Chantal Hébert's Remarkable Teacher: Carol Schofield

Chantal Hébert was smart, precocious, shy-and spoke only French-when she came to Toronto to live in 1966. Her father was transferred from their home in Hull, Québec.

Today Hébert is the savvy, articulate National Affairs writer for the Toronto Star, columnist for Le Devoir in Montreal and appears regularly as a political analyst on French and English-language CBC radio and television.

The transition might have never occurred if it hadn't been for Carol Schofield, her Grade 10 English literature teacher at École secondaire catholique Monseigneur-de-Charbonnel in Toronto.

Hébert-who had already skipped a grade or two-entered Grade 9 at the age of 11. De Charbonnel was a French-language school, but by law three
subjects-mathematics, science and English-had to be taught in English even in French-language schools.

In her first year in the Toronto school, Hébert relied on her excellent memory to make passing grades in her English and science classes.

"She provided enough context that we would feel we weren't waiting for the class to end."

"Fortunately Grade 9 English consisted of memorizing poetry and I can still rhyme off some of the poems I had to learn," says Hébert from her Ottawa office, where she commutes weekly from her home in Montreal. "But I never understood them. I got through science the same way-I memorized the summaries at the end of chapters."

Hébert isn't sure what would have happened if she hadn't ended up in Carol Schofield's class. "Perhaps I would have packed my bags and moved to some place where I didn't have to deal with English," she says with a laugh.

But fortunately, Grade 10 English was quite a different experience for Hébert, who was suddenly exposed to a teacher whose enthusiasm for her subject overcame the language barrier.

Says Hébert, "Madame Schofield was obviously quite passionate about teaching English literature, especially Shakespeare. She would read the plays as though she was the characters. She had records-I think they were Stratford recordings-and she brought them to class. They were tremendously interesting and she provided enough context that we would listen to them and feel we weren't just sitting there waiting for the class to end."

The teacher's love for her subject awakened an interest in Hébert-who was a voracious reader-for a lot of other authors, as well. "She convinced me that since I liked to read it would be cheaper to read books in English, and there seemed to be some fairly good ones. Even though I couldn't understand the half of what was happening in the story, I remember Lost Horizon, Macbeth, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Canterbury Tales."

Hébert attributes her ability to write fluently in English today to Schofield's influence in persuading her to read English literature. "I just read so many books that I ended up being able to write in the language." And Hébert is still a voracious reader, she says, reading three books in English and two in French every week. "And I still like Shakespeare," she says.

Schofield's enthusiasm even prompted Hébert to volunteer an answer in class-an occasion so rare she remembers it to this day. "We were having a class on Macbeth and she asked a question, and lo and behold I raised my hand and then I thought 'what am I doing? I can't speak that language.' I probably did answer, but I'm sure it wasn't a very long answer. By then I was regretting this strange impulse," she says.

Thinking back on those days, Hébert is impressed at what Schofield managed to accomplish. "I would think that was quite a feat. In hindsight, I think that teacher was doing extra duty. There were always six or seven of us who had just moved to Toronto and couldn't speak English well. To have kept up this level of intensity in her teaching, it was really quite something."

Schofield's influence made a very difficult experience bearable, says Hébert. "I was not happy about moving to Toronto. I wasn't happy that I couldn't speak the language, so that kind of cut me off socially. And even in French schools in Toronto, people tended to communicate with each other in English and so that was a major hurdle. I got over it faster once I started getting interested in Madame Schofield's English class."

"It sure helped to break the isolation and once you don't feel isolated by a language, your outlook changes. And so from that point on, the world looks different, it opens up and it's more fun."

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