Zsófia (Zsófi) Németh ’16 conducted a series of interviews with SBS faculty as a member of the Multimedia Club. She is an ASSIST scholar from Budapest, Hungary. Zsófi has been interested in creative writing from an early age. She has been conducting interviews and writing articles for her Hungarian school’s newspaper and website since her middle school years. In addition to being a member of the Multimedia Club, she is co-president of the Literary Society. In her freetime she enjoys dancing, horseback riding, and skiing.
French Teacher, Languages Department Chair
Zsófia Németh: Hello Miriam! Are you ready for the interview?
Miriam Przybyla-Baum: Yes, totally!
ZN: Ok, let’s begin. Why did you become a teacher?
MPB: Well, to be honest I never thought about becoming a teacher, it just happened. I majored in French literature and minored in translation, but when I started teaching kids I completely fell in love with it. Later, I came to Stoneleigh-Burnham School to teach French and I have been working here since then. I really like it in here!
ZN: What was your first impression of SBS?
MPB: I really liked the people here. Everybody was welcoming and they were smiling at me when I first came. I still think that one of the things that makes Stoneleigh a wonderful place is the community of the school. For me, Cyndee Meese, for example, was a huge help. She was such a good believer in this place. She taught here from the time before her daughter was born and taught past her daughters graduating. So she stayed here for over 20 years.
ZN: That is such a nice career.
MPB: Yes, it is. Her positive attitude about the school really helped me to want to stay and be a teacher here. When I got here, I lived on Junior-Senior Hallway and I loved the girls, who came from all over the world. They all got along with each other like sisters. My first year here was really memorable for me.
ZN: Do you feel like the fact that Stoneleigh Burnham is a culturally diverse school makes it a unique place?
MPB: Yes, I think it is impressive that girls come from all over the world to go to school here. I think in a day school, where students come from different countries but live with their families, we wouldn’t really know a lot about them outside of the classroom, but being a boarding school we do. I would say though too, that the faculty comes from a lot of different backgrounds. Some of them were born and raised here in Greenfield and lived here during their whole lives, but for example, in my Language Department, teachers are coming from everywhere; Brenda (Muzeta, French teacher) is from Africa, Li (Jing, Chinese teacher) is from Asia, Diego (Ardura, Spanish teacher) is from Europe. I think that it makes us an interesting faculty.
ZN: Are there any role models for you, who inspired you?
MPB: When I first started teaching there was a woman here, her name was Edie Lipp, who was a skills teacher, but she also taught English language classes. I learned a lot from her, as she had tons of ways to help me to become a good teacher and to be able to work with students with different learning needs. She really was a role model for me; she had great patience and understanding toward students. Also, my first year here I had a mentor, Dan Verdery. He just had a wonderful approach to teaching. He helped me a lot to relax and to understand that I do not have to do everything perfectly all the time. I was a little bit of an “over-achiever,” I think. I do not really have role models anymore, but I do have teachers to collaborate with. There is a lot of collaborating, which happens here, which I really appreciate.
ZN: What is your motivation while teaching?
MPB: I want my students to become the best communicators they can be, whether they are going to take an intellectual path to French and study it during college and be really serious about it or just to be able to speak French because they would like to explore the different cultures and countries. So my main motivation is to see my students take French outside of the classroom: to study it during college or to travel or to work for international organizations. That is my big goal.
ZN: So, you would like to give them the opportunity to explore the world around us?
MPB: Yes, I wish I could take more girls to travel! A lot of girls really want to do it but they cannot afford it. I wish I could change something about it. There are other girls, who would be able to afford it, but are too scared to go far away from their families and friends and experience something really different. I would like to encourage them to travel.
ZN: What is the most challenging part of teaching for you?
MPB: It does not happen often here, because for the most part my students work really hard and make a lot of progress, but if a student doesn’t work hard, that is challenging for me. I am really passionate about French, so that is a bit frustrating for me. I can’t make anyone be passionate about learning languages, to work during classes and do the homework. I can only hope that they will. I think that Stoneleigh is such a good school and if you have the opportunity to be here but don’t take advantage of those opportunities, that really makes me sad.
ZN: What is your favorite part of teaching?
MPB: In the classroom, I love when my students have an “Aha!” moment, when they just get it. Sometimes, it takes longer for some kids than for others, but I’m completely okay with that. I also like when I can let my students do the talking. For example, my IB 2 class spoke French for 45 minutes one day. They know so much French that they were able to do that without me. That was really impressive! I have been teaching some of them for years, and I’ve seen them developing their French skills from the basics to the level that they can have real conversations in French.
ZN: It seems like when you can notice progress, that greatly inspires you.
MPB: When I see progress, especially if I know that the student had difficulties before, it is really powerful to me. Because life happens, you know, but if the girls are able to overcome challenges, it is a huge achievement.
ZN: If you could give one piece of advice to your high school self, what would it be?
MPB: To be honest, I am glad that I had a lot of fun when I was a teenager. I was a happy teenager, so I would totally go back and be a teenager again. I would not change anything about my teenage self. I think the point is that teenagers have to enjoy their lives, they just have to be kids, because they are going to have a lot of responsibilities later in their lives anyways. I wish students could relax more and stress less about certain things.
ZN: If you could change anything about your life, what that would be?
MPB: I would not make any major changes, but I would definitely travel more. I would like to travel to different countries, learn their languages, and see how the people live there, what kinds of traditions they have. It is really interesting for me!
ZN: Thank you Miriam!