Navajo teacher balances traditional, modern worlds

TUBA CITY, Ariz. - During a recent Parent Advisory Committee meeting at Greyhills Academy High School, freshman English teacher Adair Klopfenstein - or 'Mr. K" as he is known - gave a presentation about balancing both traditional and modern worlds in his teaching and life.

Klopfenstein grew up in Utah. His mother is Navajo and his father is Anglo. He grew up in the modern world with Christian teachings in Kearns, Utah. He says that traditional Native people live in a certain way that he couldn't understand.

As he grew older he learned about discipline and says he was taught to be very competitive. He realized he had to have a change in thinking and live a multicultural life.

This became quite apparent when his grandmother came to visit in Utah. She spoke very little English and was saying in Navajo "Toh shanika" (get me some water). He couldn't understand and in frustration his grandmother started crying because he didn't understand. He realized that he wasn't doing himself justice by not learning Navajo.

He commented that children once lived traditionally with no electricity and no cars and the traditional knowledge kept them alive for generations. Then children were forced to go to school and everything was taken away to become acculturated and told not to speak their language and go to church.

Klopfenstein commented on the No Child Left Behind Act, stating, "Government policy is to have students learn to read and write English and if they don't learn then they are left out." He feels that it takes great teachers and staff to ensure the success of students.

His core belief is that students be taught traditions as well. In his daily teaching he stresses what it means to be Native to his Freshman Academy English students.

One aspect of his teaching is to connect to the students and ask, "Are they getting the teaching at home they need?" He spoke of his grandma and how she would cook for everyone out of unconditional love for her family. He feels students need a sense of spiritual well-being to be truly successful.

From birth, Navajos followed the "corn pollen path" teaching traditions in class can continue that path for many students.

By balancing western and traditional teachings, the students themselves become more well-balanced. He notes, "There is always a male and female aspect to the Navajo tradition."

Klopfenstein uses a non-threatening approach to teaching and states, "Knowledge is power, I will teach you how to move forward."

At the start of the school year Klopfenstein had a Blessing Way ceremony for the school in the school hogan. He takes pride in his teaching and wants his students to have knowledge of both western and traditional teaching.

He notes that there is a way to pray in the morning, and that ancient knowledge is special and powerful. "If you're lost, get up in the morning and pray. If a cell phone dies, you can't call for help, but corn pollen is always available for help."

He says that students are spiritual and they want to know the traditions and that Navajos should teach about the corn pollen, to become aware and to respect nature because everything is centered on prayers and songs.

Everyday Klopfenstein has pep talks and tells his students they are "powerful, intelligent and precious."

If students start telling each other and hear it every day as well as at home, then they have a higher self-esteem. He continues to stress that students need balance of both traditional and modern worlds to be truly successful.

He noted that his grandmother spoke Hopi, Navajo and some Spanish so he encourages diversity in school.

Klopfenstein concluded, "We are mixed cultures in the school. We have to respect each tribe ... and mixed heritages and these students are valued as well."

For more information, call (928) 283-6271.

Comments

Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.