Faithful Learning in World Languages

Teaching- An act of Hospitality

By: Fred Garner (Spanish Teacher and World Languages Department Head)

Students trickle into my Spanish classroom after morning break, often sullen and quiet in stark contrast to the ebullient din emanating from the lockers just outside. The warning bell sounds, and the noise slowly dissipates until the final bell announces the beginning of third period. My students, already showing signs of being mentally sapped and sated, wait passively for yet another class to begin.

Not all classes start like this, but this group can feel depressing at times. The bell triggers in them a Pavlovian response to class-time: fun is over, time to learn. As I survey the room, I wonder where the joy of learning has gone. Where did the eagerness and passion of their kindergarten days go? How can these students go from mirth to apathy simply by stepping over the threshold into my classroom? In response, I defiantly set a goal: I will make each student smile at least once before class is dismissed. It’s a small thing I hope for them – a gift of levity in a system that often reinforces emotional detachment as a necessary starting point for serious academic pursuits.

In his book The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer claims that “good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young.” Looking over the disassociated expressions of my students, I feel the irresistible call to wake them from their slumber, to bring them alive as I am alive and Spanish is alive, to rekindle the oft-espoused yet ever-elusive “love of learning” that seems but a distant memory for these high-schoolers. So I welcome these teenagers (foreigners and strangers, perhaps?) as best I can into my classroom.

Hospitality by definition requires much of the host. As I interact day-in and day-out with these students of another time and place as my own, I can’t help but wonder how good a host I truly am. On the worst days, my lessons fall flat and my students remain detached and passive, uncompelled by the invitation to join in. On the best of days, however, the laughter rings out loud and long to the annoyance of nearby classrooms as we trip and stumble through the richness of the Spanish language. When that happens, we leave with hearts full, eagerly awaiting the next time that we – student, subject, and teacher – are all together again.

The Pauline admonition to the Romans to “practice hospitality” (among many other things) sits at quite a historical and cultural distance from my classroom at Rosslyn Academy. Nevertheless, I do strive to welcome student and subject alike into my classroom, facilitating meaningful, engaging, and joyful interactions between us. To do so, I believe, is not only a valid application of Paul’s command but also a small reflection of the life-giving hospitality showered upon us all by the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to Parker Palmer for inspiring many of the thoughts presented here. I cannot recommend him and his book, The Courage to Teach, highly enough to anyone involved in education.