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The Yankee Express

French government honors Northbridge native Kathleen Turner

Sharon High School Teacher Kathleen Turner is all smiles at her induction into the Order of Academic Palms by the French republic for her “devotion and accomplishments in the area of education.” Ms. Turner is originally from Northbridge.

By Rod Lee

Kathleen M. Turner enjoys telling people that she did not become a teacher. She was born a teacher.
A graduate of Northbridge High School, Class of 1990, Ms. Turner reiterated this message again on April 11th upon receiving the Order of Academic Palms in a ceremony in the library of Sharon High School.

Kathleen Turner with her parents Don and Jean Turner. Her knowledge of the French language and culture has helped them immeasurably on trips to France that have made with her.

Ms. Turner has taught at Sharon High for more than twenty-five years.
Bestowing the title of chevalier, or knight, on her, were Monsieur Olivier Favry, cultural attache´ of the French Consulate in Boston, and Education Officer Noah Ouelette.
The Order of the Palms is a national order of the French republic whose members salute academics who have rendered exemplary service to French education and who have contributed actively to the prestige of French culture.
Among those in attendance that afternoon were Ms. Turner’s parents Don and Jean Turner of Northbridge, their hearts filled with pride. When someone said to Jean Turner “it’s nice you could come,” she thought “where else would I be?”
Honors are nothing new for Ms. Turner. She was selected as Massachusetts Teacher of the Year in 2013, for instance—the 51st such recipient of the distinction. In choosing her for that award, the committee charged with the task noted that she is beloved by her students for engaging them in “a meaningful investigation of French culture that deepens their understanding of that culture.”
She was instrumental in building Sharon High’s French program. She regularly takes students to Paris during spring break, plans annual trips to Quebec City, and established an exchange program with a school in Rouen, France.
“Kathleen Turner is an exceptional teacher,” Sharon Public Schools’ superintendent at the time, Timothy Farmer, said. “She is highly skilled and consistently works in the best interests of her students.”
In also extolling her in his letter of recommendation, Sharon High’s principal, Jose Libano said “Kathy’s success can be attributed to many personal qualities, including a willingness to reflect on her practices, to seek out and welcome feedback from colleagues and students, to demonstrate empathy and compassion, and to work tirelessly.”
During a conversation over the telephone after receiving her latest recognition, Ms. Turner said “I’m very happy in what I do. My heart is in the classroom. I did get an administrative degree about fifteen years ago.” But she has no desire in that direction.
Asked how French is faring as a subject right now, she said “it’s booming. A lot of places it’s tanking but it’s solid in middle school and high school.”
At Sharon, “almost sixty seniors are taking French which is really impressive that they’ve gone the distance in that it’s only required through the sophomore year. Many are taking it in college as a minor, or as a major. One of my students in her thirties moved to France, got her Master’s and is now a French citizen.
  “French is spoken on every continent. Fifty-five countries have French as their official language. Spanish is definitely spoken more domestically, but Quebec is only five hours away!”
  Ms. Turner said being Massachusetts Teacher of the Year “opened a lot of doors for me,” one of which led to her being selected to receive the Order of Academic Palms.
  Nothing Ms. Turner does surprises her parents, neither of whom speak French. She and her brother Eric, a Boston College grad, have both done well. Eric Turner works for KPMG, a prestigious accounting firm.
  Addressing their daughter’s achievements during a conversation in their home on April 21, the Turners said she is totally immersed in the life of the chevalier, or knight, that she now is. She has friends in Germany who she has known since high school. She organizes adult trips for teachers in Northbridge. Her command of the French language has been helpful more than once when her parents have accompanied her on trips to France. She typically spends summers in Europe, after school is out.
  “In her class, from Day One, no English, only French,” Mr. Turner says.
  In her speech on April 18th, Ms. Turner said the idea of being a teacher “has always been a fundamental part of my identity. From the first day of preschool, I have felt comfortable in classrooms. They were like a home away from home. I was the nerdy kid who cried on snow days and on the last day of school before summer vacation. I pretended that my stuffed animals were my students. I brought home extra worksheets to teach my friends math when we were six. I tutored my classmates before tests in high school, and I even taught a Latin class to middle school students when I was a senior. So I never really ‘decided’ to become a teacher. It was just in me.”
She credited her teachers in Northbridge, Monsieur (Phil) Cormier, Mademoiselle (Nancy) Sweeney and Madame (Elaine) Macomber, for bringing her to Paris for the first time when she was a junior. “The trip was magical, and, as with my experiences in classrooms, I felt strangely at home. I had barely unpacked my bags when I started to beg my poor parents to let me go back to France the following year. They said yes. They are still saying that they didn’t know how they could possibly say no! I majored in French in college (Harvard), I spent a semester studying and teaching English in Nantes, France, I got my degree in the spring of 1994, and I came to Sharon High school three months later.”
  Ms. Turner says her passion for French culture has only blossomed through the years. “Culturally, the love at first sight that I felt when I arrived in Paris has turned into a lifetime love affair with cities, villages, gardens, history, architecture, literature, traditions, lifestyle, food—ah the food—and above all, the people. The ability to speak French has allowed me to create some of the strongest relationships in my life.”
Not surprisingly, the message on Ms. Turner’s answering machine at home is delivered in French.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.