At 8 a.m., anyone would need a cup of coffee as the smell fills the little corner office and the early sun washes through the second floor window onto the carpeted floor. Posters of European countries and French sayings adorn the white walls. Everything is in order for a Monday morning. It’s just another early day for Jean Knecht, who will spend almost 40 minutes preparing for his four 50-minute classes.
“You think after all these years I would know my material,” Knecht said.
What he does know after 45 years of teaching French at TCU, he said, is each of his classes needs different attention, and planning the day’s lesson is a way to cater to that.
Knecht said his teaching is a reflection of his European discipline and high expectations of his students, and after four decades of consistent hard work, Knecht will be on leave next semester and retire in May.
“I’m going to miss him,” said Betty Nance, an administrative assistant in the department of modern languages and literatures. “He is a good example of what a university faculty member should be. He’s dedicated, he expects his students to do their best and he will do whatever it is for them to do their best.”
Lauren Bringle, a freshman history major in Knecht’s class, said Knecht appreciates students who try to do well.
“He is a really nice man who cares whether or not his students succeed, and he works really hard to make sure they do,” Bringle said.
Knecht, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in 1935 in Brussels, Belgium, and began working at TCU in the modern language department in 1961. He has been with the program since and is known to be a favorite in French courses, Nance said.
Before he came to TCU, Knecht taught French and Dutch in the Belgian Congo in 1959. He worked in the colonies with his wife teaching at the high school level at a Disciples of Christ school.
“Our main duty was to teach,” Knecht said. “When the Congo became independent in 1960, we had to leave to save our lives, literally.”
When he returned to Belgium, finding a job was difficult because jobs were awarded based on the number of years spent in the colonies.
Knecht had only one year.
Friends in Fort Worth contacted him and asked if he and his wife were interested in coming to Fort Worth. Through the TCU French program, Knecht began a career that expanded into the next millennium.
“This is a nice big school now, compared to when I came,” he said. “There’s a lot more traffic all around. It’s grown immensely; that’s what I noticed the most, and tuition, that’s increased incredibly.”
But as Knecht sits at his desk while the steam rises out of his half-full coffee cup, he said TCU’s growth is a good thing and the friendly atmosphere is a reason he has stayed.
“I’ve had one guy come visit with me. He was in my first French class at TCU and has stayed in contact with me through the years if only through a Christmas card,” Knecht said. “When they come to town they always call me up and we meet. That’s kind of nice.”
Knecht was the chairman of the Department of Modern Languages from 1996 to 2002. His career also included lecturing at TCU for the Advanced Placement Institute, a program that teaches courses to high school students, and translating for businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Sharon Fairchild, chairwoman of the modern languages and literatures department, said Knecht is known for his strict teaching in grammar and pronunciation in his classes; however, he is still a very funny and animated professor who knows how to make light of correcting his students, Fairchild said.
“When you find a professor who has taught that long, they kind of slowed down, but he still teaches with enthusiasm and energy,” Fairchild said.
Jeremy Rao, a freshman premajor in Knecht’s second semester French class, said he agrees.
“His classes are fun and interactive, unlike some of my other classes,” Rao said. “His class is one that I genuinely look forward to.”
Next semester, the department will hire a temporary faculty member. Next fall, department officials expect to have a full-time member, Fairchild said.
“But I will miss the colleague I could talk to and run things by,” Fairchild said. “Plus, he makes the best coffee.”
Knecht doesn’t know what his plans are after retiring: maybe gardening, definitely traveling and possibly a hobby, he said.
“I haven’t given it a lot of thought yet,” Knecht said.
It’s probably a first in 45 years.