Back in 2010, I interviewed for two Spanish positions within the same district. I really struggled to decide which high school to choose because I heard good things about both, but I went with my gut and I am glad I did. It was the first position where I felt like I was at home; a place where I could see myself teaching for a while. Unbeknownst to me though, my new district was going to be laying off teachers and being at the bottom of the totem pole, one could only imagine what that meant for me. During the year that I spent at that school, I met a teacher that would change my thinking and still does actually. Some of you may recognize her name or twitter handle: Natalia DeLaat or @natadel76.
One particular memory I have is seeing Natalia walking down the hall with a few students speaking in French. That probably wasn’t anything new, but what caught my attention was that the students were following along and conversing with her in…wait for it… French. It was clear and comprehensible and I was surprised. My students couldn’t do that or, at least, not like that. It got me thinking: what is she doing in her classroom that teachers students to openly converse and comprehend the conversation. I began to ask questions and prod a bit, but being a new teacher, I was too afraid to step outside the textbook. I didn’t want to rock the boat or make noticeable waves.
Four years ago, I took a position for another district. The district was and still (slightly) is to the book. The district technically still uses a textbook and has a very heavy grammar-filled curriculum guide. I knew that I wanted to do something different, but was not quite sure if I wanted to completely leave what I knew behind. Not knowing where to begin, I contacted my friend Natalia. After a lot of discussion and coffee, I left with A LOT of great information, but I was told to start with the following:
*Check out Martina Bex’s blog: www.martinabex.com
*Get on Twitter and follow: #langchat and #sblchat
I went home and began doing my research. Starting with Martina Bex’s blog, I clicked on different blogs that she had linked to her site and WOW! So much information to go through. Why didn’t I know about this part of World Language teaching? My mind was on overload. There were so many things that I wanted to change. I wanted to change how I introduced new vocabulary, how students experienced the language, how I assessed my students, and how I graded my students.
Lets fast forward four years, and all I have to say is that I am still learning; still learning from Natalia and a long list of other amazing educators. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but I am definitely glad that I am not where I was. Each year since starting, I pushed the limits a little bit more. I changed my grade book by using the categories reading, writing, listening, and speaking. I moved away from traditional assessments and long lists of vocabulary. I no longer used the textbook as my guide; I began ‘asking’ stories and doing activities around the stories for more input.
This past year has held the biggest changes for me, not only in level, but also with curriculum. Our Spanish 2 classes moved to solely using Martina Bex’s units. One of the Spanish 1 teachers used Martina’s units the previous year and was so happy with how much Spanish her students were comprehending and producing in class so we took the jump as a level. This is my first year teaching level 4 so I stayed with most of the themes that have been taught, but added a twist. I used a lot of authentic resources-pictures, news articles, blogs, different readings and a lot of material from my favorite bloggers. We also read both Esperanza and Vida y Muerte de la Mara Salvartrucha from TPRS Publishing.
My journey has definitely come full circle. Starting in the fall, I will again be working with Natalia. I recently took a new Spanish teacher position in her district and I am so excited. I cannot wait to grow in a new district and hopefully Natalia doesn’t get sick of me because I have a lot of questions already and our rooms are next door to each other 🙂