Teaching Spanish at The Pennsylvania State University has been a meaningful and growing experience as a teacher and as a learner. It has given me the opportunity to work in an authentic teaching situation with real students wanting to learn Spanish. Teaching in this program has challenged me intellectually and has made me question some of the ideas that I had about teaching, especially with students from different language and culture backgrounds. It has allowed me to learn more about teaching and learn more about myself.
To some extent, all humans are life-long learners. As rational animals, we are always asking and answering questions to make sense of the world around us. We are always improving and discovering. In many ways, this view of the world contributes to my appreciation of education. As a native Spanish speaker, my most defining characteristic as a teacher is that I am an avid learner. I became interested in languages from a very young age and have reached one of my life-goals: becoming a polyglot. However, another one of my on-going life goals is to help others learn languages, and become autonomous, critical thinkers and learners so that they can meet their own goals in their own lives.
I have many influences in my teaching style. Some of them can be traced to teachers who have taught me, and others are related to teachers with whom I have worked. However, one of the principal influences of my teaching philosophy is the work of Paulo Freire. In many ways this work serves as an ideology more than an approach. While I work to create a classroom environment where each student may be empowered through the learning process, it can be difficult to completely integrate this approach into foreign language settings and contexts such as the Spanish Basic Language Program. I respect my students, empower them, and promote their identities in the classroom, but they come with expectations of what a teacher should be. In many ways it is important that I respect their expectations and learning styles, as well as my own beliefs. As such, in this setting, I have acted as a mediator between my students and their learning goals, while also imparting knowledge along the way. To create more opportunities for such interaction, group and pair work were prevalent in my lessons, where I paired students together to balance their abilities, and to promote peer negotiation for meaning. Having such a variety of personalities in my classroom has allowed me to adapt these concepts to specific, changing situations throughout the semester.
I see motivation as a key element when teaching a foreign language, especially in my Spanish students. Therefore, I tried to bring enthusiasm, cultural elements and technology into the classroom in order to maintain the students’ learning motivation throughout the semester. In my class, I have also tried to promote cross-cultural awareness to deepen my students’ understanding of the world that they are becoming a part of as speakers of Spanish in the world.
As a non-native speaker of English and a learner in an English speaking country, I have lived first hand the process that my students in my Spanish class are going through. I believe that my personality in the classroom helped my students feel calm and welcome, and promoted a good atmosphere for instruction and learning. Good teachers are always learning from their students, adapting their methods, growing, and striving to become a better version of themselves in the classroom. This experience has allowed me to reflect on many of my own assumptions and beliefs regarding education and has represented an important theory versus practice struggle.