Greens Farms Academy is a PreK-12, coed school in Westport, CT

Bringing Your Fire to the Classroom

Ronaldo John

By Ronaldo John
Upper School Spanish, Grade Nine Class Coordinator

Since the day I came to GFA, my experience hasn’t changed. I’ve always been in a great environment, with supportive colleagues, and people who are innovative and looking for the next best thing we can bring to the classroom to fully engage our students.

We often talk about “engaging students as partners” and we are active in our pursuit of finding topics that they find interesting, putting an academic spin on it and bringing it to the classroom. You capture kids’ attention doing this and show them that you’re in-tune with the things that affect their daily lives. We’re not just here to get swallowed into a world of theory and academics, but we’re taking real-life experiences and making them learning points.

I came to GFA being the youngest person in my department and one of the youngest people at the school. This was my first gig, my first real adult job. The only prior experience I had in teaching was being a TA in college, but it was then that I thought, “Wow, I actually enjoy working through difficult stuff and explaining it.”

I started here post-grad, in the fall of 2015, and now teach Spanish I, II, V. Being a language teacher, you have to be versatile, you have to be dynamic and you have to come at it from so many different points. It’s a language, it’s interactive, and you have to engage students at all different levels to cover speaking, listening, reading and writing.

My job is to find a way to make learning fun, but one where learning is also taking place. It calls for a high level of innovation. As language teachers, we often hear the value and purpose of learning a foreign language being questioned. Having this knowledge, we are now tasked with showing our students the usefulness that learning a foreign language holds. In that sense, I have to find a way to engage them and get them feeling like this isn’t just something I have to learn and then I’ll leave it aside, but this is a living language that is all around me, there are useful ways I can incorporate it into my everyday life.

Making your classes great stems from your passion. I have to believe in what I’m teaching and what I want to communicate in order for students to “buy in.” If I come in and I don’t bring 100% to the classroom and be engaged and excited about the material, then I won’t get the reaction, attention, engagement, curiosity, or love for the language that I want.

While teachers may not be feeling 100% every day because we’re human beings, at the end of the day when I stand in front of my kids, regardless of what else may be going on, I have to show them that right now, in this space, what we’re doing here is the most important thing. They will never know when I’m having not one of my best days, because that engagement, that passion and that fire is always present. 

My favorite thing about GFA students is their candidness and their curiosity. When students are passionate about something, they can hold a conversation, bring their viewpoint, and drive the conversation. The openness to the adults around here speaks volumes to the relationships that we, as faculty, foster with our students. One where they feel that freedom and that ease to come and talk to you.

GFA does its best in fostering well-rounded, global citizens. While some institutions may be more academic or sports-driven, here, we strive to give equal importance to both.

Our students have a very unique opportunity being in a space where teachers are driven to bring out the best in them. Teachers who are going to meet you where you’re at and support you if you have any difficulties. Teachers who are going to help you take your wildest idea to places you thought were a figment of your imagination. Students are in a place that is globally inclusive and that considers their all-around development. We prioritize finding the best in everyone and that is something that every GFA child should exploit. When you think of “exploitation,” you think about it in a negative way, but in this aspect, it’s not negative — a GFA student should exploit every single thing this institution has to offer.

Every year, before you start the term, there’s a lot of anxiety and excitement. You get here, you finally meet your kids after looking at the names on your roster, and you smile because the way I look at it is, “Here we go… another year, another opportunity with different kids, who will bring different emotions and perspective.” So while the unknown causes anxiety, there is so much beauty that lies within.