brain whenever we can.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.