Episode 90 – Connecting with William Lee, ACTFL Teacher of the Year 2023

Its About Language | Episode 90 | William Lee ACTFL Teacher of the Year 2023
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 90 - Connecting with William Lee, ACTFL Teacher of the Year 2023

“We’re so ethnocentric right now that a lot of people think we’re the center of the universe and we’re not. I want people to realize that we are part of the whole and we’re all in it together. We’re all part of humanity and this entire world. And so there are so many different perspectives out there that they need to know and evaluate and appreciate and respect. That’s the bottom line.”

Its About Language Ep 90 , William Lee ACTFL Teacher of the Year 2023
Know the why and have a different perspective. Being part of the whole.

When I met my long-time friend and colleague Willliam Lee in his classroom in Clark High School in San Antonio’s North Side Independent School District (NEISD), I was immediately struck by two things: his quiet and humble greeting and demeanor, and the walls of his classroom.

William Lee is a powerful teacher because of his focus and humility.

Think back to those excellent educators you have had in your life. They had in common that they were skilled in a subject area. Like a great artist, however, their command of the subject was so firm that they were able to “draw outside the lines” and “improvise” on behalf of keeping the objective firmly in mind. And — think again about your powerful educators — their objective was not primarily the subject matter itself. The subject matter enjoyment and mastery by students are the base, yes, but the central focus of the work of a master teacher is YOU, the student.

William Lee confessed that not only did he not expect to win the National Language Teacher of the Year award at ACTFL, the national organization that hosts the annual convention at which the awardee is selected, but that the subsequent requirements of sharing his vision in travel and connections, while a great honor and to be taken with great gratitude and joy, were not to be preferred in his life over simply being with his students. Had you been with me in his classroom, you would have felt this love for, and commitment to, being with students in their work every step of the way.

The second thing I noticed right away were the walls of the classroom.

While their were cultural and linguistic posters and items of school information, the room was dominated by, indeed, overwhlemed by, evidence of student accomplishment.

Plaques from student placing in language, literature, history, and culture contests over the years filled the walls. Banners hung from the top of walls. Strung along a clothesline across the room were dozens, hundreds of ribbons, awards from student contests of all kinds won at all levels. And one large area of what would normally be an instructional blackboard were posters where students from the various classes were signing up for the next contest, to be held just weeks away.

The classroom, in short, was a testimony not to the course per se, not to the interests of the teacher (however well-informed by training and experience they might be), but to the impact of student learning on the lives of the students themselves.

That, dear readers (and listeners), is what makes award-winning educators — and award-winning managers and leaders and parents, even if they never get to take home a plaque or tour the country speaking and presenting. What makes an award-winning human leader is applying one’s skills and dedication to open the world for others…to provide opportunities for others…to help connect human beings to one another….to bringing hope to individuals so that they can bring hope to all.

That’s what William Lee does through the vehicle of Latin instruction in middle and high school.

How do YOU bring about that hope?

As you ponder, scroll down to learn more about William Lee, about the Teacher of the Year Award, and about ACTFL, the sponsoring professional organization. Apply it to your life: where can we go to recognize and support excellence applied in service of others.

Remember, the excellence may well be yours.

The Teacher of the Year Award

The award for The ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year is intended to elevate the status of our profession at the state, regional, and national levels by creating opportunities for recognizing the most accomplished members of our profession. First and foremost, this process is designed to involve all of our state, regional, and national organizations in promoting our profession. Second, it is intended to create as many media opportunities as possible to increase the visibility of the importance of learning languages and cultures to the general public. Successful candidates must be full-time language educators who spend at least fifty-percent (50%) of their time in direct teaching during the year of application with an expectation of teaching during the next two (2) years.

Teacher of the Year Program | ACTFL

The ACTFL Press Release for William Lee’s Selection

ACTFL is pleased to announce William Lee as the 2023 National Language Teacher of the Year. The award presentation was held during the Opening General Session of the 2022 ACTFL Convention & World Languages Expo on Friday, November 18, at the Boston Convention Center. 

William Lee is a Latin Teacher at Tom C. Clark High School in San Antonio, Texas, and the 2022 Teacher of the Year for the Southwest Conference on Language Teaching (SWCOLT). Lee also represented the Texas Foreign Language Association as the 2021 Teacher of the Year. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Latin from The University of Texas at Austin.  In addition to teaching, Lee serves as a member of the College Board AP Latin Curriculum Working Group High School, the AP Latin Exam Development Committee, and is a member of the Writing and Steering Committee for the National Latin Exam. 

The award for the ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year elevates the status of the language teaching profession at the state, regional, and national levels by creating opportunities for recognizing the most accomplished members of the profession. The Teacher of the Year becomes a national spokesperson for the language profession to further demonstrate the critical importance of learning languages and cultures to the general public. 

“We congratulate William on being named the 2023 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year,” said Howie Berman, ACTFL Executive Director. “I look forward to collaborating with him next year as he assumes this important role at a critical point for the profession. I also want to congratulate all the finalists for their incredible accomplishments and commitment to their learners, their colleagues, and the profession at-large. They should all be celebrated.” 

ACTFL Names 2023 National Language Teacher of the Year | ACTFL

William Lee’s Biography and Resource Links

William Lee has been the Latin teacher at Tom C. Clark High School in San Antonio, TX, for the past 20 years.  He taught at Barbara Bush Middle School and Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio for three years prior to accepting his current position.  He has taught every level of middle school and high school Latin from level 1/2A to AP. 

He is currently serving as one of the four high school teachers on the College Board AP Latin Development Committee, as one of the State Co-Chairs of the Texas State Junior Classical League, Vice-President of Texas Foreign Language Association, Vice-President of Texas Classical Association, and as President of the San Antonio Classical Society. 

William has also served 10 years as Communications Chair, National Committee Secretary, and Certamen Chair for the National Junior Classical League, and 3 years as the Chair of American Classical League’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.  In addition to presenting at various conferences and professional development sessions on Cambridge Latin Course and incorporating educational technology for the past 16 years, William has also been a Reader and Table Leader at AP Latin Readings.  William is the recipient of the Society of Classical Studies Excellence in Teaching at the Pre-Collegiate Level Award in 2019 and the Texas Classical Association Gaylan Dubose Excellence in Teaching Award in 2020.  William was named the 2021 Texas Foreign Language Association Teacher of the Year, the 2022 Southwest Conference on Language Teaching Teacher of the Year, and the 2023 American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) National Language Teacher of the Year.

Remember as you listen, as you live: where is your excellence focused?

Enjoy the podcast.

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Episode 90 | William Lee ACTFL Teacher of the Year 2023

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Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!

Elizabeth Mack

If you've never done #cliftonstrengths, yourself or with your team, don't wait any longer.  Norah Jones of FLUENCY CONSULTING is the one and only to do it! It's all about your super powers: finding & using them to affect positive change in the world. What's not to love?!

Elizabeth Mack
Founder and CEO / Freestyle Languages


Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore


Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL


You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht


Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

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Norah Jones: What’s the vehicle that you use in your life to make the world a better place? How do you focus what you’re doing in order to achieve larger objectives?

Norah Jones: William Lee was selected as the national language teacher of the year in the United States by the National Organization ACTFL. He’s a latin teacher in a high school in San Antonio, Texas. And you’re going to hear his thoughtful, skillful and compassionate conversation today, but what struck me and what I would like you to ponder for yourself is he uses his skills in language and the power of language and cultural understanding to help young people to understand that they live in a world of human beings and we all need to get along in order to survive and thrive together. He’s very clear about that. He provides an excellent education, but with this larger purpose in mind, he’s able to focus that preparation of young people for their lives. How about you, what do you use in your focus to create a world that’s a better place? And how are language and culture a part of that in your life too. Enjoy this conversation with William Lee, ACTFL teacher of the year, 2023.

0:00:00.6 Norah Jones: So William Lee, it is a great pleasure to welcome you to the podcast today.

0:00:07.2 William Lee: Thank you so much, I’m happy to be here.

0:00:09.9 Norah Jones: Well, and I’m enjoying sitting in your room in Clark High School, in San Antonio, in Northside ISD because your walls are filled with plaques and trophies and ribbons. What are those for and how does that explain why we’re talking today, potentially?

0:00:37.1 William Lee: Well, so first of all, thank you for being here and trekking from Virginia all the way up to San Antonio, Texas. I’m glad that you made this road trip and you’re able to hang out with me in my classroom and see me at my element. But the plaques and the ribbons that you see, the trophies around the room, these are the awards that the students have won by going to different competitions. That’s one of the things I try to bring in because I want them to learn the language and the culture, but apply them beyond the classroom. And so with Latin, there’s a whole world out there that allows them to showcase what they have learned both in and outside of the classroom. And it’s a great way for the students to be really proud of themselves being in our program and also to showcase what they have learned in a different way. And so, yeah, I’m glad that you could get to see that.

0:01:43.0 Norah Jones: It’s very impressive and it’s bound to be very motivating for students. And in some of the interviews that I have done with students while here at Clark, they talk about that sense of having an opportunity to do things themselves. Now, we’ve known each other for a long time, and at the very early part that your energy and your skill in teaching Latin and in helping students to fall in love with Latin was evident. And so I joined coming back here on the specific celebration of you having been selected by ACTFL as the National Teacher Language Teacher of the year for 2023. What is it especially about that experience here that has motivated you and has given you a sense of what you are going to be doing in the world for 2023 with your background?

0:02:49.5 William Lee: First of all, I will have to say that I’m still in shock and disbelief and several months later after my ACTFL experience that I was chosen as the 2023 National Language Teacher of the Year. It was a very humbling experience and I was so inspired by my fellow finalist. And I think that was actually the best part of the experience is to get to meet them and to hear what they’re doing in their classrooms and beyond what they’re doing to benefit our profession and also to benefit their students with their expertise in world language education. I think that was the most inspirational part of the whole journey. And I’m so thankful and all of them, I’ll say this again and again, all of them are equally deserving. I wish we could all have been named teachers of the year. And so again, it was a very humbling experience, I’m very thankful for that experience. And you mentioned it’s my experience here as a Latin teacher. I think my philosophy has changed over the years to the point where I feel like I’m not just a Latin teacher, but I’m just a teacher in general, and I’m trying to reach out to all my students and try to get them to see things from a completely different perspective.

0:04:07.2 William Lee: And I’m just using teaching Latin as a vehicle to challenge them to think critically for themselves and to put themselves in other people’s shoes by exposing them to different cultures that they encounter, whether it’s studying about the ancient Romans or about the ancient Greece and beyond. And that’s been my goal the past couple of years because I think that we are living in the world where there’s currently a lack of empathy. And that’s where I believe world language education comes in. Because study has shown and proven that acquiring a second, a third or a fourth language can help you develop empathy and enhance your cognitive abilities. And we need the students to constantly think about the why and not just to know the how. They need to know why they should do something, they should see things from other people’s perspective and evaluate the entire situation. And I’ve said this many times, I can’t help but think that given the current geopolitical climate and everything that’s happening in the world, that we wouldn’t be experiencing some of these things that we’re experiencing now if people have more empathy and if people can see things from other perspectives and see the bigger picture.

0:06:07.7 Norah Jones: Thank you for sharing that. Now, one of the aspects of having received this recognition along with your peers from the other regions as well, but you having received this national recognition means that your 2023 is going to involve a variety of places that you travel to and groups that you speak to, both language and non-language groups. What are some of the ways that you will express that message and other ones that you want to share? And will the message vary or have different elements depending on your audience?

0:06:47.0 William Lee: Certainly, I think you need to always be mindful of your audience to deliver an effective message. But the bottom line is that there are so many elements to developing a whole child. And we as teachers need to teach the whole child not just our specific subject areas. And while I’m very passionate about World language education, I am more passionate about building a relationship with the students and being able to be a positive role model and teaching them what’s right versus what’s wrong, and teaching them the ability to think for themselves and to evaluate things critically. But again, that ties into my platform, which is world language education needs to be the foundation to a complete education. It’s not secondary to English or social studies or science or math. It’s part of the whole, all the kids today, they need world language education starting as early as possible so that they can see the world as it should be, and not coming from a place of ethnocentrism.

0:08:20.1 William Lee: That’s the big issue that we face right now in this country, it is we’re not a multilingual or plural lingual society. We’re so ethnocentric right now that a lot of people think we’re the center of the universe and we’re not. I don’t want people to continue this whole America is number one journey. I want people to realize that we are part of the whole and we’re all in it together. We’re all part of humanity and this entire world. And so there are so many different perspectives out there that they need to know and evaluate and appreciate and respect. That’s the bottom line.

0:09:09.7 Norah Jones: When you are using Latin world language as a vehicle for that, is it the very nature of learning language in its environment in which it was spoken, in this case, the Roman world, that will accomplish that goal? Is it also that as an educator, you need to point out what it is that this language and culture is doing for achieving some of these other goals?

0:09:45.7 William Lee: For sure, and luckily as a Latin teacher, I’m able to challenge the students to think critically and also to talk about some very difficult topics that have come up the past couple of years and even before that. And so you always have to guide them in such a way to have very productive conversations and also to let them know that it is okay to disagree because we all have our own opinions and we should value each other’s opinions in a civil manner. And so things like the Latin word sclāvus, right? For years, it’s slave. Well, losing human rights is never okay. It’s, yes, it was the norm in the ancient world with the Romans, but that doesn’t say… I mean, it doesn’t mean it was right back then. It may be the accepted practice, but given what’s happening now like based on what our understanding of human rights, it is certainly it’s not okay now.

0:10:58.0 William Lee: And so I never allow my students to translate, sclāvus as a servant, because that is very different, right? Because servants get paid. Whereas, for a long time now, I have not let my students to translate sclāvus as a slave either, because that’s not recognizing their humanity. And so I’ve asked my students to translate sclāvus as an enslaved person. To recognize them as human beings first, who have lost their humanity. But it’s the little things like that, that can bring up a lot of very useful and impactful and really powerful conversations with the students on some very difficult topics. And that’s certainly within the confines of the Roman world with this language. But to get the students interested, you got to hook them into, the culture, but also make it relevant, right? And so you can attach a lot of what’s happening in our world today to the writings of the ancient authors and what they’re reading about the storylines that we’re following.

0:12:19.3 William Lee: When we are in AP when we’re reading about Julius Caesar and his writings. It’s always painted as this shiny knight coming in and conquering a group of non-Romans, but really he’s committing genocide. And I always challenge students to kind of think about like, whose history do we have? All the history that we study about American history, even whose history do we have? We are studying and learning about the perspective from the Victor’s point of view. We’re never talking about the point of view or the experiences of the losing side. And so there’s that whole other perspective that you as a student, as I tell my students, need to consider and think about. And so really, how would you think that the Gaul’s felt when Caesar invaded their country and how appropriate it is now, thousands of years later that we’re still dealing with the same issues and like we have to ask, “Hey, Ukrainians, how do you guys feel about the Russians coming into your country?” And vice versa. It’s all these things that you need to be able to tie into your classroom and challenge them to think and view things differently.

0:13:48.4 William Lee: And again, I really think that world language classrooms are one of the few places where, and the world language teachers are one of the few adults, right? We’re the few adults that they can relate to for multiple years and we can actually make a difference in our classrooms with things like that.

0:14:14.0 Norah Jones: What is it in your personal background that led you education, to Latin education and to some of these perspectives that you have shared here?

0:14:30.1 William Lee: Well, so it’s interesting because I don’t think anyone would have thought as I was growing up that I’d become a Latin teacher. First of all, I’m not a native English speaker. I’m a non-native English speaker. I moved here to the States when I was 12 from Taiwan. And so my first language is actually Mandarin and so having to learn English in a very short amount of time, obviously it gives me a completely different perspective on things. And again, that goes to that… It’s the buzzword right now, right? Perspective, and then having to take Latin, that gave me another different perspective and I really just fell in love with the language and the culture and the history and the benefits of Latin and how it helped me understand English a lot more, but also gave me an opportunity to have little bits and pieces, little insights into other world languages, other romance languages like Spanish and Italian.

0:15:42.1 William Lee: And so that’s kind of how my journey started. And I’m very thankful that I’ve had lots of great mentors throughout the years in different organizations who really encouraged me to pursue the teaching aspect of Latin. Because I started with the competitions, I then started to be involved behind the scenes once I graduated from high school and meeting some of these teachers, even though they’re 20, 30 years older than I, I was just merely a college student but just getting to know them, they’re all so amazing. They are just amazing human beings. They’re kind, they share their love with the kids and I hear stories when I see them at events, and that just completely inspired me to follow my passion in becoming an educator. And so it’s been a circuitous route, but an interesting one for sure.

0:16:50.3 Norah Jones: Very interesting. Very interesting. What were some of the aspects of the people that you admired that you feel like you’ve especially incorporated in your own life and work?

0:17:07.9 William Lee: I think just for me, a lot of them were… They’re very active in organizations, but they’re also very selfless in giving themselves to serve different organizations. And I think that’s one aspect that I have tried to incorporate and emulate in that, I try to be as helpful as I can and I volunteer at all these organizations sometimes to the detriment of my own mental health and physical health. As you know it takes a lot of time, but ultimately they are also very kid-centered because they do this for the kids, right? And that’s why I do it for, it’s for the kids. It’s for the benefit of the kids. And I want them to have that same opportunity that I had, that I was given to experience this world of Latin that’s outside of classroom, right? Like the benefits of studying Latin is not just in the classroom, but it could be outside of the classroom as well.

0:18:36.1 Norah Jones: Several of the students that I spoke with used more than once each community. I feel like I belong to a community. Speak a little bit about what you have discovered with regard to language and culture studies and the building of community.

0:18:57.1 William Lee: Well, it’s definitely essential. It’s the foundation to building a community, right? Being able to communicate with each other, using the same language, having the same goals, sharing the same cultural beliefs. So being familiar with that language and that culture is so important in building specific communities. The French students they appreciate studying about the French culture, they have French… They taste French food, they go on field trips. And same thing with German, same thing with Spanish, same thing with Latin, when I take students overseas to Italy, they get to experience all of that and see a completely different world and again, it’s taking them out of their comfort zone, that’s been my experience, when they come back.

0:19:54.9 William Lee: They’re much better off. Their view of the world has completely changed. It’s not so focused on their own personal lives anymore. And that’s what being part of the community, a global community means, right? You’re part of the world. It’s not just Marca. Right? And so knowing different languages and different cultures definitely is essential. And I would say fundamental in building various communities, for sure.

0:20:29.0 Norah Jones: Thank you. Would you go out and about more than you already do. Okay. But for a 2023 specifically with regard to your role, what kinds of effects, changes, actions, decisions, would you love to see in some of the groups that you will talk with?

0:20:54.8 William Lee: Well, definitely I like to use my platform to advocate for the implementation of world language education starting as early as possible. I’m using my own niece and nephew as my inspiration and the framework around which I’m putting that language out there. That’s my goal. My platform is we need to have language education start as early as possible because they’re sponges and they can soak up everything. And we need them to start seeing things differently as early as possible, right? Because by the time they get to middle school, high school, if they wait that long to study a world language, they’re so entrenched in their own thinking already that it’s going to be very difficult to get them to start thinking about things from a completely different perspective. And very often by the time they get to middle school or high school and they know, oh, I have to take a language.

0:22:08.3 William Lee: They just see it as an elective, as something to check off their checklist to graduate. And we need full world language for the… For world language education to be part of the curriculum. It shouldn’t be an elective. It should be an essential part of the curriculum, and it should be viewed as what it is, which is an essential 21st century skill. Just as much as a computer programming or any of the skills that you may acquire in career tech courses. It is an essential skill. And in order for our children to become productive citizens in this global community, they need to have those skills.

0:23:00.5 Norah Jones: I’m sure you will hear it only in kind ways if you hear it at all. But the pushback that sometimes happen, there’s no time, there’s not enough time, to be adding to the core curriculum in this way. What do you say to those who would say, we don’t have any more room, we can’t make this change for young students. Any program at any level?

0:23:31.9 William Lee: Why can it not be part of the core? Why does it have to be something completely different? World language education should be part of the core. It should be part of the curriculum, an essential part. Everything could be woven together. Again, looking at the whole child, right? You can’t just really focus on, well, I got to fulfill the English requirement or the social studies requirement, or the science requirement. We need to teach them everything together.

0:24:04.4 William Lee: And I strongly believe that if we start as early as possible, our children will see it as the norm of what they should be doing. What they should be studying as opposed to, oh, well, we have the core and then we have everything else. That’s something that we have created, right? It’s a concept, it’s a construct that we, the society, American society has put together, right? When you are talking about students from other countries, you hear them talk about how, oh, it’s a matter of fact that they have their own language. They study English and at least one other. So statistics have told us that two thirds of Europeans are fluent in English and their own language and another world language. So if they can do it, why can’t we? And I realize that yes, it’s having to reevaluate our entire educational system, but what better time to do it than now.

0:25:26.6 Norah Jones: When people say, but English is in fact spoken all over the world. Why should we then, we have the English here that other people are learning.

0:25:39.7 William Lee: That may be true, but we’re going to have places and people who aren’t going to be familiar with English. And why should that be the predominant language? Why should that be the only language spoken around the world? Why can it not be Mandarin? Why can it not be Spanish? We are going to have more people speaking Mandarin than English pretty soon, right?

0:26:07.9 Norah Jones: Yeah.

0:26:08.5 William Lee: And what made English the lingua franca for everybody. Latin once upon a time was a lingua franca. So why can’t that not be it for everybody? Right? But again, we need to move away from this, this idea of English is the end all, be all, is the only language, is not. There are so many more languages out there, so many different perspectives that we need to understand.

0:26:43.3 Norah Jones: Yeah. Coming back to that perspective, that is such an important part of the message that you want to give out. In what ways have the… Has the pandemic affected… Maybe we just go to perspective. So many talk about the nature of how students were cut off from things that you can address that, surely, whatever it is that you desire to share. In what ways has the pandemic potentially changed the way that you, or the students, are coming at learning specifically languages and the cultures in which they’re spoken?

0:27:32.3 William Lee: That’s an interesting question, for sure. I think the pandemic provided us with an opportunity to change education that we didn’t capitalize on, for sure. That’s one thing, but also seeing my students coming out of pandemic, they’re not okay.

0:28:01.2 Norah Jones: They’re not okay.

0:28:02.1 William Lee: They’re not okay, none of us are. I think it’s been very difficult. It’s been very challenging. And it isolated them, right? And that’s the part I think where language education comes into play, is that they find themselves isolated, they cannot communicate with other people for a long time. During the pandemic, they’re at home, they’re staring at the screen, they’re not hanging out with their friends, and I think all of us crave that human interaction. Again, it goes back to perspective, but also relationship, right?

0:28:42.3 William Lee: And so it changed my way of viewing things a little bit because I now know I’m more aware of some of their daily struggles, I’m having to be more cognizant of their social-emotional state and their daily struggles, and also I’m more mindful of what I say, because sometimes I may say things that I think is okay, but looking back, it’s like, that may have hurt someone’s feelings without me knowing it, and so I always have to consider the words much more carefully. And I think as a language educator, that’s one aspect of it that has made me a better person, I think. Just being more considerate.

0:29:50.2 Norah Jones: What advice for life, for working with young people, or working in the situations, environments in which adults find themselves, what advice, would you say, a language teacher can help you to understand this. “Well, let me share this so that you have a more effective and full life in your own work and in your relationships with people?” What’s the wisdom that a language professional can bring?

0:30:34.2 William Lee: I think we do this, whether we know it or not, but I think by exposing them to different languages and cultures we’re already putting them in a situation where they have to see things differently in a broader perspective. Again, going to that buzzword perspective. And that’s the advice I guess, I, as a language educator will share. We have the opportunity to change the world by doing what we’re doing every day with the students. And in order for humanity to survive, we need to make sure all these students in front of us are respected and that their abilities are respected, their culture, their languages are respected, and we need to uplift all of them, that’s our job. Whether they’re neurally divergent or not, whether they are from different cultures, from different languages, we need to love all of our kids, and that’s what world language teachers can do, and especially by recognizing all of them and seeing all of them as who they are as human beings.

0:32:03.3 William Lee: That’s the one advice I would give as a world language educator, because again, I think a lot of times I see teachers are just, I’m just an English teacher. I’m here to teaching English. I’m a math teacher.” Or again, we have people who are like, “I’m just teaching this language,” but no, we’re not teaching whatever subject area it is, we’re teaching kids. And they need to come first, their needs need to come first, their entire being needs to come first, and that’s what we should do, always.

0:32:50.3 Norah Jones: When you look into the future, five years, 10, 20, what do you hope to see?

0:33:04.7 William Lee: Well, hopefully I’ll still be around, who knows what the future will hold. Right?

0:33:11.5 Norah Jones: Right.

0:33:14.3 William Lee: I hope to see that we live in a world where we don’t have anymore wars. We don’t have any more disagreements, that we can all live harmoniously among each other. I know that’s a fantasy probably, but really that’s what I want for ourselves, but also I just want people to be able to respect each other and just be kind to each other in general. We need to do better. We must do better.

0:33:57.6 Norah Jones: When you were at the national convention and you were in the room with the four others that were part of the regional teacher of the year that comes together for the national selection, you said it was just such a meaningful experience for you to be in that room. What are some of the things that you took away from that experience and that now has entered into who you are and what you’re doing or what you’re striving to do? What did you learn from those colleagues?

0:34:39.9 William Lee: Well, I learned that we all have a lot in common, the five of us, which is even though we’re world language educators, we care about the kids. And that’s the bottom line is we are here for the kids. And just seeing all of them and hearing about what they do within their school, how they build relationships with their students, how they work with the students in their classroom and outside of classroom, it’s just so inspiring to me, so meaningful. And I can learn from them and I have learned from them. And I appreciated that opportunity very much.

0:35:33.6 Norah Jones: That’s great. Now, some of the listeners around the world that pick up this podcast are not engaged in the language education enterprise. They are in organizations and they’re in businesses. What can you say to them about what steps they might take for the near and ongoing future that relate to understanding what language studies might do for their organization and their businesses based on your perspective?

0:36:14.6 William Lee: Well, it’s interesting you asked that because we were just talking about that the other day. But in order to do business internationally, you need to speak their language, right? But you also have to understand the culture and the little nuances of that language and culture. Because it’s all about building relationships. So yes, I know you can just get your phone out and type things in and have it be translated by Google or whatever app it is, into that target language. Sure. But are you going to be able to understand the little jokes that people make? Are you going to be able to do business with somebody who has a different sense of humor than you who may not mean exactly what they say and you are misunderstanding something, the little nuances here and there with languages, right? It’s going to be hard if you are thinking that, oh, I can just rely on Google Translate and this is it, right? We don’t need word language education, and that’s not true. You need to be familiar with the culture, with the language, and you need to be able to use those tools to help you build those relationships, especially in the business world in my opinion.

0:37:49.4 Norah Jones: I’m going to tap as we get closer to the end of our time together here, back on such a powerful statement that your desire to teach the whole person happens to be through the vehicle of language. If you could speak just a little bit more about how it is that you came to that realization in your life and in your work, that this is the vehicle for a much larger issue.

0:38:27.9 William Lee: Gosh. I’m not sure if I can answer that satisfactorily. I think just knowing that I am working with human beings and that I’m more than just a Latin teacher or a teacher for world language is essential. It was essential to my growth as an educator and as a really a human being, right? As an adult. As I mentioned, I’ve had many mentors throughout the years, that I’ve looked up to who have pushed me in this direction. And one of them, her name’s Doris Kays who passed away in ’07 but she left me with a plaque that had a quote on there. Let me read you the exact quote.

0:39:42.2 William Lee: And then I know I should have it memorized. But I have it in front of me. It’s quote by Jack Canfield. It says, “A teacher, as a person, is more important than the teacher as a technician. Why he is, has more effect than anything that he does.” And so, having that love, having that passion for working with the kids, that ultimately is what has made me happy with this career choice, with this calling. It’s not about teaching Latin, it’s about building relationships with the students. And that’s what it’s all about, it’s building relationships. In what other profession can you honestly say that you’re making a positive impact in someone’s life other than education? And what a better opportunity, what a greater opportunity it is to use world language education, and as a language teacher, to kind of facilitate that. I mean, we’re changing lives every day with what we do every day. And to me, there’s no greater reward than that.

0:41:25.4 Norah Jones: Such beautifully said. And before we finish today. What last word, invitation, exhortation, reminder, would you like to give the listeners today?

0:41:42.3 William Lee: Well, again, I think I have said this many times. I know I’m being redundant and repetitive. But I do want all of us, whether you’re a language educator or just a teacher of any subject area, to be very mindful of what it is, that we have in front of us. The kids… The opportunity to work with kids, it’s such a precious gift. We have been given this privilege and this gift to show our love for the students on daily basis. And that’s what we need to do. We need to show all the kids that we love them no matter what. Yes, I know we have squirrely kids that we have to deal with on a daily basis. I know we have kids that may challenge you on daily basis. But you don’t know what their struggles are outside of your classroom. You have to love them no matter what. You can be stern with them, but you still have to love them. And that will be the message that I want to share with the listeners.

0:43:05.0 Norah Jones: William Lee, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your insights with us today.

0:43:14.8 William Lee: Thank you so much for having me.

Norah Jones: Thank you for listening to this conversation with William Lee, and I hope per my invitation that you had a chance to reflect on your own contributions to the well-being of the world through language and culture. Join me next week when we take a look at the young people who know that Language and Cultural Studies are able to help them to prepare for their lives and their contributions to this better world. Look forward to sharing them with you next week, until then.

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