Be the Change You Want to See
By Amy Hewett-Olatunde, Ed.D. | Published: March 20, 2018
I’ve had this thought on my mind that drifts in and out from year to year. What if my husband and I gave two weeks-notice to our well-established jobs and moved to Dubai or some other foreign location for a couple years to teach and immerse our children in another culture? Then, I am reminded of bills, of commitments, of tenure, and I move on. What has prevented me from moving forward with this plan is staring me right in the face. You see, I have this awesome job as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota at LEAP High School. St. Paul Public Schools boasts over 100 languages and dialects and 35% English learners. My school has 30+ languages at any given time and 100% English learners. I will be marking my 20th anniversary at this school next year and teaching my high school students has shaped how I see the world, how I contribute to society, and how I hopefully, in some way, activate change.
There are three key tenets to my teaching philosophy: constructivism, culturally-relevant pedagogy and community building. Students co-construct their educational journey, which means they take ownership in what they learn. Because I sculpt the lessons this way, they have increased investment and membership in the class and in the materials. These materials reflect them, their cultures, their interests and current events happening locally and globally. I have held fast to these over the years because they keep me firmly grounded in educating my learners to be global citizens and take ownership in the changes they want to see. Just as I learned these at Concordia Language Villages as a leder (Norwegian for camp counselor), I carry them forward into my own classroom. Working at Skogfjorden, the Norwegian Language Village for a number of years, I not only strengthened my language skills, I broadened my cultural contexts, my growth mindset expanded and I became a better communicator. These have contributed to how I prepare my English learners (ELs) for career and college readiness. My role as their teacher is to provide them with a curriculum that investigates global issues, both close to home and far away. We take those global issues and then construct, problem-solve, and plan for action. One such example of this is using Project Everyone’s "World’s Largest Lesson." It focuses on reaching sustainability for 17 global goals by 2030. When I am working with a group of young people, I clearly see the power of young minds. I clearly see their ability to be agents of change.
The current political climate in this country is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. Our English learners have come to this country thirsty for what we have been granted through the very virtue of our birth: freedom. They have been forced out of their homelands and denied their basic human rights. They deserve to call this country their home, to feel welcomed, and take membership in the opportunities their native-born peers have. I know that from the first day they arrive in my class to the day they walk across the stage to receive their diploma, my charge is to prepare them for a global career path through increased global and cultural competence.
My students this past year became co-authors of Green Card Youth Voices: Immigrant Stories from a St. Paul High School. This book is part of the first series of teen non-fiction narratives written about immigrants by immigrants. This book has transformed 30 young lives directly and thousands of people’s indirectly. It brings their individual stories into our communities and builds cultural contexts of what the diversity around us looks like.
A global career path for me is found close to home, because the world is at my doorstep, and in my classroom. Maybe one day I will find myself living abroad, but for now, I choose to teach and learn from those who I know will transform the world far beyond what I can imagine.
About the Author
Dr. Amy Hewett-Olatunde is a high school English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at LEAP High School, adjunct professor at Hamline University and The University of St. Thomas, and the vice chair of the new Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB). She is also the 2015–16 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.comments powered by Disqus