Mission Statement and Teaching Philosophy
As a Spanish professor at Juniata College, my primary mission is to help students develop their Spanish language and Hispanic cultural proficiency. Professionally, I define myself first and foremost as a teacher, and in order to teach effectively—i.e., foster student learning by serving as guide, resource, and cheerleader—it is essential that I continue to expand my own professional expertise. However, teaching involves more than just the development of skills and the communication of knowledge, and a liberal arts education seeks to nurture the qualities of mind and character which permit students “to realize their full potential as contributors to society, informed citizens, and caring and responsible adults.” (Juniata College Mission Statement) Part of my own responsibility as an educator is to serve as a role model by committing myself to personal growth as well as to professional development. I believe that the personal and the professional are inextricably interwoven in teaching and that both feed and are fed by the teaching in which I am engaged, hence the tripartite structure of my web site: teaching, professional development, and personal growth. For me, the art of living consists of achieving a healthy and sustainable balance among the latter two, which will inform and enrich my interaction with students.
Students acquire another language most effectively when they are able to use what they are learning to express something meaningful about topics that are relevant to them. I subscribe to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language's (ACTFL) emphasis on proficiency-based instruction that prepares students to carry out global functions such as creating with the language by recombining learned material, asking and answering questions on familiar topics, and narrating and describing in major time frames. Whereas second language pedagogy used to distinguish between the “active” skills of speaking and writing and the “passive” skills of listening and reading, the current terminology of “productive” versus “receptive” recognizes the active nature of all four skills. Nevertheless, such a distinction still masks the productive process that takes place when one decodes and interprets an oral utterance or written text. In structuring my language courses, I strive to create and implement activities that enable students to develop all four language skills, with particular emphasis placed on listening. Listening is often overlooked during the first two years of college instruction, but it is essential for student success and is actually the most used skill in immersion and everyday contexts.
In addition to the goal of helping students to communicate effectively in Spanish, an essential aim of my teaching is to expose students to the richness and diversity of cultures in the Spanish-speaking world. I have devoted a substantial portion of my life to the exploration of Hispanic cultures, and I believe that they have much to teach us about the human condition and the world in which we live. Proficiency in Spanish opens a window to these cultures and provides students with another set of lenses with which they can better process, understand, and appreciate the vitality and relevance of things Hispanic. Culture can and should be embedded in Spanish instruction from the very beginning of language study. I encourage students to engage Hispanic cultures both through culture-based activities in class and through attendance at and participation in cultural activities outside class, such as Hispanic films, field trips to attend Hispanic plays or concerts, and Spanish immersion events. I have also organized numerous short-term immersion and service learning trips to countries such as Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Honduras so that students can apply what they have learned in the classroom and experience Hispanic cultures firsthand.
In sum, my overarching goal is to challenge and support students as they seek to discern the next stage of their journey and prepare themselves to lead fulfilling lives as engaged citizens of the world. In the context of my discipline, this entails developing the language proficiency required to communicate effectively in Spanish and the cultural proficiency needed to function comfortably in Spanish-speaking communities and to appreciate the rich diversity of Hispanic cultures. Upon completion of their education at Juniata, if our Spanish students leave with intermediate-high to advanced-low proficiency in Spanish, the ability to analyze with insight Hispanic cultural texts, and the desire to deepen their knowledge of and engagement with the Spanish-speaking world, then the Spanish program will have fulfilled its mission as an integral part of our students' liberal arts education.
If you would like to read more of my thoughts on liberal arts education, check out the address I gave to incoming freshmen at Juniata's Opening Convocation in August 2003.