DiG: The Maddest French Teacher to Have Ever Lived


Carla DiGiovanni is no ordinary high school teacher. Considered a veteran among her colleagues, she has been teaching French and Spanish at Iroquois Ridge High School for over a decade. Known to her former and current students as "DiG" (pronounced deej), she still teaches at IRHS despite approaching retirement. However, what sets her apart from any other teacher is the high regard in which she is held by the many students of varying age who come back to visit her, myself included.

It was during January of 2008 when I first met DiG in grade 9. Walking into third period French, I came upon a short, middle-aged woman with a warm smile who certainly looked the part. Her enthusiastic greeting exuded a friendly vibe that welcomed me into her domain. Though she seemed kind and easygoing most of the time, I soon found out that getting on her bad side was a big mistake. Over the course of high school, I would learn that those gentle, green eyes could quickly convey an intense wrath of which the individual on the receiving end would unmistakably take heed. However, it is essential to understand that her temper does not characterize that of a bitter fishwife, but a big-hearted woman speaking frankly in the interest of her students. For those who ever crossed the line with her, it was the type of motherly scolding that forced them to re-examine their ill behaviour. It seems likely that her abundance of passion for everything, whether it be for her profession or her students, can be ascribed to her Italian upbringing. Whatever her background, her French classes, always full of laughter, never failed to entertain and educate.

For most people, being told of possessing unlimited potential is usually somewhat embarrassing and dismissed as false praise, even if it were meant genuinely. For this reason, DiG expected this type of reaction and always insisted on her utmost sincerity. Never one to give up, it was clear from day one that she cared about each and every one of her students no matter their level of aptitude or proficiency. Her patience never ran thin when helping those who needed it the most, all the while actively encouraging those doing well to keep on. It has been said that insanity is to do the same thing over and over while expecting different results. If such were the case, DiG is undoubtedly the maddest woman to have ever lived, as she is likely to have repeated the same grammar rules and conventions countless of times, despite a number of students who remained none the wiser. Granted, pushing non-native speakers of French into a French-only situation naturally sized up to result in a dubious rate of fluency, but her iron resolve to get through this thick language barrier enabled even students of marginal language proficiency to speak functional French by the end of high school.

As someone who has bequeathed much knowledge to me in many realms beyond that of language, DiG is undoubtedly a didact, though never overbearing. I recall an incident in which I whimsically poked fun at a friend during his presentation. Though she always had a sense of humour and disturbances of this kind were not uncommon in her class--usually considered funny, I raised that dormant ire of hers by mocking his pronunciation. Her verbal onslaught that took me down more than two notches left me feeling deeply ashamed, yet humbled. From then on, I knew not to consider myself above my peers because she knew, almost like an oracle, that what goes around would eventually come around. Fast-forward to my second year at Concordia, it finally came around in the form of an important essay with nothing but red marks and a grade of 56%. With a shattered academic self-concept, I visited DiG for advice. At a time when switching majors was a serious subject of deliberation, she spoke me the truth straight as it was: "I understand that you've never had to try hard in my classes, but I know you have what it takes to succeed if you would just apply yourself and grow a thicker skin." Based on my continued studies, there is no doubt as to the impact of her words, which were neither sympathetic nor motherly, only truthful and supportive.

Despite the many things I have said about her, DiG is simply ineffable. As hard as I could try describing her in words to elucidate her marked individuality as a teacher, it wouldn't compare like the experience of actually meeting her and discovering her quirks. Though it is unknown if she still teaches at IRHS at this time, I can only hope so, for an annual visit is due very soon. It warms my heart to picture her reaction to being called "the maddest woman to have ever lived."

Photo: http://scott-lecinemafrancais.wikispaces.com/file/view/French%20teacher%20interview%20cartoon.jpg/378893562/French%20teacher%20interview%20cartoon.jpg


We need more teachers like DiG!!

well-written and heartfelt! it`s good to see that teachers can leave such a mark in students`lives!

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