Borja Gutiérrez

Teaching Philosophy for Language and Culture Courses


                                                                                                El Escorial

My teaching Philosophy:

       I believe that teaching and learning occur on a universal and particular level, as well as on a theoretical and practical-experiential level. My personal teaching philosophy takes into consideration these four levels of foreign language and culture instruction and acquisition, and the way I carry out this four-fold form of education has been influenced greatly by a variety of teachers that I have had in the past. As a student, I remember having foreign language professors teaching me what their particular language and culture had in common with my native language and culture. A variety of teachers highlighted what was universal between our languages and cultures in order to make the transition from the first language to the second language context less stressful and alienating. Yet, at the same time, these instructors made the concrete particularities, the singularities of their language and culture more salient as time progressed. They offered to us, their students, a new perspective on reality, proffered by the very uniqueness of the second language and culture that they taught. This made the learning process compelling and thought provoking.  Also, these professors took into consideration both the general and particular necessities of their students when teaching the target language and its culture. They were attentive to the class as a whole, but nevertheless took into consideration each individual’s form of learning and their level. My instructors, at both the theoretical and the practical-experiential level, always manifested this attentiveness to the class, and carried out a gripping form of instruction. These teachers were able to make the somewhat dry grammatical features and forms (theory) interesting by connecting them to real-world information, experience, and practice. Grammar was taught in the here-and-now; it was contextualized in an authentic atmosphere of interactive communication and praxis. This is the model that I decided to imitate when I chose to become a teacher of foreign languages, cultures, and literatures. 

       It was only after I had arrived at Penn State that I learned the theoretical underpinnings of that form of instruction and how to teach like my own professors. Yet, at the same time, I was able to move beyond mere mimesis, and create my own form of teaching thanks to that very same theoretical instruction and the added technological training that I received at Penn State. At this university, I was introduced to the communicative approach to second language instruction and acquisition, and I have made this singular method my own. This approach emphasizes the teaching of grammar as a means to communicate, and involves an implicit and explicit reevaluation of the instructor’s and learner’s role in the classroom. 

       I teach grammar with a communicative intent, and I expose the learners to simplified, authentic language (input) that allows them to create their internal representation of the language and be able to produce in that given language (output). Through a variety of daily oral and written structured input and output activities, I give my students the opportunities to make form and meaning connections, as well as access them in order to express themselves in the target language (Terrell 1986, 1991). Students practice grammar, writing, reading, speaking, listening, and cultural comprehension in both the input and output activities. As a direct consequence of the communicative method of instruction, as stated before, there occurs a reassessment of the fundamental roles and responsibilities of the teacher and student. I no longer view myself as the heart of the classroom, the central source of knowledge, but rather a co-participant in the negotiation of meaning and an architect-resource person (Lee & VanPatten 2003). I enter into an authentic dialogue with my students in which the grammar learned becomes a means (not an end) for communication. At the same time, I gather the information provided by my learners, while in tandem reformulating and recasting their responses in order to expand them as well as correct the errors contained in them. The communicative method’s new view of the second language instructor’s role and responsibilities does not in any way diminish the teacher’s authority in the classroom, nor does it lead to chaos. When I adopt the role of resource person and architect in my classes, I am still in control of what occurs in the classroom through the construction of the input and output activities, the collection of information during and after communicative tasks, and in the very same act of negotiating meaning. The traditional role and responsibilities of the students also change in a communication-centered classroom. Students are no longer passive agents. Rather, I see and treat them as co-participants in a dialogue that is aimed at the negotiation of meaning. This is what I emphasize to my students from day one and, once they realize this, they take on an active role in their own education. From this new conception of the classroom is born a dialogue between the students and the teacher that creates a different learning atmosphere. I have seen how students become more eager to learn when they take on part of the responsibility for their own education, and this has a direct effect on my teaching. It moves my students and myself, borrowing from the anthropologist-philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, from the state of monoligism to that of dialogism, from self-centered monologue to an all-encompassing dialogue. I am no longer just the teacher and my students are no longer just students, since sometimes my students in their dialogue with me and with each other become teachers in their own right.

       In order to further the education of our students we must be able to use all available resources that are at our reach. This was a fact that I was willing and unwilling to accept initially. Before arriving at Penn State I was quite hesitant about the use of technology in the classroom; I saw it as a hindrance to education and a distraction at best; and, due to my own ignorance, was unable and unwilling to learn how to use it. Yet, with the foreign language pedagogy class that I took at Penn State, I learned how to put to good use this aid and complement to education; I now see technology for what it is worth. A variety of technological resources have assisted in me in designing activities for my classes and in structuring my class presentations. It has also allowed me to present my material in a multi-sensorial way that accommodates the wide spectrum of student acquisition needs, such as those students who need to both hear and see what is being taught to them in order to learn. Through such resources as Angel, PowerPoint presentations, and Internet resources, I have been able to provide my students in and outside of the classroom with greater amounts of authentic input and with greater opportunities for the creation of their own output. The technological resources that I have learned to use, and will continue to use, compliment and further the real-world communicative intent of my classroom.

       With this interactive, multimedia, communicative conception of the classroom and with the re-conceptualized roles and responsibilities that it entails, I believe that my classes will be able to not just impart the knowledge of a required language, but rather assist my students in being able to see and speak reality in a fundamentally different way. This is my goal. Ruben Dario, the Nicaraguan poet, once said that each word has a soul, and if I can transmit some of that “soul” of the language and culture that I am teaching, I believe that my students will learn more about themselves and others. Indeed, there is no greater joy as a teacher than to see a student go through the process of learning, and to watch them experience in the end an epiphanic moment, a broadening of their horizons. At the same time, I will gain more knowledge of others and myself, and my teaching and its philosophy will therefore continue to grow and mature in the course of action. It will never become something stagnant, dead, thanks to the protean and lively dialogue that is the classroom.

Last Update: 5/26/2017


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