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

Feb 21, 2019 12:00:00 AM


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 [pullquote position="right"]it is through music I am able to connect my students to the greater world around them.[/pullquote] 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 teach early adolescents. Back in the states, Elder began work teaching American History at Fergus High School in Lewistown, Montana. After earning his masters in political science/constitutional history as a James Madison Fellow ’00, Elder began teaching American government. He also added two courses: Economics and AP government. Kelly earned National Board Certification in early adolescence/social studies-history in 2009, instilling reflection as a standard part of his practice and resulting in an unending quest to improve his teaching for all students. In 2017, Elder joined other professional educators in testifying before the state legislature for a bill that later became law that added an annual state stipend for NBCTs in Montana. His work in education varies from within his district to statewide policy, serving both on the district Ongoing Negotiations Committee and as Chair of the Certification Standards and Practices Advisory Council for the Montana Board of Public Education. Through representing the profession as Montana’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, Elder has advocated for increased equity as well as recruiting and retaining quality educators in his state. As such, he is involved with the Montana chapter of Educators Rising. He has mentored and conducted seminars with undergraduate education majors on multiple campuses around the state and has a constant eye on helping elevate the profession. He was also selected as one of five teachers of the year to represent U.S. educators on a weeklong-investigation of Finland’s Educational System in 2017. Student Council has been a cornerstone of Elder’s extracurricular involvement with student leaders. He serves as the state’s Associate Director and was awarded the 2017 Region VII Mid-Level Student Council Advisor of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Passions in life often overlap between student opportunities and personal activities for Elder. He is a ride leader for the Helena Dynamos Youth Mountain Biking Club as well as an avid mountain biker on the Helena area trail system. He takes students on a biennial international experience to Central America, and has traveled extensively around the world on his own, including a semester sabbatical that took him through a number of countries in South America in 2012. He also spent five weeks in Thailand and Myanmar studying education and native peoples on a Fulbright Cultural Seminar in 2001. Elder is excited for lifelong learning opportunities, including as a 2018 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow, for which he will be traveling to South Africa with his fellowship class next summer.

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