Teacher of the Year Opens Students’ Minds to the Worlds Around Them

Posted Mar 02, 2023

Each year, Otterbein honors outstanding teachers for their impact on their students, colleagues, and the University. In the fall semester, Kristina Escondo, Department of History, Political Science, and Modern Languages, received the Teacher of the Year Full Time Faculty Award. Escondo wears several hats in her department: Associate Professor of Spanish, Director of the Race and Ethnic Studies Program, and Director of Modern Languages.  

We asked her to explain her award-winning teaching style.  

How would you describe your teaching style? 

Collaborative, open, empowering, and focused on relationship-building. Learning a language requires interpersonal interaction in order to improve and communicate meaningfully, and understanding cultures different from your own requires an openness to diverse perspectives. Both require fostering relationships with people who may hold different beliefs and values — and often, students don’t feel comfortable speaking a new language or debating difficult topics. Using small group discussions helps empower students to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow in their learning by creating supportive communities of learning. 

What inspires you to teach? 

I love the moments when students feel empowered to create connections with people different from them — hearing from students excitedly recounting a short conversation they had in Spanish never gets old! I’m also inspired by those moments when students think about the world in a new light — and those moments when I learn something new from my students! They are the best reminder to not stay stuck in my own mindset and that one never stops learning. 

What do you hope your student take from your classes? 

I want students to see learning as a gift and not a chore. I hope they are able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and see the world from a different perspective (even if it’s not a perspective they’d adopt). I hope my classes cultivate understanding, empathy, and a desire to think more deeply, analytically, and reflectively about the world and one’s own relationship to it. 

Why are you passionate about the subjects you teach? 

I’m a professor of color who rarely saw my own cultural background positively represented in mainstream learning. My classes aim to provide opportunities for students to explore the richness of intersecting cultures and traditionally marginalized voices in a rigorous and thoughtful space. I love it when students — of all backgrounds — find themselves represented or something they can connect with in the course — especially in places where they least expect it. 

What is your favorite class to teach? 

In the past, I taught a course on border literatures and identities. It was one of my favorites because it looked at the many ways that one’s multiple identities intersect. I regularly heard from students who grew up juggling multiple cultural expectations that this was the first time that they really resonated with a piece of literature. Others began a deep process of reflection on the ways that their own identities could sometimes exist in harmony or in tension and have commented on their own personal growth in the class. I love the many ways we were able to explore literal and metaphorical borders. 

What do you think students get from Otterbein faculty that they can’t get anywhere else? 

Faculty who genuinely care about educating the whole person. Programs like FYS (Freshman Year Seminar) and INST (Integrative Studies) that show students to see how different disciplines are integrated require faculty who are open to and interested in learning outside of their own fields to be able to teach these courses. Likewise, because Otterbein faculty genuinely care about the whole student, we are dedicated to learning how to best support students’ mental health, diverse identities, and lives outside of their classes. Even if faculty don’t get it right the first time, I think our shared dedication to supporting students outside of the classroom leads to greater learning inside the classroom. 

What is one lesson you want students to carry with them not related to the subject matter? 

Learning does not have to end upon graduation — and it shouldn’t! The world continues to change, and we must be flexible and adaptable. I hope students question the narratives that underpin their worldviews so they can develop, strengthen, and defend their own conclusions for their belief systems (even if they remain the same). I hope they learn and think about what is important to them. And I hope they always keep their relationships and their shared humanity with others at the center.