UNC Charlotte’s Dr. Michèle Bissière was honored on Sept. 8 with the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence. Now in its 50th year, the award seeks to honor educators who have displayed exemplary commitment to the university’s teaching standards. Bissière was selected from five finalists to receive the award, which was presented during a ceremony held at the Hilton Charlotte, Center City.
Bissière has been with UNC Charlotte since 1990, when she joined the Department of Languages and Culture Studies. Bissière isn’t unfamiliar with being honored for her teaching, having received five awards within the last five years, including the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Knight in the Order of the French Academic Palms) from the French Ministry of Education in 2014 and the UNC Charlotte Faculty International Education Award this year.
During her time at UNC Charlotte, Bissière has created more than ten courses within the French Studies department, with her academic focus including French film, French language and culture. Bissière’s use of cinema in her French classes is what lead to the writing of her first textbook, “Séquences: Intermediate French through Film” (2008) that is now in its second edition.
Bissière also organized a number of the French film festivals during the start of her career at UNC Charlotte, and that experience extended into the classroom.
“I saw that film was a wonderful way…to make students listen to authentic French, and also of course, who wouldn’t like a good story,” she said.
At a time before the internet was at our fingertips, using film helped Bissière provide her students with ways to connect with the French language through the storylines.
Bissière was born and raised in France, and after completing her first master’s degree, traveled to the U.S. in hopes of strengthening her English. While living in France, their seemed to be limited options for her future career as an English teacher. As an exchange student at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1980s, Bissière made the decision to call the U.S. home.
Although in France she taught English, she changed her focus of study to French and began teaching her native language in the states.
“I love the American university system…I could see that there would be a lot of opportunities in this country that I may not have had in France,” Bissière said.
Those opportunities would lead her to earn two additional M.A. degrees in American History and French, as well as her Ph.D in French during her time at the University of Wisconsin before joining UNC Charlotte’s faculty.
For Bissière, there are a few benefits for students planning to learn a foreign language.
“I think it teaches you a lot about your own language and it raises questions that you have never asked about your own language. It’s also a great way to connect with a different culture, and so it’s both the linguistic aspect but also the cultural aspect that I think is great with French of course but with any language,” Bissière said.
As far as cultural traditions from the U.S. that Bissière enjoys, potlucks are among her favorite.
“I love potlucks. That’s a very American thing to do where people each bring one thing and it’s very casual… the diversity of foods that you have at potlucks, that’s also a great American thing right, trying a little bit of everything,” Bissière said.