Teaching Culture = Changing the World

In my excitement for my move to Spain, I’ve been thinking about what my living situation is going to be like, what city or town I will even be living in, and, six months in advance, what to pack! But what I remembered today as I headed to my kindergarten classroom that I currently teach in, reflecting on the tragic events in Boston, so recently after Newtown, CT, is that my mission in Spain is so much more than the growth I am going to experience over there as a young traveler. My mission entails educating children and thus contributing a light of hope to the dark state society seems to be floundering in.

Completely opposite of what I will be teaching later this year (English), I am currently teaching Spanish. While I teach other subjects, the crux of what I teach is the Spanish language. My class is currently on a “trip around the world.” We pack our maletas, make sure we have our pasaportes, and head onto el avion for an in-flight cultural movie and order bebidas and comida.

When pitching this idea to fellow Spanish teachers, another teacher raised a concern about teaching cultural aspects too profound for young children to understand and a fear of only leaving them with stereotypical images of the countries we visit (e.g. Spain is only equivalent to tapas and flamenco). A lesson I learn every day is that every teacher has a different philosophy, different beliefs, and different ways of teaching. This teacher is great, and we have shared many lesson plans. And more than anything, even though at first I was like, “WHAT?! This is the PERFECT age to do this trip around the world. Hello!” I am thankful for her comment because it further deepened my conviction that my unit is strong and important.

“Education makes us free. The world of knowledge and of the intellect is where all people can meet and converse. Education liberates people from prejudice. It frees the human heart from its violent passions.” Daisaku Ikeda, http://www.ikedaquotes.org

While teaching conversational skills in a foreign language is so important, teaching cultural aspects is even more important. Through learning about another culture, whether through travel or study, a curiosity and understanding of the fact that people live differently in other places, grows. Though my students are only five and six, I know in my heart, that through this unit abroad, their curiosity is being fostered and a part of these lessons will remain with them throughout their lives. Although they may not remember precisely that flamenco comes from Andalucia, watching them dance around the room and shout Ole! and seeing how amazed they are as the guitar players plays this beautiful music and as the dancer’s hands move so gracefully, putting all of my efforts into this unit is worth every second of my time. It is not simply teaching about a language, it is teaching about the beauty of the world around us.

Tortilla Espanola I made with my class :)

Tortilla Espanola that I made with the class, getting ready for the oven 🙂

In Spain, this will also very much be the case. While we are Auxiliares de Conversacion, we are also Cultural Ambassadors. We aren’t going over there simply as native English speakers to teach grammar, we are going there as young people with different perspectives and with the opportunity to share about who we are and where we come from. By tapping into our own curiosity as travelers (I mean because at the end of the day, anyone trying to move over to Spain is essentially a traveler), we can help to develop the same curiosity and passion within our students, even through simple lessons. Just as our love for Spain is causing us to expand our lives and giving us the courage we need to make a move to another country, our love for our own countries can help us to broaden the mindset of our students and inspire them to travel, or even to take in and understand their immediate surroundings.

“We need to awaken to a common consciousness of all being inhabitants of Earth. This consciousness is not to be found in some distant place. It will not be found on a computer screen. It lies in our hearts, in our ability to share the pain of our fellow human beings….” Daisaku Ikeda, http://www.ikedaquotes.org

With the recent tragedies occurring on a disturbingly frequent basis, I can’t help but think that a lot of it is the result of people losing touch with the world around them and forgetting what it truly means to be human. As we isolate ourselves and withdraw further into ourselves via social media and television, we’ve forgotten the incredible things that surround us, and we take for granted those little things that would be so hard to live without. My mission going into my classroom every day is, and going into my classroom in Spain will be, strengthening and developing my students’ natural wonder and curiosity for life.

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2 thoughts on “Teaching Culture = Changing the World

  1. Dina (@dinaenlacocina) says:

    This is great! I totally agree. When I studied abroad, my mom’s friend, an elementary Spanish teacher, did a class project about me. Kind of like “where in the world is Carmen San Diego?” They had to figure out from clues where I was in Spain. In the process, they learned a TON. I got to go and talk to all the classes when I got home and it was the most amazing experience to see how much they learned and were interested! It inspired me to want to continue instilling this curiosity in children and that’s part of why I’m applying to be an auxiliar (finally) this year! I’m also jumping out of my skin with anticipation about being placed. 🙂

    • BuddhistTravels says:

      Thanks! That sounds like such a fun class project and overall great experience, and what’s more, an inspiration to the kids and to you. So glad you’ve decided to head to Spain too! Keep me posted about where you end up being placed!

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