Remembering Work That Matters

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Part of a foreign language teacher’s life includes witnessing students’ progress, even when they are no longer his/her students. Since learning a language is not limited to vocabulary and structures; since it includes acquiring a new set of cultural values and a new set of degrees of truth, the way foreign language teachers and students bond is quite unique.

Part of a foreign language teacher’s rapport with students also includes questions such as: Do you remember when we discussed X, Y and Z? Do you remember that song we sang? Do you remember that movie we watched? Do you remember that story you told us about X? And my personal favorite: when are you teaching us again? I want to think that besides the fun and enjoyment one could have had in a class, students also ask that questions when they come across the realization that they have carried out work that mattered with their teachers.

Foreign language lessons, and other subject classes for that matter, should not be an experience defined by a handout, some questions and a gap filling exercise. Students’ experience and ours should be strong enough to amplify the potential for experiencing work that matters in a class; for addressing everyone’s passions and to explore real world application in everything we are doing. At the end of the day, we are not teaching/learning to find that there is no actual use for the skills we are developing.

A few days ago I was chatting with a student of mine, and one of his parents. This particular student underwent an incredible transformation in his last year of the IB DP because he started using the foreign language he was studying (Spanish) as an instrument that allowed him to access different perspectives of the world ‘with a different accent and rhythm’; as a tool that broadened the possibilities for him to enhance his study habits in other subjects. I was in the middle of a series of praises for him when he said, ‘I honestly feel that you worked more than all of us (students) together’. Then his parent added, ‘that is because he wanted you all to learn.’ And I just responded, ‘the truth is that I was very interested in what you guys were sharing in our discussions and writing in your papers. I was actually eagerly looking forward to read what you would say about this or that topic’.

This is not a moment to brag about what a good teacher I am or think I can be, but to understand the deep meaning of the rapport between teachers and students: the adults in the institution should serve as models for the type of creating and learning they/we might expect from students. In other words, students’ voice and insights encouraged me to always look for different ways to squeeze that vision that stimulated my creativity.

Moreover, the reality of this moment is that every one of our students can create, share and connect in ways that were not available a decade ago. I still remember one of my French classes when we were discussing music and culture and a student asked me if I liked Adele and, secretly, a student next to her mentioned, in French, ‘of course he does not know her, he is old.’ My response to that whisper is one of the most fun memories these students and I have: ‘So you think I come from the caves?’ Liking this particular click, being familiar with a singer, was what has allowed me to share playlists on soundcloud with these students; what, I think, allowed us to construct a space of comfort where speaking up and expressing what we truly believed in was encouraged.

So, today, my reflection is about the enormous opportunities teachers could be missing if they do not generate learning experiences where the outcome does not matter; if they do not exploit occasions where a smile, a moment of laughter, a joke, and a point of view can detonate a series of experiences that will become tattoos in their rapport with students; in their personal history; in their development; in their appreciation the time they shared doing things that mattered.

Below are some of the moments that have mattered in my classes.

Creative Thinking in the Spanish class:

The IB-ig brother Project

The Spanish TV Project

Around the Spanish speaking World

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About Rafael Angel

Teaching and Learning Director; Language and TOK Teacher; lives for traveling, reading, learning and tasting new flavours; culture and art lover; passionate about cinema and music. IB MYP, DP Workshop Leader. Mexican YouTuber and Soundclouder.
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