FARMINGDALE — French teacher Emily Bowen’s favorite moments in the classroom come when she can see on her students’ faces that they grasp what’s she’s saying.

“When they’re absorbing without even realizing that they are focusing on a learning language — that’s my favorite part,” said Bowen, who is known as “Madame” to her students.

The Hall-Dale Middle School and High School teacher recently was named the Kennebec County Teacher of the Year.

Mia Rollins Kennebec Journal photo by Abigail Austin

“She’s always enthusiastic and ready to teach and learn new things,” said Mia Rollins, who has been in Bowen’s class for five years and was in her first class. “She shows us what’s going on in other places of the world, not just the United States.”

In Bowen’s classroom, the desks are pushed against the wall and students sit in a circle.

“(Her classroom) is a good environment,” said student Aubrey Nichols, of Chelsea, who just completed her sophomore year. “It’s peaceful, and you always feel welcome.”


Bowen’s  class is about communication — both learning how to communicate in French, but also to communicate with one another.

Aubrey Nichols Kennebec Journal photo by Abigail Austin

“It creates that classroom environment where communication is valued,” she said.

Bowen teaches language similarly to how most people learn to speak for the first time, holding off on teaching her students how to conjugate. It gives the students the chance to use the language and to hear and speak it first, she said.

“I think they can produce a lot more with the language eventually,” she said about her method.

She explained that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of speaking for someone to become fluent in a language. In high school, students get about 350 hours over four years.

“I really put my energy into trying to get them to communicate,” she said. “If they’re only going to be with me for one year, I want to make sure they can take that language and retain it.”


Bowen teaches students in grades six through 12 and helps them learn French by story listening: She tells stories in French with illustrations that she draws — which are terrible, she confessed, and get lots of laughter from the students.

For younger children, these stories are fairy tales; for the older students, they are history lessons about French-speaking cultures.

Then the students have the chance to develop a story. While speaking in French, they create characters and develop story lines. One such tale involved Susan, a rich, nice jellyfish, who became mixed up with Oswald the blobfish, a criminal in the maple sugar black market.

“They’re invested in it because they’re the ones creating it,” Bowen said.

For Rollins, this works.

“(Her class is) really inclusive,” said Rollins, who lives in Hallowell and will be a senior next year. “We talk a lot. We’re not just learning worksheets.”


“She’s always learning new ways to make it better for us to comprehend,” Rollins said.

Nominated by fellow teacher Kim Sellers, Bowen was among 35 teachers nominated for the county award. Of the Kennebec County nominations, 16 teachers accepted.

Hall-Dale Middle & High School teacher Emily Bowen tells the story of Susan the Jellyfish and Oswald the Blobfish. The characters were developed by her students in class as they practiced conversational French. Kennebec Journal photo by Abigail Austin

Designed by teachers, the process to become the Kennebec County’s Teacher of the Year is rigorous. In the nomination process, Bowen submitted essays and her resume. In finalist stage, she submitted more essays, letters of recommendation and was interviewed.

“She’s very relatable and sociable with all of the kids,” said Nichols.

In a letter of recommendation, Hall-Dale Principal Mark Tinkham described this connection.

“As she creates these learning moments for students, she learns more and more about them and is able to develop a greater rapport with them,” he wrote.


Bowen and 15 other county winners now will vie to be the Maine Teacher of the Year. Nominations from across the state totaled 283. The award will be announced in October, and that teacher will have the opportunity to compete for the national recognition of Teacher of the Year.

“It’s a cool opportunity to use my position to advocate for teaching in general and teaching here in Kennebec County,” Bowen said.

She grew up in Portland and studied French at Bowdoin College. Her interest in the language was influenced by a high school French teacher who encouraged her enthusiasm, but her desire to teach French solidified when she studied abroad during college in France and lived with a host family.

After college, she lectured in France, teaching conversational English at  l’Université de Bretagne Occidentale in Brest. The following year she spent as an English language teacher’s assistant at Lycée Victor Louis, a high school in Bordeaux.

Bowen now lives in Winthrop and has been teaching at Hall-Dale for six years. She said Regional School Unit 2 is lucky to have such an “international flair.” Along with French, Spanish and Japanese also are taught.

Students in all grades can learn these languages, she said, and by fourth grade they’re encouraged to focus on their favorite language.

“Students traveled to France and Spain this year, and they were enthusiastic because they could understand what people were saying,” Bowen said, noting that a former student was in France for an internship opportunity. “They learned to love language as well.”


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