By Anne Silva
I read somewhere that the best way to feel happy is to focus on feeling thankful. So is it any wonder that the time around Thanksgiving, at least for me, is the happiest time of year? It’s a pretty awesome time, don’t you think? I mean, many of us can agree that our country tends to be a little bit jaded, and often we can be a little cynical. And I will be the first to admit that I complain. Sometimes a lot. So how good for us is it that we take some time out each year to push the “reset” button on our whininess, to focus on all of the good things we enjoy, and to feel truly grateful?
As Spanish teachers, I think we get an even cooler perspective, because I feel like we get to see things with a broader lens than many. We get to see other cultures and ways of life from our own vantage point, at the same time that we can glimpse our own culture from other perspectives. Traveling and living abroad, for example, gave me a profound appreciation for the “practical” nature of American culture (that is, we tend to value things that are practical, we often don’t have much patience for superfluous ceremonialism, crippling beaurocracy, or hierarchies that impede everyday life from happening). This is a value I had never even considered a “thing” until I experienced the alternative. Also, for all the problems we have concerning (in)equality, I never realized how egalitarian our culture can truly be. We still have a lot of growing to do, of course, but I’m thankful for aspects of my culture that I never knew existed until I traveled abroad.
So what a fantastic position we are in as educators, to be able to give students that same experience! To make them aware of the possibilities in other cultures, at the same time that we give them a new perspective on their own culture. When we teach them a new language and about new cultures, we give them both a window and a mirror. We give them the tools to step back from the minutiae of everyday life and assess things on a much more macro scale.
We talk constantly about preparing our students for college and career readiness, as though our sole purpose is to prepare the troops to tackle the future, without much regard for the present. But maybe we can take a minute to consider that our contribution might be deeper and more immediate than that: if we can shine a light on The Positive that is just waiting to be experienced, both within our students’ cultures and outside, perhaps we can instill a little bit of gratefulness in them. And if gratefulness leads to happiness, well… I think we’ve done good work, then, don’t you?