(From a previous post called “My Journey as a Spanish Teacher”)In the first program where I taught FLES, all Spanish teachers were required to stay 100% in the TL. I had success doing all I could to get my point across in my classes. I spent a lot of time looking for visuals, making posters, and using a lot of TPR and gestures! The program was successful, but my students thought that I couldn’t speak English. The children were trying harder to communicate with me in the TL, but there was more to it than that. I had a website, and I also sent newsletters home, but a lot of the parents apparently still thought that I didn’t know English.
One day, I was approached by a parent, and his comment was, “I thought you didn’t know English!” At that moment, I had mixed feelings. Yes, I wanted my students to use Spanish with me at all times, during class, recess time, in the hallway, and so on, but I was also sad because I was also there to “promote bilingualism,” and they thought I only knew Spanish. I was traveling from classroom to classroom, and the homeroom teachers stayed in the classroom during the 20 minutes of Spanish instruction. I recall that I rarely had to work hard on classroom management because the teachers were there to help. I also realized that I didn’t really know anything about my students.
Once I moved to a different school, the policies about teaching 100% in the TL were different. The school already had a Spanish and French teacher for grades 4 through 6, so I was hired to create the other part of the program with the help of my colleagues, and we used a backward mapping process to create our curriculum for grades pre-K to 3. Both the French and Spanish teachers used some English with their students. At first, I stuck with using only Spanish in class, mostly out of habit, and my desire to push students to use the TL. I started noticing that the other language teachers had really strong connections with their students, and their students would actually look for them during recess time. That was when it dawned on me that I had been missing an opportunity to connect with my students and get to know a little bit more about them. So by my second year in the school, I finally became more flexible and started to allow interactions with my students in their L1 during times out of my class.
Children would actually come and sit next to me by the bench on the playground, and we had great conversations, from talking about my family in Colombia to their plans after school! That’s when I realized that it was okay for them to use their L1 to communicate with me during recess time. I also feel that because I am a native speaker, they need to know that I am bilingual and that I have an interest in their language and culture. Now, keeping my class at 90 to 95 % TL in my classroom continues to be my goal.
As I mentioned above, keeping it simple is the best way, at least during your first year. In a regular pre-COVID setting, depending on the students’ level:
End the class by thanking each other, where I say: “Gracias, class”, and students reply: “Gracias, maestra” (ps: I will change to profe this year because maestra doesn’t sound natural to me. In my prior years in Boston, students called me by first name – this is a topic for another post!)
If I have time I do a quick “exit ticket” for the children to line up.
Parents also like to know what’s going on in your classes. Having a monthly newsletter or a website as a routine to communicate with your parents is also a great PR for your program!
Setting Up Your Classroom Norms
Simple is my motto! I think three to five norms accompanied with good visuals are great! I usually have them in Spanish, but I introduce them and discuss them in English with my students. Some teachers like to create their norms along with their students, but I usually go with generally simple rules that are phrased in a positive way. I keep them in front of the room to point at them if I need them as reference. I have experimented with different norms every year, and by far these have worked the best:
You can also piggyback on the norms the homeroom teachers have created for their classrooms.
Join a Language Organization
Stay up to date with professional development by joiningACTFL (The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages), NNELL (The National Network for Early Language Learning), or yourstate language organization. They usually send newsletters to help you stay abreast of the newest research and methodologies in language teaching. If possible attend national and/or regional conferences. Sometimes it is important to be in the same space sharing with people who care about and to whom it matters what you do.
Be You and Make Time for YOU!
With so many teachers sharing on social media it is inevitable to see ideas and want to bring them to your classroom and expect to get the same results as that teacher who posted on Instagram. To be honest, I have been there too, but the reality is that we never know what’s behind the scenes, so if you see an idea, read it, watch the video and see how you can adapt it to the needs of your students and to the special qualities of your personality and style. Remember that you got hired to do that job because you were the best-qualified teacher for it. So start with trusting in yourself!
Last, but not least, make time for yourself! Start now when you are new, use the weekends to disconnect if you can. Make time to take walks, exercise, or watch your favorite show on your couch. I am telling you this because I have made the mistake to get into the routine of just working, even on the weekends – sometimes to the point that I even forget that I have two kids. These last years I have made it intentional to only bring work home if necessary, and it has made a difference in my classroom. A refreshed teacher gives everyone the best chance for truly engaged students!
Please feel free to contact me if there is anything I can do for you!
This year I have been receiving more messages than ever from new Spanish teachers, so dear new Spanish teacher, this post has been written with you in mind. I completely get it! With the current situation and all the uncertainty for the fall, it’s completely normal for any teacher (no matter how long you have been teaching) to feel nervous, but especially for our colleagues who are new to the profession.
I try to put myself in the shoes of a new teacher during COVID times, and I can’t imagine the frustration that some of you might be feeling. Thinking about starting the new school year in a virtual classroom environment makes me feel butterflies in my stomach, but I am also grateful that at least there are digital tools and platforms to support our teaching. I am aware that those tools might not be accessible for every student or teacher, which I can’t wrap my head around because I don’t live in a third world or developing country, yet the inequities of this system are real and more visible during COVID times.
Because I don’t have experience starting the school year in a virtual way, I can only go back to my feelings during my first years of teaching and rely on what has worked for me under “normal conditions” while adapting for what I have learned more recently and giving it my best shot.
Something that I remember was very valuable as a first time Spanish teacher in the United States was the group of teachers who were supportive and open to be my shoulder to cry on when needed. We were seven Latinas in a very white school system in suburban Boston. They were welcoming and happy to share all their knowledge with me. This was almost 20 years ago, so no Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter were there. I do remember some Yahoo Groups and a website run by a veteran Spanish teacher called “Anacleta’s World Language and Cultural Resources” that I frequently visited to get inspired.
After teaching in that school system for 4 years, the district held a property tax override vote, and guess which program got eliminated first? You guessed right! The Spanish program 🙁 . After that, I moved to a private school and there I was the only PreK-3 Spanish teacher. The school also had a French program for grades 4-6 alongside the Spanish program, so the French and Spanish teachers worked together, and I was kind of on my own. It felt very lonely, and that’s what inspired me to start my blog. I wanted to be able to connect virtually with other teachers who were teaching the same early grade levels as I was. I also contacted other elementary Spanish teachers in my area and hosted monthly meetings to exchange ideas and vent if needed. In the school where I currently teach, I have two colleagues, and we teach the same levels, so it’s nice to have someone to exchange with and learn from for professional growth. Along with this, I belong to a few Facebook groups for Spanish teachers and also am part of a small WhatsApp group with two other Colombian teachers (Profe ValentinaandLa Profe de Español) where we frequently communicate to share ideas and support each other.
Why am I telling this whole story? Well, just to invite you to find your support system. It could be colleagues in other schools close to you or a teacher who can serve as your mentor in your own school. If you use social media, I recommend identifying a few Facebook groups or teachers on Instagram that you can follow and learn from. I do advise starting with just a few because it might be overwhelming with tons of information and little time to process while navigating a new profession.
Understand in Which Type of Program You Will Be Teaching
Knowing the type of program you will be teaching in will help you think about the short and long term goals for your program. So much depends on the amount of contact time you will have with your students. The program may be FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School), FLEX (Foreign Language Experience), a Content-Based program, or a number of other program types, but just by knowing the type of program will help you identify some of your goals and keep a nice balance between ambitious idealism and being practical within the limitations of the program’s boundaries. Visit this link to understand more about the various different types of programs. And if you need to play a sort of public / stakeholder relations role, knowing the type of program will also help you to educate your administrators, school community, and parents (and nicely but firmly help them temper or gear their expectations for the language acquisition process, pace, etc.). I’ll say it again, knowing what type of program you have will also help you create short and long term goals for your program – for students, for yourselves, and for key players in the wider community in which your work is situated.
Get To Know Your School Community
The first year is hard for any teacher in a new school. You are trying to understand the school community and culture, getting to meet and name the different people in your school, understanding what each acronymous means and so on! The most important people, apart from your students are the custodians and the school administrative staff. They will be the ones who will help you first! Our school secretary sometimes covers our classes when we need to do quick things in school. So keep their names in your head and make sure to thank them with a big “GRACIAS” all the time!
KISS, KISS, KISS= Keep It Simple Sweetie!
If this is the first year for your program, you might have to teach the same units or stories to every grade level while you build up your curriculum. You might need to developmentally adapt the content to make it fit for every grade. You will find yourself creating materials, so keeping it simple is the best way to go. I have found that because the needs of elementary language programs can vary so much, it’s hard to stay with just one “commercial” or “off the shelf” curriculum.
Identify some themes or stories you want to teach and take it from there. You might want to do a cursory internet search and explore what other teachers have shared. Something to take into consideration is making sure the curriculum is not perpetuating stereotypes about Latinos and their different cultures while also making sure that it shows how super diverse the world’s 21 Spanish speaking countries are.
Here are some curriculums shared by other elementary Spanish teachers:
Something that I really like doing at the beginning of the school year is sharing a short PowerPoint presentation or video about me. I shared where I was born, my likes and dislikes, and I find ways to make connections with students while sharing about me. Students really like knowing something about their teachers and connecting with us as people.
Here are some examples of what I have done in the past to start building relationships:
Singing to celebrate birthdays is extremely important for some elementary students, especially in the younger grades. If children have summer birthdays, I recommend you do one summer birthday celebration for all the children with summer birthdays early in the school year or, if they would prefer to be special and have a day just to themselves, celebrate half birthdays (just watch out for December vacation …). I like starting each month talking about the calendar to include holidays, special events at school, andbirthdays! Luckily this is something that can be done virtually or in the classroom.
¡Hola! I am Carolina, a Colombian elementary Spanish teacher based in Austin, Texas. Fun for Spanish Teachers is the result of my passion for teaching Spanish to children and my desire to inspire collaboration and creativity in a vibrant teaching and learning community. It’s the perfect stop if you are looking for songs, games, teaching tips, stories, and fun for your classes.