It was in college at UCONN. His name was Professor Croteau. He was short, wiry and a bundle of bubbling enthusiasm.
When I transferred to UCONN, there was no language requirement in the College of Liberal Arts. Just after I got there, however, the university decided you had to have a year of a language to get a degree.
I stalled; but as I faced my senior year, I had to make a decision: Do I go back to my nemesis “French” or try a different language?
French certainly should have been the easy choice, but with such a checkered history, I wasn’t sure what to do. You see, back in high school in New York, I failed French I using the textbook my uncle wrote.
The teacher claimed I cheated by looking at my neighbor’s paper. Truth be told, with my poor eyesight, I couldn’t see my neighbor’s paper no less what was on it. The teacher wanted to hear none of it, so I had to repeat French I.
Probably got an 85 or so when I repeated, so they put me in the French Honor Class for French II. The teacher here was a quiet, mousy thing and never called on me.
I sat in the back of the room reading Howard Fast novels and she kept putting me back in the honors class in III and IV. Then I made the compound mistake.
In New York you had to take a statewide regents exam at the end of two years or three years. Since I knew next to nothing about French, I decided I would pass the two-year regents and go for the three.
My unassertive teacher apologetically explained she couldn’t keep me in the honor’s class. I’d have to go into the regular French V class.
So I went to French V with Mr. Eckstein, who decided within a week I had faked my way through two years of French. He was astounded and told me so. Taking his advice, I went back to French IV and somehow got by the two-year regent exam.
When I went to the University of Oklahoma, I never had a language requirement and thought I would have the same free pass at UCONN. That’s when my luck ran out.
I had all my credits to graduate at UCONN except the new language requirement. So in the summer of 1953, Freddy Cohen and I enrolled in Professor Croteau’s one-year French immersion course.
Freddy and I lived in a dumpy apartment overlooking the Willmantic River that summer and went to school three hours a day, five days a week. On weekends we worked in Moodus, Connecticut, alternately in a gas station and a restaurant, whichever was busiest.
Professor Corteau was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. He had us singing songs, acting out skits and complimenting each of us on everything we did. He was retired from the full-time faculty but came back each summer to spread his joy of French among the willing and the not so willing.
It was a wonderful experience and he pulled us through that year of French in his six-week summer course.
I wish I had had more teachers like him. I would have learned more and enjoyed the academic side of school infinitely more.