Teaching Philosophy

Initially, the exercise had nothing to do with the end of the world, but as summer approached in my second-semester Spanish class, something unexpected and quite wonderful happened. I circulated around the room, listening as my students serenely debated the relative advantages of city life to life in the country. And then I heard them. Their Spanish may have been less than perfect, but there they were: the “fearless” student and her shy, reserved partner, availing themselves of all the vocabulary at their disposal, boldly and clumsily deploying tenses that they would never have attempted in a more controlled environment, hotly debating whether they would prefer to spend the end of the world in the city or the countryside. I discarded the carefully constructed lesson plans meant to lead students over the hurdle this pair had so casually surmounted in one improvisational flourish. The best I could do was step back as the entire class got caught up in the fervor of the impromptu debate, and was transformed.

An earlier iteration of this teaching philosophy would have stated that this experience taught me that each student will happen upon his or her own path to the language, and that my role as instructor is to facilitate that search by providing as many opportunities for success as possible. While I still believe quite fervently that this is true, its meaning has since evolved. My teaching philosophy has since matured to encompass classroom experiences that go beyond linguistic instruction to include literature, civilization, and the humanities in general. Rather than merely indicating the need to seek out and provide a wealth of artifacts in order to appeal to the diverse passions of my classroom population, I have come to understand that, perhaps more than any other discipline, language (and its corollaries) is deeply and inherently interdisciplinary. This is the quality around which I have structured my teaching philosophy.

I approach my commitment to interdisciplinarity as a social and academic responsibility. The natural interdisciplinarity of language learning and its concomitant cultural exposure cannot be overstated: without any content to call its own, its subject matter is literally anything and everything that can be communicated. Likewise, it is almost a platitude to propose that Latin American literature cannot be separated from its political and cultural contexts. We have a responsibility to introduce these contexts as we educate students who, by and large, are less and less aware of the historical circumstances that inform not only the texts that they read, but the world that they live in.

To address this responsibility, I have developed a student-centered, task-based approach to language instruction that coalesces around the subjects that students feel passionate about, and attends carefully to each student’s inclinations in order to provide the tools that they require to pursue them. Providing student-centered experiences requires making imaginative use of the traditional arsenal of teaching tools and tactics that we wield, but also of artifacts, literary texts, television and film, music, sports, and current events that specifically engage students’ interdisciplinary interests. Technology’s promise to the diligent teacher is the capacity to enrich lectures and integrate authentic cultural artifacts into everyday classroom experiences on a scale never before possible. My knowledge of web technology and familiarity with social networking has yielded mechanisms to provide my students with enhanced (yet still structured) experiences both in and outside of class. At the same time, my foreign language classroom creates ample space for language’s inherent improvisatory aspects; ultimately, I believe that a fundamental part of being an effective instructor is my capacity to realize when these mechanisms create opportunities to relinquish control and allow my students to perform whatever makes language and literature interesting for them.

My student-centered, interdisciplinary approach to instruction extends to the literature classroom as well, where I see my role as that of a facilitator who encourages student-led knowledge creation. I ensure that students feel comfortable speaking up by seeding discussion prior to class by signaling the themes they may encounter in their reading. I also require that students post their own analytical questions on a class-wide message board, and that they respond to at least one of their classmates’ questions. Meanwhile, I organize student questions into thematic groups and match them up, if possible, with my previously distributed questions. By the time we meet in the classroom, students have articulated in writing at least two ideas to share with the class, and know that they will spend class time engaged in a discussion facilitated by me, but organized around their own ideas and interests. Because discussion of literature cannot be separated from the conditions surrounding its creation, I heavily supplement the reading of texts with important historical and socio-political considerations in order to assess the importance of literature in its proper context and as it relates to contemporary readers. The confluence of all of these tools creates a safe, engaging, student-centered, and interdisciplinary intellectual environment.

My goal in the Spanish classroom is foremost to motivate and engage students to think, talk, and write in and about Spanish language and culture in a productive, meaningful way. As a language and culture teacher, I have the fortune of teaching a subject whose matter is thinking, talking, and writing; as a teacher of literature, my fortune lies in watching students blossom into adept readers and critical thinkers. The set of relevant topics and the ability to create interdisciplinary spaces are limitless; that is, the possibility of motivating and stimulating students to be excited about learning is far greater in language than in many other subjects. I seek constantly to leverage this infinite toolbox to create a more engaging, interactive classroom environment in which students can communicate effectively and effusively about the things that they feel are worth communicating, can transform a mere classroom experience into an authentic breakthrough, and be themselves transformed.