Noah Geisel’s introduction to Spanish came at the home of Felipe Garcia and those of his other middle school buddies in Pueblo, Colo.
His love of the language and its cultures led him to MSU Denver’s Alternative Licensure Program (ALP), a job teaching Spanish at East High School in Denver, and last month to a convention in Philadelphia where he was named the 2013 National Language Teacher of the Year by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
The Teacher of the Year is chosen from a field of five regional winners from around the United States. Over the coming year, Geisel will be the face of language education at events, conferences, in the halls of government and more.
“We are excited that someone as energetic and innovative as Noah has been selected as this year’s spokesperson for the language profession,” says Martha Abbott, executive director of the ACTFL. “Language teachers around the country will benefit from his sharing of his expertise and policymakers will feel the impact when he meets with them on Capitol Hill.”
In a statement included in the portfolio considered by the selection committee, Geisel wrote, “From my time spent with the Garcias, Spanish was no longer a bunch of words to memorize and conjugate—it was a gateway to music, cuisine, history, fashion, tradition, travel and, ultimately, a career.”
Geisel is a graduate of Duke University in Durham, N.C., where he majored in English and minored in Spanish. He taught English literature at a bilingual school in the Dominican Republic and moved to Denver in 2003 to help cast extras for writer/director John Sayles’ film, “Silver City.”
In 2004, he enrolled in ALP (at the time called the Teacher in Residence Program), which prepares college graduates with little or no teaching experience to obtain their state licenses. Students in the program teach full-time and take classes at the University to learn how to be an effective educator. Geisel graduated from ALP in 2006.
“It was really awesome,” Geisel says of the program. “They really valued that a lot of people already had classroom experiences from private school settings, or the Peace Corps or what have you…They valued that different teachers were in different places and didn’t make it one-size-fits-all.”
“I wouldn’t be a public high school teacher today if it weren’t for that program.”
Geisel says teaching Spanish to teenagers involves a good deal of salesmanship. “It’s a marketing effort,” he says. “I’m selling them knowledge. In order for that to be a successful sale, I need to be packaging an attractive, desirable product.”
But teaching a language involves more than simply grammar and vocabulary. “We want students to look at other cultures to make comparisons and not just look for differences,” Geisel says. “Being bicultural is a huge 21st century skill in the education setting, the business setting, the diplomacy setting.”
As he put it, “It’s a lot cheaper for us to make friends around the world than to fight enemies.”
Top of Page