2021 Hall of Fame Nominee

Carla Swick
Palmer High School
Palmer, AK
2021 Finalist from PNCFL

My love of language, other cultures, and people were sparked from a 1987 announcement on Palmer High School’s intercom: “All students interested in visiting our sister city of Saroma, Japan this summer should complete an application.” That summer, I immersed myself in Saroma while visiting schools and living with three host families. Everything fascinated me: fish, seaweed, and rice for breakfast; washing before getting into the tub; the difference between indoor and outdoor shoes; the formality of introductions and speeches; and a language that did not use our alphabet. I formed some of the most endearing, long-lasting friendships, which ignited in me a desire to learn Japanese.

I bring that same love of learning Japanese to many students where Japanese is not just a hobby or skill, but has shaped who they are and has become a part of their identity. Bethany Paju completed a degree in Linguistics and Japanese Studies, and was selected for a job with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program as a Coordinator for International Relations. Mackenzie Jenkins is teaching English in Saroma, Japan. And my current students - Sophia Dick, Ian Rogers, and Nick Young - just returned from their long-term exchanges to Japan. I see in my students every day that language learning improves health, social engagement, and critical thinking. I can see in the success of my students that learning a second language improves memory, attention span, and overall cognitive health. The value-added growth that language learning inspires in my students’ lives is appreciated by employers. My students have gone on and leveraged their ability to know another language and have found incredible job opportunities.

The world language classroom helps students connect —socially and academically. Students crave to feel they belong. My effective language teaching strategies discard isolation and build a community where students collaborate and connect with ideas and people both inside and outside the classroom. I use current events, Japanese YouTube clips, memes, or new Japanese artists to connect ACTFL Language Teacher of the Year Portfolio - Carla Swick - Value of Language Learning students’ personal interests with the process of learning a new language in a way that curiosity and a love of learning thrive.

Learning a new language is difficult. Language learning teaches both resiliency and grit better than any other subject. Students have to be willing to step outside their comfort zones and make mistakes. But with vulnerability, comes growth. There is a Japanese proverb, “Nanakorobi ya oki; Fall down seven times, get up eight.” That ability to persevere is invaluable in all aspects of life and propels my students to success even if they don’t pursue a career tied to the Japanese language. My students also learn to empathize and understand other people’s struggle to learn English through their own struggles of learning new writing systems, vocabularies, and cultural norms. They are also able to recognize their own culture and perspective on a deeper level. My students are then able to grow their capacity to view their world from multiple perspectives with an open-mind and become better civic-minded citizens.