Benjamin Fisher-Rodriguez

2024 Teacher of the Year finalists

2024 Hall of Fame Nominee

Benjamin Fisher-Rodriguez
Bothell High School
Bothell, WA

2024 Finalist from PNCFL
German and Spanish

Research suggests that traveling to new places helps us gain mental distance from our daily lives and approach any problem areas with greater flexibility and creativity. It is my belief that every day, language teachers give young people these same benefits of travel without ever requiring any of them to physically leave the classroom space, creating better communicators, collaborators, and critical thinkers. I believe this deeply, for it has been my own experience and journey as both a learner and an educator.

Language learning allows us to travel within and without, inspiring us to see ourselves with greater clarity while exploring unfamiliar cultures and places. In doing so, we must constantly interrogate how we go about meeting our most basic human need for connection with others through communication. We see, as if for the first time, the cultural products that we interact with regularly, the practices of our community life, and glimpses of the underlying perspectives that we take for granted. This can be somewhat disorienting, but also blessedly refreshing. We travel away from ourselves and are able to see the forest for the trees, as it were.

As we undergo this journey through language learning, this journey to see ourselves from another angle, we move ourselves toward others and feel their warmth, see them in finer detail versus broad strokes. We share our opinions, our needs, our hopes, our humor, and that which appeared to be too distant to understand becomes more familiar. I often wonder: if we do this work of inner and outer travel through language learning, and gain the intercultural communicative competence to speak to unfamiliar faces in their hearts’ languages, could we create greater peace in the world? I believe so.

I was very young when I sensed that there might be something different about me, though I didn’t have a word for it then, in any language. It was my language teachers who protected and nurtured me, sent me on the journey of discovery to find who I was and am. They prompted me to reflect on how I related to the many cultures I came in contact with, through the language. When we invest time into language and intercultural learning, we invest in helping young people find themselves. Knowing who they are, they have greater security to face an ambiguous world with wonder.

Maybe our students will go on to work in fields that require their language skills, or maybe not. Maybe, instead, their language learning will have delivered them to thought-provoking news sources, music they love, oft-rewatched series or films, or bookshelves evidencing sprawling discussions and interpretations. Maybe their language learning will have gifted them friends for a lifetime, an identity as a citizen of a greatly interconnected world, or the empathy to approach difference with curiosity and warmth. Language is and should be part of the core curriculum, for it is at the core of what makes us human, and the vehicle that sends us on the journey of worldly discovery.