I #LoveTeaching Because I Help Connect My Students to Worlds Outside the Classroom

In just a few minutes over my lunch break this past week, a group of 12-year old girls affirmed exactly why I #LoveTeaching! It all began with a teen’s skeptical question from a table in the corner of the room: “What is this music?” The student asking was obviously new to my room. We have a student population of over 1,000, so having a student in my room for the first time as we start second semester is not out of the ordinary. One of my students provided a response, affirming all I’m trying to do in my classroom. “It is Spanish. It is Mr. Elder’s music,” she said matter of factly. “We always listen to these songs in his room because we’re studying the Western Hemisphere and most of those countries speak Spanish.” There I sat, stunned. I love that it is through music I am able to connect my students to the greater world around them. About 10 years ago, I tried Latino music in an attempt to play “cool” beats without the language and suggestive lyrics contained in a lot of modern pop our culture embraces today. Since most of my students don’t speak Spanish, I am able to play contemporary music in my room without concern for offending anyone, all the while exposing my classes to foreign cultures. There are years I have Spanish speakers in class, and during those years, I do have to monitor what is played, but all in all, this has been a win-win. One of the more memorable moments of my year is usually the first day I play background music during class work time. Each period of that first day, I see my students wrestle with the dissonance they feel when hearing foreign music. Some ask if they can listen to their own selections with earbuds. They want to hear what they know. I don’t oblige the requests, and over time, the questioning subsides. “Mr. Elder’s music” has proven quite effective over the years, especially with recent hits like “Despacito” and numerous Latino pop stars who sing bilingual songs such as Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias. Now, 10 years in, Latino music, a genre foreign to the vast majority of not only my students but most Montana residents as well, is no longer perceived as weird or peculiar by at least some of my students. So this week, when a fellow sixth-grader questioned the atmosphere in our learning environment, my student stepped up to explain not only what was happening, but why. In doing so, she registered her approval of the practice and affirmed the methodology is working. It is for reasons like this—casual lunchtime conversations among young people—that I #LoveTeaching. Que Bueno!
Kelly Elder
Kelly Elder has been teaching sixth-grade world geography for over a decade at C.R. Anderson Middle School. Elder began his career working as a Montana Exchange Teacher in Kumamoto, Japan. This experience allowed him to focus primarily on high school students, but spend one day a week in a nearby elementary school. It was through this overseas position that Mr. Elder realized he could one day ...

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