2017 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year
North County High School, Glen Burnie, MD, NECTFL, German
By providing the unique opportunity to combine a language and culture with other content, I have come to realize the immense impact that I have on education as a world language teacher. Teaching a language is a privilege, and my classroom is a sacrosanct space where students creating connections is the key to learning about new content, new cultures and new understandings. I am constantly in awe of how learning a language shifts my students’ perspective and fosters cultural understanding and acceptance as they learn to communicate, compare and make connections with other cultures.
I experienced my own paradigm shift when the high school where I teach became a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) magnet. I suddenly found myself wondering why I should teach STEM and how I could connect language and culture to seemingly unrelated content. I quickly came to realize that teaching STEM and teaching languages shared much in common, including critical thinking, collaboration, interpretation, and communication. Once I viewed my language teaching practice through a STEM lens, I was able to find connections to what I was already doing. By integrating soft skills and project-based learning in language-anchored STEM instruction, my lessons became more rigorous and student- centered, thereby improving my students’ proficiency. I created opportunities for students to take ownership of learning with them solving problems via Socratic seminars, giving impromptu presentations, and planning for events based on real-world parameters such as time and money. My students now vie for positions as workshop leaders for our annual German STEM Immersion Day, and event where they lead hands-on experiments, truly emphasizing the trifecta of language, culture, and content.
My many disadvantaged students have gone from asking why they should learn a language would likely never use to realizing that if they can reach understanding and solve problems with their fellow classmates, then it is possible for them to do the same with someone on the other side of the world. Through an immersion setting in the classroom and enrichment activities outside of it, my students have truly started to live the language. They now see the value of language with STEM to make themselves more marketable to employers, but just as important are the changes I see in their willingness to be open to different perspectives and ways of thinking. I view my own role as the one who facilitates the interconnectedness of content with language and culture, so that they can see value not only in what they are studying, but also in themselves.
Intercultural understanding begins with those who understand the power of speaking to someone in the language that is their home. Vulnerability, respect, and effort in using language are signs of increased tolerance and new ways of thinking, something that gives students the power to impact the world in a positive way. It is our job to ensure that all students study a language and culture so that everyone has the same opportunity.