UAH education major’s spark for foreign language began in the classroom

Kristen Woodard

UAH COED graduate Kristen Woodard student teaching at James Clemens High School in Madison, AL.

Photo: Courtesy of Kristen Woodard

It was Irish poet William Butler Yeats who said, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

For Kristen "Haley" Woodard a mission trip to Costa Rica, and an innovative high school Spanish teacher sparked her interest in a foreign language education career.

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) senior will graduate with honors (summa cum laude) from the College of Education on Thursday, Dec. 6.

"The summer after my first year of Spanish, I went on a mission trip with my church to Costa Rica and instantly fell in love," said Woodard. "I had Mrs. Penny Dean as my Spanish II teacher. She fostered an even greater love for the language through her innovative teaching methods. From that point on I made it a personal goal to become proficient in Spanish."

Woodard, a graduate of Hazel Green High School is on UAH’s Dean’s list as a 4.0 (grade point average) Honor Scholar. In addition, she is a member of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language, Kappa Delta Pi (Education Honor Society), and serves as president of Phi Sigma Iota (Foreign Language Honor Society).

"I’m really impressed with Haley’s true love of this language and her ability to embrace the Hispanic culture and traditions, and diversity in general," said Dr. Hamsa Mahafza, Lecturer in the UAH College of Education. "She is culturally responsive and a caring educator. Haley has a friendly personality, and also, she possesses leadership skills; these are some of the qualities that are needed in the teaching profession," Mahafza added.

Woodard decided to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish, and an additional degree in secondary education. "I decided to earn both degrees so I could be involved with the foreign language that I am so passionate about while influencing students to be open to new cultures and ways of thinking. I want to be that teacher that they need each day," she said.

Realizing cultural awareness is a hot-button issue today, Woodard points to a 2017 study conducted by the International and Foreign Language Education Overview that states 90 percent of Americans do not speak a second language while one in five American jobs is tied to international trade.

"Proficiency in a second language is not only critical in the business world, it promotes understanding and respect," she said. "Many times students are limited to their own confined worlds and points of view. Learning another language opens them up to other life experiences. I believe it is just as important to teach authentic cultural units, as it is to teach Linguistics. By teaching students both it shows them first hand that they can travel around the world, order in a restaurant or simply develop new friendships. It is vitally important that funding is set aside for foreign language and that it not be seen as just an elective course."

Reflecting on her time at UAH, Woodard said attending UAH has been an "amazing experience" since her first semester. "Both the Foreign Language Department and the College of Education have been very supportive of me during my time as a student. All my professors that have taught me know me by name and have made me feel welcome in their classes while also challenging me to be a better learner."

Woodard’s student teaching experience includes serving in all three local school systems. "Each placement provided its own unique challenges as well as real life experiences to better equip me for my own classroom one day. It is amazing how quickly you become attached to your students."

While there is a lot of focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects Woodard has words of encouragement for young people seeking higher learning in the Liberal Arts. "Technology needs creativity. Fareed R. Zakaria, in his book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, states that no matter how advanced technology becomes, the world will always need creative minds with polished critical thinking, persuasive writing, thoughtful analysis and foreign language skills, which are just a few of the more concrete takeaways from a Liberal Arts degree," she said. "Numerous studies show that learning a foreign language improves critical thinking, problem solving, and memory as well as the ability to multitask. All of these qualities would certainly compliment any STEM major."

After graduating from UAH, Woodard hopes to secure a job in the US that would enable her to earn a Master’s degree in Foreign Language.


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