Elizabeth Porter

Elizabeth M. Porter always knew she'd be a teacher.

"When I was a little kid, I used to play 'school,'" she recalls. "My parents actually bought me some school desks so I could set up my own little classroom in the basement of our house."

The little girl who practiced French vocabulary with her mother on the way to preschool eventually attended University of Caen in Normandy where she earned the same degree native French speakers receive in order to teach their language to foreigners.

After she returned to the US, she received a Bachelors in French and English Linguistics from Western Washington University, and a Masters in Elementary Education from City University of Seattle before returning to teach in France.

"I decide that I didn't want to live in the US, so I got a job as an elementary school teacher," she said. After years of immersive French study, it was her chance to turn the tables; for months, she encouraged the students to believe that she didn't speak their language.

"One day a kid heard me speaking French," said Porter, laughing at the memory. "He came up to me and was so shocked. 'You lied! You're really French! I don't believe you're American anymore!'"

Today, Porter lives with her nuclear engineer husband and their two sons in a town about three hours outside of Seattle. Although she put teaching on hold to take care of her family, she's gone back to it on her own terms.

"I don't teach in a regular classroom anymore," she said. "I haven't for about 8 years now." Instead, she's working with homeschooled students, a pursuit that suits her better than teaching high school French, her last posting in a traditional school.

After a family illness, she considered returning to a classroom to offset their medical bills. "Around that time, I found out about Outschool, and it was exactly what I wanted to do. I thought I'd try a couple of classes and see how it goes, but my first class filled up and had a waiting list," said Porter.

"So, I just started offering more classes, and it's like my dream come true," she said. "I can do what I want, and still teach."

Except for her preschool classes, Porter provides all instruction online with video conferencing, which lets her work with up to nine students at once. Besides language instruction, she also offers a cooking class that lets students "watch or cook along. I encourage them to take pictures of it so I can see how they did," she said.

The courses Porter designs encourage students to remain engaged throughout the week, particularly for high school students, who need five hours of class each week to receive credit. "They do an hour with me, and then four other hours of activities each week," she said.

Next year, Porter plans to lead a one-week French language immersion camp in the spring, followed by a "family-friendly France tour" and a two-week immersion camp in the summer at Cavilam Alliance Francaise in Vichy. "It's one of the top French language schools in the world," said Porter, who's twice attended the school's intensive teacher training and employs their methods in her classes.

During the immersion camps for students ages 14 to 19, attendees live with French host families, Porter said. "Every morning, they get up and go to French classes based on their level and ability, and in the afternoon, they do enrichment activities with students from all over the world."

Because Cavilam enrolls students from around the globe, campers "are meeting people from everywhere," said Porter. "Few Americans know about it, so there's not a lot of people there they can speak English with," she added. "It's really a great multicultural experience."

In addition to the language camp, students also absorb history and culture through excursions to other cities in the Vichy region, cooking classes, and a stop in Paris.

"I've always had this dream in the back of my mind to start my own French school and I love taking people over to France," said Porter. "It's wonder to show them the France that I love."

Since starting with Outschool, Porter said she's encouraged friends who teach to consider giving the platform a try.

"I've had a couple of teachers ask me how to get on Outschool, and I tell them, just get on there, create a profile and offer something," she said. "if you have a skill and want to teach it to somebody, it's a great opportunity to do that."

Nick Grandy

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