The Terry Higley Award

THE TERRY HIGLEY AWARD ~ Outstanding K-12 World Language Teacher in Alaska

Who was Terry Higley?

The AFLA award in Terry’s name began in 1994 to commemorate Terry and her love of teaching language and culture. Terry was a French teacher at Bartlett when she died. When Bartlett opened Terry taught 7-12 French. She took a year sabbatical to earn a Master’s degree from Univ of WA. She was a Rhodes Scholar and former student of Wolf Hollerbach, UAF. Terry Higley was leap years ahead of the profession. Terry taught for proficiency long before proficiency was promoted by the profession. Her storytelling strategies were personal, engaging, humorous and contagious. Terry’s students loved to hear about her cats at home and ongoing Luc de luc cartoon creations. She artfully layered the narrations with illustrations, realia, gestures and emotion. Word was out at Bartlett that Terry’s class was entertaining however challenging as well. Students knew they’d be expected to produce and her standards were high. As a result, Terry taught generations of students.

Terry was known to travel to France nearly every summer. In some respects she felt more at home in France than the U.S. Terry truly was bicultural – in France those around her thought she was French. Terry was a beloved teacher with a robust French program – so much so that Bartlett hired additional French teacher(s) to accommodate the great numbers of students. Terry desired that all her students have the opportunity to live and breathe the French language by travel to francophone countries in order to truly experience and learn the French language. Terry arranged travel experiences for her students on an every other year basis and prepared them diligently to make the most of their trips. Siblings planned in advance to be in Terry’s classes and travel to France with her. It wasn’t unusual for students to begin saving money their freshman year in anticipation of a Higley French trip in their junior or senior year.

The foreign language teaching professional lost a phenomenal leader in the field far too early. Terry Higley was a true role model for all of us and she is still greatly missed by those who were fortunate to know and work with her. The AFLA teacher of excellence award is a fitting tribute to her memory.

–Janice Gullickson, 2014

The essay that follows was originally delivered as a speech at the Alaska Foreign Language Association’s annual state conference in October, 1994. I am including it here because it truly expresses all I feel about what I do. – Terry Higley

I Teach French

by Terry Higley

I teach French. It is a European language. Or is it? The last time I twirled a globe and stopped it at all the French-speaking areas, I had to make a lot of stops: Africa, the South Pacific, North America, the Far East, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and, of course, Europe. A European language? “World language would be more appropriate.

And the world is an extraordinary place, as the momentous events of recent years have proved. Barriers fall and new ones arise somewhere else. Borders disappear; new ones replace them. Capitals change, governments fall, loyalties are challenged; but one thing is constant: people. People survive. They help each other. They talk to each other. They communicate!

Communication: that’s what it’s all about! That’s why I do what I do. “I teach French.” Those are powerful words, for they encompass so much. To teach French – or any language- is to open doors for students to worlds they never imagined, to open their minds to ideas they never encountered, to let them see the beauty and diversity in cultures unlike their own, to help them understand that there is often more than one “right way” to help them build bridges in the world instead of walls. It is, in short, to enrich their lives in a thousand ways.

When students enter my classroom for the first time, I see it as the beginning of a wonderful adventure that we will share for a very long time. They all come to me eager to learn French; it is up to me – and me alone – to keep that feeling alive. My work is to ensure that their experiences in my classroom are positive ones. I work to make class interesting and relevant; I challenge them; I help them; I care about them. Sometimes I hear counselors advise students not to try a foreign language unless they have very good grades in English. This disturbs me, for I contend that if the student can speak English, he can learn to speak French. I firmly believe that all students can succeed in a second language; it is my responsibility to see that this happens. I work to create a classroom that is as student-centered as possible, a place where I am the guide, the role model, the helper – but not the star. That role is best played by my students.

My methods must be described as eclectic. I work with a wide cross-section of students, all with different backgrounds, abilities, and interest. All of them learn differently, and no single approach will work for everyone. So my classroom activities are extremely varied and often non-traditional; they run the gamut from writing and performing our own “Asterix in Alaska: story to doing our own impressionist paintings in class. The key is to keep them actively involved and communicating, and to lead them to excellence without discouraging them.

For these are the leaders of tomorrow. And we – the language teachers of today – must touch this younger generation. We must share our idealism and convince them that if we can understand each other better through real and honest communication, we can make a difference. We can lower the barriers, remove the blinders, and create a new version of the world.

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