The desire to understand and to be understood is a basic human drive, and this urge toward communication is precisely what motivates me to teach French. Communication is clearly what motivates my students to learn—their intellectual and personal curiosity inspires them to become more fluent in the language and more familiar with the cultures where French is spoken and ultimately enables them to better navigate their world.
The impact I make on my students is framed in communication that creates a foundation for mutual trust and risk taking. My classes are populated with a diverse group of traditional and non-traditional students and many first-generation college attendees. My advising sessions and classroom interaction with students allow the building of the trust that is necessary for success: trust in themselves, in me and in their academic future. During each class, I act on my belief that what students say has value, and I ask that they listen to each other as much as they listen to me. Through this emphasis on communication, students come to rely on each other in collaborative activities. I model the creation of relationships based on open communication and thus provide a classroom environment where taking risks becomes a matter of course and even enjoyable. This, along with clear presentation of content, eventually leads to student success.
Within my content area, I also let communication guide my scholarly approach to teaching and learning as I focus my research on areas that can consistently inform my work with students: the development of strategies for communication and interpretation. Strategies that I developed when writing textbooks, such as the consistent recycling of prior material as new material is presented, give students the opportunity to reuse what they have acquired with full awareness of the process. They learn not only from the texts that I judiciously assign but become able to take advantage of critical works and primary sources found in their research and those provided by their classmates during “jigsaw” activities. They discover sources available only in French, and they write and talk about what they find—all in French.
In courses at all levels, I select pertinent concepts and then use best practices to give students opportunities to apply them. I impress upon my students that they need to learn to interpret what they see in culturally appropriate ways to communicate with members of other cultures. By bringing multimedia materials into the classroom and guiding students to use semiotics to interpret culture, I help them develop an ability to observe and analyze independently the wealth of artifacts at their disposal. In planning and conducting my research, I stay mindful of what our students need and how diverse illustrations and examples can touch them.
Here is where the communication continues—the impact felt beyond my classroom. My students hone their linguistic and critical skills and take them out into the world through study abroad, by attending conferences and by meeting with outside speakers. My students have become English teaching assistants in France, graduate students, teachers and actors in the Denver French theater troupe. I have given students the opportunities to let French enrich their lives in part by showing them how it has enriched mine.
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