While the English language is taught in all schools and is by far the most commonly used language across the country, many are surprised to learn that the U.S. actually has no official language. Many citizens speak two or more languages including Spanish, French, Italian, Thai, Mandarin and German. In fact, recent studies have shown there are about 350 different languages spoken in this country, and having everyone understand one another is one of the great passions for October’s Teacher of the Month.
Mr. John Huffstetler is only in his second year as a teacher but is already making a huge impact in the Gig Harbor community. John is part of English Language Learners and teaches class at Gig Harbor, Henderson Bay and Peninsula high schools. John works with students who are learning very basic English to those who are becoming bilingual. He has students who speak everything from Spanish to Swahili to Japanese. Despite his short time in the program, English Language Learners coordinator Sonia Nicholson is already offering high praise of his work:
“John is a model teacher and one who has made a tremendous impact in our school district. His dedication to providing rigorous and an equitable education to all EL students [has] given students an opportunity to reach their full potential,” says Nicholson. “John is both a passionate advocate and competent champion for all students, especially historically underserved populations. His exceptional heart for students is particularly powerful because his skills and experiences are equally exceptional. John is highly regarded by his peers and is often sought after for advice and guidance.”
For John, building relationships through common goals and appreciations of one another is something that brings him great pride. “How lucky are we, as students and teachers, that we get so much time together to help each other and to learn more about ourselves and the world?” he said.
This past school year, John hosted a teacher from the Teacher Academy Program which gives high schoolers a total teaching experience. The teacher, Lisa Gaither, introduced a matching vocabulary game called Karuta, which originated in Japan and one she played as a child. John’s students not only learned from the game but became interested in going beyond the lesson.
“My students, who speak Spanish, French, Swahili, Mam and other languages, knew that in my class we celebrate all the languages we speak. It was very rewarding to see them not just engaged in the game but interested in the Japanese culture and language of the game, too,” he said.
English will likely remain front and center in American culture, but John is happy to embrace those who speak another tongue and eager to learn from all cultures that call the United States home.