World language teachers win awards of excellence: Chinese teacher Yanan Vrudny

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World language teachers win awards of excellence: Chinese teacher Yanan Vrudny

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Written by Julia Cheunkarndee

It’s the beginning of class. Once the bell rings, one of the students walks to the front of the room and leads the class through a bow to their teacher.

This is the Yanan Vrudny’s classroom. She has worked at Gunn for almost 12 years, teaching Mandarin Chinese of all levels. In March, she was honored for her dedication with an award of Outstanding Teacher from the California Language Teachers’ Association.  Only four or five teachers across California are chosen for this award each year.

Vrudny’s desire to connect her students with the rest of the world through language is the main component of her teaching that qualified her for the award.  Judges were looking for language teachers that guided students toward being global citizens, in that the teachers taught not only a language but also the culture of that language’s country or region.

Vrudny has explored many ways to incorporate Chinese culture into her classroom. During Chinese New Year, the windows are festooned with paper cuttings made by her students. The class also learns about the rules behind using chopsticks and studies the history of different Chinese holidays.  She also encourages her students to participate in different language-related contests, from poem reciting to essay-writing competitions, both within the school and in the outer Chinese-learning society. In these ways, Vrudny’s students get a look at the Chinese culture and community beyond only the language itself. “The important part is the culture,” Vrudny said. “If you only know a language and you don’t know how to interact with people, that will cause challenges. We want students to start in our classroom, but build their bridge to the world or any place they are passionate about.”

According to Vrudny, her mission is to help her students step onto that bridge, paving the way to their goals. “Hopefully, in the future, they can get jobs [in the region of that language] and travel between that place and the United States,” she said. “It will enlarge their job opportunities, which I think is important.”

Vrudny believes that an important element in the classroom is teaching through project-based learning, after studying the skills of 21st-century students. Through collaboration and group projects, she hopes to further engage her students and make their work more interesting.

This dedication to her work is why Vrudny has never viewed receiving an award as her end goal, but rather as an honor and a component of her path toward becoming a better teacher. “I think this is the job I should do—the job I need to do, as a teacher, so I never thought that in return I would get something,” Vrudny said. “I feel honored to receive this award. I think that it’s part of my own goal to grow into a much better teacher and encourage more students to have this global competence.”

Her mentor, Helen Chen, the supervisor for a student teaching program at Stanford, was the one to nominate her for the award. Chen submitted Vrudny as a candidate and reached out to many of Vrudny’s peers, from former students to her colleagues, for letters of recommendation. “The family and students gave me credit, by earning this award with their support; they all wrote detailed letters for me, and I am very appreciative,” Vrudny said.