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Philosophy of Teaching
Diana Ruggiero
Graduate Teaching Associate
Spanish and Portuguese
Winner of the 2004 Graduate Teaching Associate Award

Teaching Spanish is my life. I have been told that I am a “born teacher,” but this is not the case. If anything, I was born a learner, and along the way I learned how to teach. In fact, my teaching style and techniques are evolving daily as I learn through professional development, by studying my peers, and most importantly by listening to my students. To me, a large part of teaching is figuring out how people learn. I am passionate about education because I am a constant learner myself.

I believe that a key element in the foreign language classroom is keeping the students motivated. My personal style of teaching brings enthusiasm, cultural elements, and technology into the classroom to increase learning motivation. I teach with a contagious smile and open personality that helps me to interact with my students as I guide them through their learning process. Teaching my native Spanish language enables me to draw upon my own culture and personal experience as a foreign language learner as I teach my students to effectively communicate with me in my own language and, perhaps more importantly, to gain an appreciation for another language and culture.

My objective as a teacher is to motivate my students toward a level of independence where they develop a desire to learn and think for themselves. To reach this end, I rely upon many activities that involve a total physical response (TPR) by the students. Instead of just reading about salsa and listening to the music, my students dance the steps and sing the songs, engaging in the action as they learn both Spanish language skills and elements of Hispanic/Latino culture. Through this type of active participation, students learn and form their own opinions and base of knowledge. I define my approach to teaching foreign language as rationalistic since I encourage critical thinking and a desire among my students to communicate.

In my quest to develop independent thinkers, I also strive to promote cross-cultural awareness and appreciation. A native of Argentina, I try to bring as much of my culture into the classroom as possible. For example, students are introduced to Argentina’s national drink, el mate, and learn the ritual way to enjoy it as a group, drinking from the same vessel using the same straw. I represent only one person from my country, however, and for this reason I have turned to technology to allow students to experience other aspects of my culture for themselves. I developed a WebQuest activity, included in my teaching portfolio in section three, to let the students become responsible for their own education and interact with the Argentine culture via the internet. With less reliance on me the teacher and more emphasis on group participation and collaboration, the WebQuest allows the students to come up with their own questions and conclusions about the culture as they navigate online chats with live Argentines, read current newspapers, and listen to popular music, all of their own choice. At the end of the quarter, students role play a skit, imitating a traditional Argentine family using the knowledge and understanding they have accrued with their own critical thinking. The results are often amazing, showing a unique perspective of my culture that I can always recognize as my own.

I believe that effective teachers understand what knowledge their students already have, and find a way to tap into that knowledge and build upon it everyday. To me, technology is one of the most important tools an effective teacher can use in the classroom to address different learning styles, to create a productive learning environment, and to increase student motivation. I always request to teach at night, because this is the only time I am guaranteed to have a multimedia room for every class. I developed a special Web CT website for my Spanish 104 class that enables students to participate in a live Spanish chat room with their peers, see videos of their own classroom presentations, use discussion boards, send email, find copies of handouts and power point presentations, and see pictures of my family.

I believe that my enthusiastic, cultural-technological approach to teaching Spanish enables students to acquire language skills in a manner that keeps them interested and motivated, and requires their own critical thinking of discussion points which makes their learning their own. The results I have seen in my students are quite positive. Many see me outside the classroom, and even though they are no longer my students continue to communicate with me in Spanish. Others have decided to study abroad in Latin America, or have attended Argentine soccer matches in the U.S. just to learn more about my culture. My students never forget how much I love to teach them, and the passion and energy I devote to their education is often translated into their passion to think and learn, and that is why teaching Spanish is my life.

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