2011 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year
Central High School, Springfield, MO, CSCTFL, Spanish
“Economic well-being and safety are vital reasons for learning another language and have garnered considerable attention as evidenced by the greatest governmental promotion of language study since the Sputnik era. But these challenges also give us the opportunity to increase cross-cultural awareness or “global literacy” as put forward by Dr. Heidi Byrnes of Georgetown University at the 2008 ACTFL Assembly of Delegates. Global literacy values the individual growth that comes through acquiring a language and connecting with other cultures. I used to stress to students how learning a second language could help them to get a job, but I now put equal if not more emphasis on how languages can improve their quality of life far beyond their own economic security.
I feel privileged to guide young people to develop an appreciation of the “Other” and to consider ideas they weren’t even aware of before , all of which build self-confidence. Travel with students to another country is the best performance assessment that can be devised. What better way exists to gauge increased global literacy than a comparison of how a young person viewed the world before a journey and how that a view has been altered upon returning home? Learning language through culture contributes to strengthened personal identity but, paradoxically, can lead to diminished importance placed upon one’s self. Carefully constructed units that intertwine culture and language typically cause language learners to expand their awareness of social and economic injustices in far-away lands. As the result of being able to communicate with the inhabitants of those countries, they may be in a position to do some actual good in the world. The enhancement of the quality of life for all concerned is priceless.
Above all, I believe that language study offers our students an experience they can’t get elsewhere . In a world languages classroom, learners are fully engaged in meaningful, personalized activities that promote proficiency in the target language and its culture. They have the opportunity to delve into individual interests such as art, music, cooking, design, architecture, linquistics, history, and current political, social and environmental issues. Businesses heavily recruit employees with these broader cultural sensitivities, as they are more flexible in a changing work force, and I would submit, are more interesting people.
But we will fail in our efforts to deliver the benefits of global literacy to upcoming generations if we are unable to field a corps of qualified educators. The good news is that interest has never been higher in learning another language and potential recruits are in front of us each day in our classrooms. Our positive example helps to portray world languages teaching as a dynamic career that attracts the best and the brightest of professionals. By encouraging just one of our students each year to consider joining our ranks, we could reduce the shortage of skilled professionals and in turn, offer up a vibrant vocation that is full of rewards. Indeed, what an excellent reward it is to promote global proficiency by opening the doors of the world to others.”