Background & teaching philosophy
My personal, academic and professional experiences have all contributed to my teaching philosophy.
I was born in Paris, in an American hospital, to a French mother and American father. At 5 days old, I began my first international voyage, taking residence in a laundry basket in the back of the car as my parents drove me to Istanbul, where they were living. My father later worked as a French professor at the University of Michigan. Even in the mid-west, I lived in a bilingual and bi-cultural household. At 17, I joined my family in France and attended a French lycée. My appreciation and love for cultural and linguistic differences grew exponentially at this time. It was this experience that put me on the trajectory of my life. French was no longer simply my mother's language, but it was the language of a people, of a culture, of a world I yearned to know better and feel a part of.
As a student and life long language learner, I have become fluent in Spanish, and conversant in Russian and Indonesian. My classroom studies prepared me for the exciting step of going to a country where that language is spoken. I've studied and taught in the following countries:
France: 2+ years
Mexico: 2 months
Spain: 4 months
Costa Rica: 5 weeks
South Africa: 2 years
Singapore: 6 years
Russia: 2 years
England: 8 years
Living and teaching internationally created even more opportunity to deepen my cross-cultural understanding and strengthen my own language skills. More importantly, it allowed me to share that understanding with my students, whose own varied backgrounds ensured that my classrooms were always a crossroads for international understanding. Ultimately, seeing my students’ own linguistic and cultural passions ignited in the language classroom over the past twenty-five years has been extremely rewarding.
The importance of knowing other languages and cultures is vital today. Language learning provides the springboard to launch students on their own path not only to discovering a new language and culture but also seeing their own language and culture in a new way. I believe students should be immersed in the language the moment they begin learning the language. Students learn so much more when a language is used in an authentic way. The language-learning environment is a safe place where students are encouraged to take risks and apply what they have learned to communicate. It is the teacher's role to facilitate the learning and practice, offering students the maximum opportunity to converse in a meaningful way. It is also the teacher's role to provide the cultural context (or contexts) where the language is spoken. Language and culture are intrinsically linked and must be taught in conjunction with one another. Finally, to consolidate students' linguistic, cultural and personal development, students should be encouraged to study or work abroad. In this way, the tools learned academically are finally put to the real test: being able to function in the new language and culture. The groundwork accomplished in language-learning environment is essential to making this transition possible.
Societies around the world are becoming increasingly culturally diverse. Globalization is a fact today. It is clear that language education opens the door to mutual understanding and harmonious multiculturalism.
Virginia McKniff - High School Principal ACS Egham International School, England
Students love her and she has a wonderful rapport with adolescents. I have had the good fortune to observe Nina on many occasions. What struck me was the ability of all students to be successful in her classes. Often students who had struggled with another teacher in a previous year would be successful in Nina's class. The reasons for this are many. First, Nina is a highly experienced, passionate teacher with a deep commitment to student learning. She has structured a classroom that is student centered yet challenging. While she sets high standards for her classes, she also gives students the tools to reach her expectations, all the while holding them accountable for their own learning. Students admire and respect Nina as a teacher who is tough but fair.
J.F. - Modern Language Department Head, Saint Stephen's Episcopal School, Florida.
Ms. O'Connor is an experienced teacher with perfect command of her subject matter. Although she demands order and respect in the classroom, she gains the cooperation of her students with a warm gentle personality. She is very organized, fair and gives clear directions of her expectations. From the first day, she speaks and expects responses exclusively in the target language. As a result, her students are quite comfortable and uninhibited with their use of the language. Her experiences teaching abroad in several countries enhance the content of her lessons and broaden the horizons of her students.
Dominique Butler-Borruat - University of Michigan - Residential College - French Program Head
Mrs. O'Connor is very passionate about her teaching. She is a seasoned and devoted instructor who sets high expectations for her students. While she expects the best of them, she is extremely encouraging and will support and reward students' efforts. Her caring about her students and her being very approachable foster a safe environment conducive to learning.
Carolyn Madden Interim Director of English Language Institute University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Without exaggeration she was one of the best teachers in the program. I was not only able to interview her, work with her in the initial states of developing the curriculum and teaching schedules, but was asked to observe her as well since she was new to our faculty. I was extremely impressed by her classroom management, comfort with the students and clear learning and teaching goals.
Michele Heisler - Professor of Internal Medicine and of Health Behavior and Health Education - University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
My husband is a native French speaker, and last year when we began the search for a language teacher to work intensively with our children, Ms. O’Connor was recommended to us as being a highly gifted French language teacher. While our kids were very resistant to undergoing after-school instruction several days a week, Ms. O’Connor very quickly engaged them. Now after almost a year they look forward to classes with her, are excited about French, and have made remarkable progress in their language speaking and comprehension, and now are developing their reading and writing. My husband and I are occasionally present during the classes. He is thrilled with her flawless French and the creativity with which she provides rigorous instruction in a way that captures their interest and motivates them to do the hard work of learning a second language. I am thrilled with her infectious enthusiasm and energy, both of which sustain their interest and active involvement in the often-difficult tasks she sets for them. My husband and I are both University of Michigan professors ourselves, so especially marvel at the skill with which she helps them understand and master French grammar and vocabulary, often using innovative approaches and games that we never would have thought of. She is a natural teacher and clearly delights in sharing with students her own love and appreciation of French. As my son told me recently, “I am happy to keep studying French—as long as it is with Nina!” As important as her ability as a teacher, she is absolutely reliable and conscientious. She has never been late to a teaching session and has always meticulously prepared for each session.
State University (anonymous evaluations)
"Couldn't ask for a more enthusiastic teacher...Shows avid interest in the course. Makes the class fun and interactive while incorporating all the necessary material. A role model for other foreign language teachers (if they wish to better their teaching skills."
"There were many points during this course when her encouragement and positive attitude were needed and very much appreciated. Madame O'Connor has a solid command of subject and how to teach it well, but the extra personal touch puts her at the top of instructors I've had."
"Great energy and humorous as well. A+"
"She makes class fun and makes me want to come and learn. "
Instructor Enthusiasm "Through the roof."
University of Michigan - Dearborn (anonymous teacher evaluations)
"The whole experience of being in French 102 was exciting. This professor doesn't see this as a job only. I sense that she is passionate about teaching French. Her enthusiasm is contagious! The instructor is beyond amazing. "
"I think she has done a great job. She forces us to speak French well and does not make us feel bad for getting something wrong. She is understanding and patient. I don't feel embarrassed or stupid when I am corrected. She is a great professor! Very encouraging and kind! Merci Madame!"
"She was amazing. Seriously taught French in a very facilitated way without even speaking English. We should have more professors like her!"
" I personally felt she did awesome at making class fun and easy."
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (anonymous teacher evaluations)
"Nina was a great instructor. I was a bit apprehensive about taking this course because I was so out of practice with French, but she made sure that everyone understood the concepts and did so in an engaging way."
"I loved having Nina O'Connor as my French teacher this year. She is so nice and a great French teacher! I have learned so much from her."
"Nina was a superb instructor and I believe I learned more in this course because of her than I would have otherwise. Our in class activities, both written, oral, and from the book, were well chosen and material was revisited often enough that everything was kept fresh. Nina spoke in a clear, understandable manner, and definitely improved my ability to understand spoken French. She was very enthusiastic, open, and friendly, which encouraged myself and my classmates to participate more. Overall this has been one of my best class experiences due to Nina."
"Nina was an absolutely wonderful teacher. Nina is a very supportive instructor and she does an excellent job at keeping all of her students engaged in discussions. I always enjoyed going to her class regardless of what we were learning because she makes French that much more enjoyable. If Nina teaches any upper-level French courses in the future I would seriously consider enrolling in them, despite the fact that French is somewhat difficult for me. The care and attention she shows each individual student is absolutely commendable and I will miss Nina dearly next term!"
"She was absolutely awesome, the best French teacher I've ever had to be completely honest. She always came to class prepared with fun and interesting activities. Furthermore, she went above and beyond provided our section with extra practice on our section ctools site and creating Quizlet sets for practicing vocabulary. I love her and would take her class again in a heartbeat."
"I adore Nina as an instructor and person. She's fun, engaging, and helpful during class. She knows how to keep the class active by having exercises move efficiently and smoothly. She is very knowledgeable, yet still knows how to explain things in terms that we understand. She's very kind and helpful, going out of her way to meet with students outside of class. Each student receives the attention they need, and she knows how to use one student's mistakes to help the entire class. Her positive attitude keeps the air light and the students motivated. I felt comfortable, yet challenged, in the class. In her class, I was never bored or lost. All in all, she's wonderful!"
"She is an absolutely amazing teacher who knows exactly how to teach a foreign language!"
"I think that Nina was the best French teacher I have ever had! I think she put a lot of time into designing interesting and stimulating exercises for us to do in class and I was commonly shocked at how fast class had gone by. It was very easy to understand what Nina was saying in French and understand instructions. Overall, I believe Nina is an excellent instructor and hope to take French with her again."
"Nina is amazing!!!!! She works so hard and teaches so well."
University of Michigan, English Language Institute - Ann Arbor (anonymous teacher evaluations)
"Instructor's ability was terrific. She organized her class very well and she encouraged students to attend her class actively. Her preparation for each class was great."
"Nina always made good atmosphere of this class, so I could participate in this class without any stress."
"Nina's class was enjoyable, since she paid attention to keep student's motivation. I enjoyed this class's work."
Simeneh Gebremariam, Doctoral Student in Sociocultural Anthropology, University of Michigan
"Perhaps, the experience I cherish most is the fact that each and every student felt included. This was very important for us, international students, whom by and large came from a directional education system. Personally, being from a very conservative and shy society, this encouraging atmosphere had provided me the opportunity to express myself that later contributed to my meaningful participation in the graduate seminars. Coming up with a topic that could be interesting and engaging to a wide range of students with different disciplinary, cultural and training backgrounds was obviously a huge challenge which Professor O’Connor beautifully managed to do. Moreover, she tactfully and respectfully addressed very sensitive historical and identity issues such as, slavery, gender, race, class…etc., which I believe contributed immensely to our adjustment to the academic as well as the bigger American culture. The careful selection of the exercises, both in terms of amount and progression, consistent encouragement and timely feedback, use of materials beyond the textbook and, arranging exiting combination of invited speakers (from Art History to Material Engineering) are some of the experiences I will treasure and remember vividly."