Reflections of a Native speaker teaching native and heritage Spanish​ speakers.

The school year is over. OVER. Is this the time where I do my happy dance? Is this the time where I begin to burn things from the previous year and purge myself of all the bad juju? No to the first one. Second one? I don’t know. What I do know is that I am still having “teacher dreams”. You know, the ones where you are still lessoning planning in your sleep. Telling Bobby to “sientate por favor” for the millionth time. Also the “I need to start planning for next year” bug began to itch… 2 weeks before the school year was done. I think I have a problem. But, hey. If you are not doing that…. #blessyou.

So, what was I going to talk to you again, oh yeah. That thing we teachers have to do (or should do) at the end of a school year. Reflect.

If you have read some of my previous posts, mainly Building an MYP Spanish program, you will see how the Spanish program in my school works and How to integrate music… on some reflections on what I’ve done in my class. For the sake of this post, I will make a quick view of our Spanish program.

The program

This year we had 3 Spanish teachers (we will go back to a 2 teacher team because of budget cuts). Our school has roughly 800 students so I had around 250-ish students every 2 days (next year will be up to 400). We are on an A/B schedule with rotating Wednesdays and next year it will be a fixed A/B schedule. I teach 6, 7, and 8th graders on the south side of Des Moines, Iowa.

This school year

This school year was the first time I actually had a classroom. I was a traveling teacher for two years, so I felt like I received a promotion. No longer was I traveling between 6-13 classrooms per week. Spanish would have a home base, and we would all be close to each other. I was also not teaching ALL of the native speaker classes and we actually had a plan. My partner-in-crime Surprisingly Spanish collaborated throughout July and created a scope and sequence that made sense for our students. We built on what I had done the previous year and she pushed me. A lot.

She challenged me constantly through the year to advocate for our students, mainly our Heritage speakers, more than I did before. She also was pushy (in a very good way) into poking at my thought process for my instruction so that it wasn’t in an “I am a native speaker, so therefore here’s Spanish”, but to go through the lens of “what will be attainable and comprehensible for students”.

This was my first year teaching with some CI (comprehensible input) techniques and methodologies. I, surprisingly found myself being “me” not a “native speaker teaching gringos”  and creating authentic materials that were fun. I jokingly tell coworkers that this has been my best year ever. Not because of “I have a classroom”, but I was more “me” and kids received it.

The #strugglebus

I’m very appreciative that my administration authorized me to go to IWLA this year AND to the National Heritage Spanish Speakers symposium in Iowa City, Iowa. I think that one of my #strugglebus moments this year was ironically my native speakers class or Heritage. Not because they were Latino/a, but because it was my 3rd year with my 8th graders as their teacher. They knew me. I knew them. And collectively (in a macro perspective) we didn’t grow as much. Them as students, and quite honestly me as a native Spanish teacher. I know that surprisingly Spanish grew a ton mainly because it was her first “go” with a full native speaker class.

I think that, again, I bit more than I could chew with them. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe that overall, my students enjoyed my class. We had awesome and deep discussions about Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Latinx rights. We talked about immigration, we listened to a lot of music, we talked about Argentina and the Dirty War. My 6th graders talked about Agentes Secretos y el Mural de Picasso (not in the way that I thought we would, but hey it was still a win). But quite honestly, I struggled on how to teach “my people”. How do I teach Native Spanish or Heritage students about our language and culture when they are on so many different levels in their Language Acquisition.

This weekend, I am attending CIIA or Comprehensible Input Iowa. I will be attending a crash course on what is CI and CI methodologies, activities and strategies. Hopefully, I can learn a lot more about how to service our latinx students in the USA. My non-native students or students who are just beginning their Language Acquisition journey, those are fine. I have struggled to some extent with them on how not to overcomplicate concepts, but there are quite frankly so many resources and strategies for them, that I just need to go back to basics and just “do”. But for Native/Heritage students? Everything feels still overwhelming. Most of it in a good way. The doors are unlimited and open to experimentation. But the perfectionist in me. The musician in me. The “musical poetry” in me is still striving for excellence. I believe we, not just me as a professional, we’re green. as in REALLY GREEN when it comes to this population. I know one size doesn’t fit all with ANY student, especially students who are ESL, Native/Heritage Spanish speakers, students that may have a language core (many or most do not have one), but we have to do better. I have to do better. I should and must do better. Next year my focus or goal (for now) is to use what I know. Help these students native, heritage or just beginning students acquire knowledge with music. We’ll see how I do…


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