A Valuable Teaching and Learning Experience
Ashley Zehel, Spanish Teacher, Parma City Schools
The University of Akron offers its student teachers the option to student teach abroad. Therefore, as a Spanish teacher candidate, I jumped at the chance to perfect my language skills while completing my student teaching.
I decided to go to Puerto Rico and was given a position in the 6th grade Spanish class of Rose Marie Santiago Villafañe in the laboratory school of the University of Puerto Rico. All of the teachers there have PhDs and I was lucky to experiment with some of the latest teaching techniques and studies done with the students. As part of the laboratory school, the parents must agree that their students can be used for such studies.
One thing that was a challenge was teaching 6th grade Spanish in a country where they already speak it. Just like we learn English in the U.S., Spanish class in Puerto Rico is focused on literature and writing. Due to my training as teaching Spanish as a foreign language, I had to draw from activities I remember doing in my literature classes. I assisted in teaching “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” a novel about the son of a Nazi soldier. I actually learned a lot of new vocabulary from this and assisted the students with understanding both the history and themes of the story. Additionally, I assisted teacher Rose Marie as she prepared the students for a standardized test and gained some valuable insight into the Spanish language concepts that are a challenge for native speakers. I also lived out the foreign language teacher’s dream of being able to teach the whole class in the target language, even when disciplining the students!
Through all of my challenges, though, I learned so much and became a stronger educator. I learned more about teaching younger children and how to teach a full novel in Spanish when the occasion arises. I learned many things about Puerto Rican culture and how they are just as big a melting pot as the U.S. I was able to experience the country on a day-to-day basis while my teacher also took me to visit different parts of the island to see all that it had to offer. I didn’t mind the weather, either, since I was there in January and February and I also saw how the climate affected the way the Puerto Ricans live.
Overall, it was one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced, but when I came back, I had a greater language proficiency and a different respect towards diversity. I believe that this is a great opportunity that all student teachers, even those who are monolingual, should try to embark on to get a different perspective and some valuable experience.
Ashley Zehel graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s of Art in Spanish and a Bachelor’s of Science in Foreign Language Education from the University of Akron in May of 2012.