2010 Hall of Fame Nominee

Nella Spurlin

Temple High School
Temple, TX
2010 Finalist from SWCOLT

“My earliest awareness of a foreign language came around the time I learned to spell. My grandparents switched into German for those conversations that “little ears” weren’t meant to hear. Of course, that piqued my curiosity, but I knew I’d never understand-until a neighbor told me she was taking German in high school. How amazing, that you could actually learn another language! My decision to learn German was made. Our German teacher made class fun, fascinating, and challenging. In addition, she arranged a study trip, and 12 of us spent a month in southern Germany, we lived with host families, attended classes, and took day trips. It was truly a life-altering experience. That summer I decided to become a German teacher—an exciting journey in its own right.

To me, language teaching is not a job—it is truly a Berufung, a calling, offering opportunities and challenges. Language teachers are on a mission to bring the world to their students and to help them comprehend the variety of cultures and worldviews they may encounter.

Learning a new language opens a door to a new lifestyle. Because of my overseas experience, I wanted my students to also have this opportunity. Since 1995, we have had an ongoing exchange program with a partner school in the Rhineland. Through this program, about 160 Germans have visited our school and about 140 of our students have spent a month in Germany. While our students are overseas, they grow in so many ways; their language abilities surge, they become responsible for themselves, they learn to appreciate a new culture, and they become more tolerant of the ideas of others. International issues now have a more personal meaning, since they affect friends. Personal experiences form a context for history, art, and politics. Differences in lifestyle make sense. Most of these students continue their language studies; a sizable portion have earned either majors or minors in German and have traveled back to see their host families or to study. During the Germans’ visit, the impact on the rest of the student body is enormous—suddenly there is a face linked to the concept of “German” (often perceived as a downright good-looking face, at that!); a “foreign “ language becomes the language that Kai and Katrin speak. To me, this is our true purpose as language teachers—to make the world a little smaller, a little more personal, a little more real.

So many other advantages of language learning come into consideration, as well: better understanding of the native language, academic and career opportunities, connections to other subjects such as history and literature, and the chance for a student to learn more about his own cultural heritage. All of these factors are important; but learning to become a citizen of the world seems the most far-reaching, particularly as technology increases international contacts. For language teachers, Christa MacAuliffe’s words ring true: ‘I touch the future; I teach’.”