I love learning new concepts and ways of thinking because there's always some "aha" moment, and then it becomes impossible to turn back to the way I thought before.
As a world language teacher, one could say that I've always taught through a global education lens. Perspectives, practices and products of the target language culture is always something I've considered important to teach about, but after completing the State Department's Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship program, my lens became magnified.
Learning a second language is not just a gateway to the countries that speak that language, it is a gateway to the world. While I absolutely want my students to gain an understanding of the products and practices of the Spanish-speaking world, I want them to be able to apply the skills they've gained to the world at large (learning to appreciate other perspectives, a desire to understand perspectives different from one's own, and seeing that one's personal way of life isn't the only way).
Since the Teachers for Global Classrooms program has ended, I've expanded my teaching to exploring the whole globe, in Spanish. Recently, students were learning how to describe daily routines (getting ready for school, the school day, and afternoon and nightly activities). Each student investigated daily life in any country in the world, and presented to their classmates what life was like for a teenager there. We learned about daily life in various countries within Africa, about daily life in Afghanistan, Brazil, Australia, Norway, Ireland, and Indonesia, to name just a handful. Actually, out of 55 students or so, only 5 or so picked a country where the official language was Spanish! I think that's quite telling as to the curiosity of these teens. Music from the country was featured during the presentations, and in many of them, we learned about typical lunch and dinner dishes. We also sometimes were able to explore gender differences. The presentations led to many conversations outside of just vocabulary and grammar. If it weren't for all the snow days lately, we could have done even so much more.
In the past, I think education has been thought of as a preparation for the world after graduation. I think it's time to re-frame, and grow. Why only prepare students for the world in 18 years? We must bring the world to our learners, today.
Since 2008, I've been bringing the world into my classroom through small lessons, side projects, community service, and international trips. Since I teach a world language, culture is a part of everyday class, and I always found kids to be curious about the world. However, there were always the themes of the book to make sure I was getting through, sometimes irrelevant vocabulary lists, and fill in the blank homework sheets to pass out. The students I've had in my first eight years of teaching have generally been all middle class. They, for the most part, enjoyed school and similar lives outside of the school day.
Now well past one decade of teaching, I am in the most diverse teaching environment of my career. About forty percent of my high school's student population is Hispanic, forty percent are white, and about twenty percent of the students come from other diverse backgrounds. We have a high free and reduced lunch rate, but are also home to students from quite wealthy backgrounds as well as the middle class. I've never had such socioeconomic diversity sitting in one classroom. It certainly has changed the classroom dynamic.
My first two weeks of school in this district were full of excitement for me as I had always wanted to teach in a school with such ethnic and racial diversity. I eagerly played the Spanish music videos that had always appealed to my students in the past as this new group walked in the classroom each day. I quickly learned it bothered most everyone other than my Spanish-speaking students. After a full two weeks of playing music popular with teens in Spanish-speaking countries to no avail, I decided to ask a nice sophomore student in one of my classes what she didn't like about this fun, upbeat music. "I'm white" she responded, in a very innocent, yet matter-of-fact voice. "Wow, do I have my work cut out for me," I thought to myself.
The first semester I spent slowly integrating culture into my classes. We used the grammar and vocabulary of the textbook to learn about Peru and Costa Rica from a vacationing perspective. I taught them a new dance every month from the Spanish-speaking world. Slowly, some students began to gain interest in the music, and started to ask questions that really mattered. Questions like, "Why do people in Mexico worship Mary so much, and why do they call her Guadalupe?" Or, very generally, "What is life like in Spanish-speaking countries?" I began to see a small shift in thinking.... a very small shift. The students started to wonder about people and places different front them.
At the end of the first semester, I surveyed students. I wanted to know, outside of Spanish, what were they curious about in life? What did they want to know more about? In regards to Spanish, what did they want to continue to learn? And what did they want to discover about themselves? I was SHOCKED and EXCITED by the responses. Over and over and over I read, "the world," "other cultures," "what it's like to live in a different culture," "why not all Spanish-speakers look the same," "why are there different religions." What did students want to learn about themselves? "How do I fit into the world?" and "How I can overcome hardships like other people?" and "What I am good at?"
I feel as though I am on to something. Although these kids hesitate to interact with each other, don't talk about their differences both in heritage and socioeconomic circumstance, and often see each other as "other," they are curious about one another. And they are curious about their world. They want to learn about life and how they will integrate themselves into it! And for this, THE TEXTBOOK JUST ISN'T GOING TO CUT IT. Students will learn about themselves, life, and what it means to be a global citizen, in Spanish. In the process, I hope to see them finally come together as the familial unit I'm accustomed to so easily creating in my classroom. I hope they appreciate one another in a new light, and leave the judgements and stereotypes at the door. I hope they come together to make their school, community, and world a better place. I hope, above all else, they feel they have grown as a person after being in my room.
I confess. I am absolutely without a doubt, an idealist. Recently, I took a silly facebook quiz about what decade I should live in, and it reported back the future, because I'm a forward thinker with my head stuck in the iCloud. I laughed, and then shrugged my shoulders. In the words of Jackson Kiddard, “Instead of making up excuses for why something is impossible, it’s far better to come up with reasons why it could be possible. One reason why is more powerful than all the reasons why not.”
And the possibilities are endless.....
I have been a language teacher for fifteen years now and I am intensely passionate about language learning and helping students grow as global citizens. I'm so happy you are here!