Teaching foreign language to children doesn't sound like a job for just anyone. But according to Dr. Keri Waltner, assistant professor of modern languages at Fort Hays State University, her students are very excited about the opportunity.
Waltner has wanted to start a program for students to teach grade school children foreign languages since she started teaching the Foreign Language Teaching Methodology class here two years ago. She always thought that the students needed experience with teaching foreign language to students who were younger than high school age.
"We need to give our students exposure to teaching foreign language, and not just at the high school level," she said.
However, foreign language is rarely taught at the younger levels in America, which is a shame, according to Waltner.
"We're significantly behind other countries in that respect," she said. "They start foreign languages in kindergarten and continue on up."
So Waltner coordinated with Wilson Elementary School to take part in their after-school program, where her methodology students teach one hour a week as part of the class curriculum.
The program officially began on Jan. 27. The students teach on Monday afternoons, immediately before the class meets.
"I purposefully did that, so that they would come in fresh from teaching and have stories to share," she said.
She said students often have ideas of games they played or songs they sang with their students that they share with each other. In fact, she said that getting the students back to the books can be difficult at times, because they all want to discuss their experiences with the children.
The purpose of the program, Waltner stressed, is not to make little Spanish, German or French speakers out of the children. It should, however, get them interested in the language enough to make them want to further their knowledge at some point.
"The purpose is to create a positive attitude in them towards the language, hopefully for the rest of their lives," she said.
She also hopes to educate the children about the world around them.
"We should try to get them thinking as young as possible about global issues and the world around them," she said. "Hopefully they will realize that they're not the only ones out there."
The class sizes range from six to 12 students, and the children are anywhere from kindergarten age to fourth grade. But the students have found that the children's behaviors during the school day and after school differ quite a bit.
"The children don't feel as much accountability for behaving well as they do during the regular school day," Waltner said. "But that's all part of the learning experience for the students."
As far as benefits go, Waltner believes it is the children who are benefiting the most from the experience.
"It's an opportunity that they wouldn't have in Hays if it weren't for the partnership," she said.
The future of the program is up in the air at this point. Waltner would like to see it expand to other grade schools in the area, but staffing becomes an issue. There are not enough students enrolling in the Foreign Language Teaching Methodology class to offer it more than once a year. The program will cease in the fall semester unless students show an interest in volunteering their time for the program. Waltner is hopeful that this will happen.
"I would love to see this at other schools," she said. "I think it's a shame that only students at Wilson get this opportunity."
For more information, individuals can contact Waltner at (785) 628-4100.