WAFLT Teacher of the Year
WAFLT Hall of Fame
All the amazing teachers listed here have been recognized as the Wisconsin World Language Teacher of the Year. This recognition is intended to elevate the status of our profession by creating opportunities for recognizing the most accomplished members of our profession in the state.
2017 Andrea Behn, French Educator
Janesville School District
The Value of Learning Languages and Developing Cultural Competence for All Learners
Recently my district adopted the Wisconsin Global Education Achievement Certificate (GEAC), a certificate recognizing graduating global scholars. I was excited to advocate for it and my enthusiasm influenced many students. To qualify, students are required to take globally-focused classes and participate in clubs and service learning. It is unique because students must take four years of the same world language.
When I introduced the GEAC to my students, it was as a French teacher. I quickly learned that my role went beyond teaching and advocating for French; I must advocate for GEAC and all languages too. I’ve found that students pursuing the GEAC are self-motivated and hungry for cultural knowledge and experiences. These students spend hours online finding appropriate service learning ideas, watching films, reading books, and befriending international students so they feel like part of the school community. Students crave novelty, and though world language meets that need daily, GEAC students always participate in additional French and cultural activities.
I lit the fire for French in these students in by helping them achieve proficiency, exposing them to culture through investigating different cultures’ products and practices, using products and practices to develop an understanding of cultural perspectives, and promoting their participation in those cultures. They accepted me in the teacher role, but I also emerged in a new role — that of mentor. I guided them through the process of setting up a collection for Haiti raising awareness about the people and culture, mentored them in leadership roles in clubs, and shared information about films, books, and cultural events. Though they have emerging leadership skills, I helped them cultivate those skills, technology/media/information literacy, and critical thinking and problem solving. I modeled collaboration and communication in the school and community, and had them participate in it as well.
Here is what I know:
- World languages are the hub of the education wheel. World language teachers touch on every subject and all areas of life. Students who learn a language and are exposed to other cultures see connections to other subject matters and their own culture. They make critical connections.
- Learning is a journey of self-discovery. We don’t just stand on the outside looking in, we encourage immersion in the culture and consideration of various perspectives.
- Language and culture are not mutually exclusive. They go hand-in-hand and include everyone and everything.
- To be successful, future generations need to be taught to think critically and be open-minded. These are key components to world language learning.
- Students who learn languages become lifelong learners. It’s forever part of them and makes them question and think differently.
I’ve always given the typical reasons for learning a language: It looks good for college; It helps with employment; etc. Beyond that, my job is to help students find the deeper value of world languages and culture regardless of whether or not they pursue the GEAC. As we become more globally connected, let’s guide students toward understanding and empathy for their fellow global citizens.