Community as Conduit
As a 35 year-old high school French teacher, I believe in building a strong sense of community within my classroom. More than the endless (and often mundane) French grammar explanations, cultural tidbits, or even fun and engaging language-centered activities, a sense of community within the classroom is not only conducive to learning, but to life.
My French class is not merely a place to learn how to speak and write French, but also serves as a microcosm of the much larger macrocosm of life after high school. This vast world may some day involve work, travel abroad, vocational education and/or training, community college, or a four-year university education. All of these arenas are like my classroom in that they offer golden opportunities: My students can learn to respect themselves, to respect one another, to accept others’ differences, to cooperate and work together to achieve common goals, to express themselves fully yet thoughtfully, to engage in humor on a daily basis, to sometimes fail yet learn valuable lessons from their shortcomings, and to be the very best they can be, taking great pride in their work and accomplishments. In order to establish this atmosphere of classroom kinship, I implement a “give-and-take” approach; I get to know and respect my students as people, and they reciprocate. Both learning and camaraderie are thus stimulated and begin to flourish, and for this type of classroom environment there is simply no substitute.
As I established this sense of community on a daily basis this past school year, the results were astounding: Students were mentally present, supportive and respectful of one another, engaged, and ready and willing to learn and participate. They enjoyed even the most lackluster of lectures (yes, even French grammar!), and they left the classroom each day feeling safe, appreciated, respected, and enlightened in many different ways. By fostering this sense of community throughout the entire year, students began to acquire and hone not only their French skills, but also vital life skills that will serve them well in the years to come. And, with any luck, they may one day be able to order un croissant when — Paris! ;)
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