Growing up in Colombia, South America, we were always exposed to different aspects of life. My dad’s side of the family gets darker the farther back I look and my Afro ancestry is even more obvious. On my mom’s side, they get lighter and the Caucasian genes get stronger. My mom was Catholic and religious and my dad was a Physics professor with a scientific mind that could not simply grasp the concept of believing by faith. They were very respectful of each other’s points of view, though and wanted us to have a well-rounded education and open minds. I was enrolled in a Presbyterian private school and my mom insisted on my brothers and I getting baptized but my dad wanted us to be old enough to decide if that is what we wanted so finally (at the tender age of 9!) I got baptized along with my brothers, 6 and 5 at the time. My godfather, by the way was my dad’s Jewish best friend.
My favorite playtime was spent in front of a chalkboard that my dad had taken home, pretending to teach my brothers and my dolls. I loved wearing dad’s old white lab coat that swept the floor as I moved. It made me feel smart, powerful, and important with all those pockets for my pens and several different colored pieces of chalk. My brothers would suffer through my telling them to be quiet, pay attention, sit still, and take notes. And if they didn’t, I would get a ruler out or grab the famous “chancla” (flip flop, the Hispanic’s weapon of choice) and threaten them.
Looking back now I understand things that have shaped me to the teacher I am today. I enjoyed being at school more than being at home on a daily basis. I loved my school, many of my classmates, and most of my teachers (if you know what I mean). However, when I think about my favorite teachers, I wonder why they left such a big impression on me. It was the fact that they made learning interesting, challenging, and fun. My most memorable teachers were my music, geography, and language teachers, of course. They showed me something different from the ordinary, they sparked my curiosity and interest for those things that were not known to me and that is the ultimate goal of a good teacher.
As a foreign language teacher, however, I think we have an even more powerful weapon in our hands. Not only do we get to crack open the door to a new world but we lure our students to peek inside. I know, it sounds like the creepy man with the trench coat asking a kid to go with him with the promise of sweets or a cute puppy. But seriously though, we cannot teach every kid to become fluent in another language or turn into a translator or the next Gabriel García Márquez, but it is our responsibility to make sure those students feel invited, welcome, and encouraged to be more open minded. If they try it and don’t like it, it’s okay (like me and Root Beer) but at least give it a chance.
We are the new and improved generation of ambassadors, who can build a bridge between cultures and show students that it is okay to be different (not weird, but different), to have a different perspective or point of view. It is okay to do things in a different way, or speak a different language, or eat what others consider exotic or a delicacy (like squirrel Jambalaya!). It is up to us to show the next generations that we may not agree in every way but we can respect and tolerate others and we can do that in our foreign language classes with the permission and the blessing of the world and the state department of education!!