My passion for education began when I worked as a math and reading tutor at struggling schools in the Boston Public Schools System. There I saw for the first time the transformative power of learning on peoples’ lives, inspiring and motivating students towards ambitious futures they never thought possible. To this day, as an educator I strive to accommodate diverse needs, innovate with pedagogy, and vary instructional technique so that students challenge themselves to tackle concepts they have previously struggled with.
Effective teaching turns an hour of class time into skills my students will use later in their lives, ideas that will follow them in their future travels, and most importantly, a passion for literature, humanities, and knowledge that will continue to drive them. For this reason my lessons focus on processes for learning independently. I often assign tasks that ask them to do manageable amounts of research on their own and then work in small groups to write dialogues or prepare arguments for a debate. For example, I created an activity where students look up the lyrics to famous bolero songs at home and write short stories about what kind of amorous relationship could have inspired the song. In class the next day, students share their interpretations with classmates, negotiate core elements in all their stories, and work together to write a short play for which the bolero is the soundtrack. In this task they practice all four language skills, and are able to be both creative and analytic while exploring a musical hallmark of Hispanic culture. I have seen that when students have more autonomy in their own learning, they challenge themselves to express higher-level ideas and do work that exceeds expectations.
I also believe that it is essential that students connect personally with class material, using multiple senses, skills, and emotions in a single task. I make sure to maintain a low affective filter, so that students feel comfortable sharing their own stories and investing of themselves in the activities. In my class, for example, we do not just learn the vocabulary for clothing, but stage a fashion show, complete with a design campaign and costume changes. Many individuals have told me that they dreaded the thought of taking a class that met every day, but that I made it manageable and fun. They feel motivated to work hard because I adapt my lesson plans to their needs and frequently ask for their feedback on what is working well for them in the class. By varying between implicit and explicit instruction and giving options for individual preference, I show that literature and language study is for everyone and can illuminate whatever career path they may choose.
We all learn best when we see real-life applications to the material we study. To this effect, I seek out opportunities to take my classes to visit local museums and community gardens, where we have been able to get guided tours in Spanish, so that they can mesh the community we build in the classroom with the community at large. I then use material from these visits to expand on topics such as Spanish painting or eco-tourism in Costa Rica when we are back in the classroom. Whenever possible, I invite native speakers to visit and work on projects with my students, such as interviews or biography writing. This highlights the diversity of Hispanic language and culture and provides a rich opportunity to practice etiquette and pragmatics in a foreign language. I use technology to extend the learning we do in class, such as having students share ideas on a class blog and respond to each other’s posts. The Spanish-language versions of websites such as Facebook or Twitter allow students to navigate day-to-day interaction in the target language through a platform that is contemporary and familiar to their everyday lives. In their evaluations my pupils commented that the activities in which we went beyond the classroom space were the most effective in advancing their language skills and cultural understanding.
As a teacher I make sure that my courses require students to sharpen their critical thinking and analysis skills in meaningful and practical assignments. Using personal engagement to activate language, literature and culture as a lifelong pursuit, I encourage students to go beyond what they find in the textbook in a class that is a vital, current, and provocative learning space.