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Nuevo and Notable

Posted 03/13/2024 by Magnolia McLain

Kirk enjoys sharing the knowledge of Spanish with his classes in a unique way. photo by Ravi Apte

Even though he is only a second year teacher at TJ, Austin Kirk is making his mark on the Spanish program.

Austin Kirk was born and raised in Guymon, Oklahoma, and went to Guymon High School. Afterwards, he attended Oklahoma City University which Kirk describes as a “small liberal arts college” where he went on a full ride saxophone and academic scholarship. In high school, Kirk’s Spanish teachers were so focused on memorization for tests that he didn’t learn how to communicate or have a substantial vocabulary. Kirk then studied abroad in Mexico and was placed with a host family, which was his very first time leaving the country. He couldn’t even say basic phrases to advocate for himself. Kirk recalls that he “couldn’t even say ‘I’m hungry,’” but that he learned how to communicate well enough with his host family while he was there. His time in Mexico established his love of travel which led to him moving to Argentina after returning to Oklahoma and completing college. Though this is only Kirk’s second year at TJ, he has now been a teacher for over ten years; he currently teaches Spanish 1, Spanish 2, and Spanish Language Arts.

Kirk traveled around Argentina until he ran out of money and first taught English to adults until he decided to work as a high school teacher for the first time at the all boys’ high school, The Little Rivers. Although he had begun teaching, for the previous part of his life, he was most interested in being a lawyer until he realized he wouldn’t enjoy working in an office job. Outside of teaching, Kirk really dedicated himself to becoming fluent in Spanish during his time in Argentina. Kirk did not interact with English speakers or speak in English for three months, including with the people in his travel program. During these three months Kirk was able to successfully learn fluent Spanish. Kirk taught English for three years until he moved to Colorado. During these years, his career developed from a way to make money to a love of teaching high school. 

When Kirk arrived in Colorado, he was a substitute teacher for a year in fifth grade classrooms before he took a full time job teaching fifth grade for six years at Valverde Elementary. Kirk then taught Spanish for the first time at Bear Valley International Middle School before coming to TJ. 

Kirk was introduced to TJ by his Spanish World Language Coach and became interested in the position because of his desire to go back to teaching high school for the first time since he had left Argentina. Kirk was also interested in being at TJ specifically because of the unique culture, traditions, extracurriculars, and events. Now that Kirk has become familiar with teaching at TJ, his favorite part has become communicating with students in Spanish and learning about their lives, which largely drew him to teaching Spanish at the high school level. His teaching style revolves around the importance of communication in the classroom, which he values so much since that was absent from his experience learning Spanish.

As a teacher, Kirk promotes the learning of his students by creating a balance of reading, writing, and speaking in Spanish within his classes. He also works to make each class uniquely engaging by allowing each class period to create their own character and a problem for the character to solve as a way of always having something fresh to discuss. It also provides students with a way to learn more unique vocabulary about situations, characteristics, and relationships.

Outside of teaching, Kirk’s biggest passions include going to see the ballet, symphony, and opera as often as he can as well as rock climbing outdoors with his friends or bouldering in climbing gyms. Kirk hopes to devote an hour of each day to a new hobby or activity like playing the saxophone again or literature.

Kirk has teaching experience both in Colorado and Argentina and he is empowered to improve the Spanish of each of his students. With his communication-based teaching style and love for teaching, there is no telling how Kirk will improve the Spanish program in the coming years.