2021 Hall of Fame Nominee

Eric Richards
Fort Zumwalt North High School
O'Fallon, MO
2021 Finalist from CSCTFL

I call my students “German Jedi”. This Star Wars reference is done with a purpose. Yes, my students enjoy the reference and it becomes part of our classroom culture, but it runs much deeper than that. I view language learners as “Jedi”, not only because of the “power” that they acquire while learning a language, but also because of the “light” they bring to our world. I believe that my “German Jedi” – and all language learners – ultimately become a much-needed “force” of good in this world.

As language learners begin their “training”, the “power” of language learning quickly becomes reality. The positive cognitive, academic and economic “forces” begin to grow. Language learners find that they can pay attention longer, achieve higher test scores, think more creatively and have more earning potential . At the same time, our “Jedi” are also growing in other areas; they are finding out more about themselves and the world around them. Language learners are exposed not only to the language, but also to new cultural practices and beliefs. They are broadening their viewpoints, growing in their own cultural understanding, and developing into world citizens, who are able to positively interact with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

As their power of understanding grows, so does their much-needed light in this world. In a world, where we are connected more than ever, it seems as though we stopped talking to each other. It seems that we have taken sides and each side tries to yell louder than the other. Each side seems so blinded by their views that they cannot see that the people, at whom they are yelling, are exactly that – people. Each side seems to forget that each of us is a person with our own, unique story.We live in a world, in which we sorely need the light of respect, empathy, real conversations, relationships, and cultural understanding and acceptance.

Enter the light - our “Jedi”. Language learners understand diverse perspectives. They are better equipped to build bridges, see the world from the eyes of another and meet others where they are. They have real conversations and build real relationships among the diverse people of our world. Most importantly, however, they listen and allow people from across our world to tell their story – in their own words.

In a noisy world, our problems will not be solved through shouting louder, but rather through listening and cultivating relationships and understanding. Through learning another language and possessing greater cultural understanding, our students will be better able to collaborate, listen and solve real world problems. Moreover, through their awareness, abilities, acceptance and cultural competence, language learners will lead the positive changes of the future.

Although this world may not tell students how powerful and valuable learning another language truly is, I hope that language learners know what a powerful force of good they are. I also hope all students across the globe have the opportunity to become a “Jedi” and let their light shine in our world.