The Student Newspaper of Westminster Christian Academy

The Wildcat Roar

The Student Newspaper of Westminster Christian Academy

The Wildcat Roar

The Student Newspaper of Westminster Christian Academy

The Wildcat Roar

Teacher Feature: French (and Spanish) Edition

Ivey Wang
Peter Barrs shares his passion for cooking on the France Summer trip with his students

Peter Barrs, beloved WCA French and Spanish teacher, shares his story.


“I grew up in England and was born in a small village, […] like 500 people. […] There was one shop, a gas station, and we didn’t even have a post office, maybe a pub but that was about an hour from London,” said Peter Barrs. 


Along with an American flag,  His current students can see the English flag hung up on the wall in his classroom. 


“So I [lived in England] until I was about 15 or 16, and then we moved to Saint Louis. […] We moved mid-year at Christmas so I started [second semester] as a sophomore in high school in Saint Louis,” said Barrs. 


Most people will agree that high school is hard enough already. On top of the usual pressures from school Barrs had to overcome an entire cultural change, on top of making new friends, and becoming used to a new school. Then, a few years later after he graduated from high school, Barrs went on to a pre-med program in college. Even so he was not sure this was the correct path for himself. 


“I think [doing pre-med] was more to do with the fact that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and a lot of my friends were doing that. […] I think I just felt some pressure […] to have my life figured out and [to] feel like I was on track for something,” said Barrs. 


All students feel pressure, at least to some extent, to pick a college major or “have their life figured out.” Because of this, any student who does not know exactly what they want to do can easily feel stressed or disappointed in themselves and feelings of unpreparedness which can be frightening. Often it is easy to see adults or mentors and think they have their lives planned out so well, but the truth is, many of them felt the same feelings of dread or anxiety of any current highschool in their quest to figure out the future. 


A bit frustrated and apathetic toward the pre-med program he was in, Barrs looked for a bit of a new direction for his life. 


“I studied French in highschool […but] I realized in my classroom experience I couldn’t really speak the language. I really wasn’t confident in using the language but I thought if I go [to France] for a year then maybe at the end of the year I would be able to speak the language, so I decided to spend my entire junior year of college abroad in France,” said Barrs. 


Taking two years of foreign language is a necessary requirement for WCA graduates and most high school students. Because of this, most of the time the class is solely for the credit and not for the purpose of truly learning and understanding the language and even if a student’s goal is to become proficient it is quite difficult in a classroom setting not surrounded by native speakers. 


“I was going to school in French, but I was living with a French family, [speaking] only French all the time and I just loved being able to live my life in another language and became much more confident during that year,” said Barrs. 


Although Barrs had always enjoyed the French language, by being surrounded by the culture and language daily he grew a new appreciation and love for it. Spending a year fully immersed in a new environment further helped shape the direction of his life. Furthermore, while in France, Barrs met a young French woman who would become his fiancee. After he graduated they were married, and they began their life together in France, but this brought its own set of challenges.   

Barrs and his students in France (Ivey Wang)

“Getting engaged and then married did not take away any pressure from feeling like I had to have my life figured out, so I started medical school in France […] but then I really quickly […] came to the realization, that wait a second, this really is not what I wanted to do,” said Barrs. 


Probably unknown to most Westminster students, Barrs began his career teaching English but as foreign language teacher.  


“I had realized that I just love being in France, and so I thought about teaching language. I was able to switch out of medical school and get into a teaching [program] to teach” said Barrs. 


For various reasons, Barrs and his wife moved back to Saint Louis and he continued teaching here. First he taught for ten years at MICDS where he began Spanish and then began as a French and Spanish teacher at Westminster in 2010. Through teaching he has learned to harness his creativity in creating engaging and productive lessons and connections with his students.


“I really do feel like most of the time I just get paid to have fun,” said Barrs. 


Barrs truly loves teaching and understands that the most important thing is to create connections with people. Although it is often difficult to rewire one’s thinking into a new language, Barrs spurs his students on to continue to learn and grow. 


“People are people and it’s important to recognize that the other person in front of you is a unique person and they may or may not particularly like French or Spanish but they have a lot of other things that they love. [… I try] to communicate to students that they are important for who they are,” said Barrs. 


Highly valuing the individual for who they are rather than their success in his class, Barrs creates the atmosphere for a welcoming and encouraging environment. He also cares to connect personally with his students, always asking about their interests and upcoming games, performances, etc. 


“I think he’s just really fun. He rides his bike [to school] and we talked about bikes,” said Jack St. John, Senior. 


Connecting life in the classroom to real life areas creates a more real and first-hand relationship between not only the students and the language they are learning, but also between Barrs and his students. 


“Mr Barrs has a great personality and is funny and is a great teacher in my opinion,” said Kaitlyn Davis, Junior. 


Although school can be boring and difficult, the difference between enjoying and disliking a class can really come down to the teacher. Monsieur or Señor Barrs creates an engaging classroom that makes it more accessible to learn a foreign language and more importantly models Christ-like character for his students.

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