Laughter, the best medicine and educational tool

by | Aug 2022

ASHLEY NUTT began her college journey as a dance major at The University of Alabama. Dancing was not only a hobby of Nutt’s but had always been a lifelong passion. So when Nutt changed from a dance major to a Spanish and education major, it was a bit to her own surprise. However, Ashley had found another love.

The Spanish language and Hispanic culture were something that forever intrigued Nutt. Then, when she did a study abroad program in Costa Rica, the intrigue turned into love. She felt connected in a way that was hard to put into words. She shared, “When I traveled there, I lived with a host family whose lives were very simple. America has such a materialistic culture, so going to a country where they just don’t have the same kind of resources was a very stark contrast. Life became about just taking care of the people around you.”

Reflecting back on her decision to change her course of study, Nutt said, “My newfound love for the culture inspired me to pass that same love for language and another culture on to other people. We don’t see that as much in our rural communities. I felt like there was a big deficit in encouraging people to look outside their own small area. You know, perhaps broaden their horizons a little bit.”

Thus, after graduating from college with her teaching degree, Nutt began instructing in the classroom at Lincoln County High School. Her first official year with students was 2000. About this time in her life, Nutt shared, “I loved it! However, my other love was dance. So when the opportunity came up for me to open The Dance Company in Tullahoma, I left education. I left teaching school to go teach dance.”

Photographed by Ashleigh Newnes.

Though teaching dance was her bread and butter for about a decade, Nutt made a point to stay current and comfortable teaching students Spanish over the years. She achieved this by tutoring local students struggling in their Spanish classes. In fact, Nutt did not have to travel far to find those who needed her help, as many of her dancers were grappling with their Spanish comprehension.

Thanks to consistently tutoring students, there was no skipping a beat when Nutt decided to sell The Dance Company and return to teaching in 2014. Nutt shared, “My business partner moved to Knoxville, and I had to have hip surgery. Additionally, my girls had gotten older to where their activities were the same hours I was teaching dance. I noticed I was starting to miss out on the things that they were involved in. For those reasons, I felt it was the right season to transition. So I began the process of renewing my license so I could get back into the classroom.”

Journeying back to teaching, Nutt initially went to work for the Tullahoma City School System. She shared, “I was an interim for a Spanish teacher on medical leave. And when I did that interim for her, I remembered how much I had loved it. So from then on, I became even more focused on renewing my license.”

Nutt shared that her demeanor in the classroom and overall teaching style mirrored a high school teacher she had as an adolescent. Nutt said, “Mrs. Julia Torres, my high school Spanish teacher, had an energy about her and her teaching that I was just really drawn to. Something about her helped keep my attention. She laughed at herself a bunch and just seemed to enjoy her time with her students. I would say I take a little bit of her style, having high energy and enthusiasm.”

Photographed by Ashleigh Newnes.

To date, Nutt teaches Spanish at Coffee County Central High School. There, Nutt can share her passion and excitement with rooms full of mostly sophomores and juniors. Nutt shared that her classroom is almost always filled with the sweet sound of laughter ringing in your ears.

She said, “The one thing I think about when I think about my students or my classroom is just the laughter we share on a daily basis. We have so much fun in class together as they’re just trying to figure out this language. They laugh at me because I am like I’m a one-man theater show trying to get them to understand what I’m saying without reverting back to English. So I feel like I’m acting all day long, and they’re laughing at me all day. In turn, however, they come up with some hysterical things too. They’re so creative. A lot of what we do is create stories in Spanish. So for me, getting to see their creativity and what they come up with is really fun and always makes me laugh.”

It is no surprise that Nutt’s classroom philosophy is to make sure that her students feel welcomed, safe, and loved. She shared, “everything that I do after that comes second.” Nutt desires her classroom to be a safe haven and uplifting landing place for those struggling, hurting, or simply coasting through. Although approaching her classroom in this manner was intended to benefit her students, Nutt found that her classroom would become a place of healing for herself as well.

After losing her husband in 2020, Nutt’s students, in addition to her two daughters, Lucy and Anna beth, became her reason for getting out of bed each day. She shared, “Their innocence, their laughter, just their youthfulness was a stark contrast to the grief that I was living through. Being with them each day truly saved my life. I don’t know how I would have gone on without that job. And at the time, I know many other teachers felt like education was killing them due to the restraints and different expectations that the pandemic was putting on them. But for me it became extra motivation to ensure those students were coming into a place that still felt fun and happy despite all the yuck around us.” GN

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