Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Asking myself why at the beginning of the school year feels pretty important. To begin the school year this year, our new administrative team asked us to share some #whyiteach moments. The why question has been an underlying thread in these first few weeks of school, as I establish routines and big-picture plans with my students. I'm asking students why, too - middle school students are starting the year by creating zines to answer the question "Why Learn Languages?" Before we can learn we need to know why we are doing this, and before I can teach I need to know why it is important.
There are so many reasons education is important, and why I've decided to make a career out if it. Today it's hard to ignore the reasons looming in the headlines and my newsfeed. It's easy to feel powerless in the face of the violence, hatred, and injustice both far away and uncomfortably close to home. At its worst, education can prop up and strengthen structures of injustice, but at its best it can dismantle them. Education is a way to help fix what's broken in the world, and to create a better future. It is not the only way to fight injustice and heal wounds, but for me personally education is the way I can be invested and involved in a better future. I have the next generation in my classroom, and the skills, ideas, and the abilities for empathy and critical thinking that they learn with me can help shape their future.
Innovation in education is a relatively new concept to me. As a foreign language teacher, my focus has been on proficiency and how to get students to use language authentically. This is my 3rd year at a project based school, and I've had to shift my mindset a bit. Innovation is a huge part of PBL. I think innovation is critical because it innovation empowers students. Education is my key to improve the future, and the key to successful education is students who are empowered to take control of their own learning. If students are engaged and involved and have a voice, they will learn and they will make amazing things. I feel so grateful to be working in an environment where innovation and student curiosity is valued and prioritized. I love passing by classrooms every day where students are excited and curious and can't wait to show me what they are making. In my own classes, one big success marker is if I see that light kindled in my students' eyes. I've seen that a few times this year, while students are making zines and preparing to share them with an authentic audience.
For me, the big question I'm still wrestling with is how to encourage innovation and authentic exploration without losing sight of proficiency - or rather, how to create situations for that innovation and exploration to happen when students are not yet at an adequate level of proficiency in Spanish. I am optimistic, especially working with 5th graders this year who I have had since 3rd grade - we can do more things in Spanish, so we can talk about more things in Spanish, so hopefully we can explore stuff and make stuff in Spanish. I'm hoping that this exploration of innovation can help me find ways to make that happen.