Julia Thomas, OFLA Early Language Learning Chair
Spanish Teacher, Oberlin City Schools
Imagine being a bilingual parent, sending your child to elementary school knowing that they have been exposed to a second language and have a proclivity for language learning, yet have no opportunity to learn a second language. This is the situation that Kim Faber found when her children attended an elementary school where no second language was taught. As a parent, she wanted more for both her and other young learners in her community.
In 2005, Kim founded the Spanish in Elementary School program (SITES) with Spanish-speaking Oberlin College students whom she trained in second language acquisition pedagogy. Part of their training is the opportunity to teach lessons to the elementary aged students, all with the goal of eventually collaborating with a full-time elementary Spanish teacher in the public school district. Fast forward to 2015 when I was hired! As a young and brand new teacher, I did not come into the position realizing that my hiring was part of a dream, but now I know that working with Kim and SITES has been a dream come true for me!
Throughout the past few years, the relationship between SITES and Oberlin City Schools has been vital to my professional life. From the Organic World Language training in the summer before I began to teach to the constant support between SITES and my program, I have seen and experienced so much growth. From the very beginning, I worked with college students to create and implement a curriculum based on communicative language teaching when either of us was teaching alone or as a team. As I worked with the student teachers, I felt like a mentor teacher to them from the first year. Sometimes it felt daunting, especially as I was learning how to teach, but I had learned in my years in college that to teach is to learn again. With that in mind, I was teaching college students how to teach while simultaneously learning, forming opinions, and developing reasoning for why I employed certain methods in the classroom. Being able to share everything that I’ve gleaned from my nearly seven years of teaching with students who range from dipping their toes into the waters of education to deciding that education is definitely their path has been such a rewarding experience.
Working with SITES has taught me a myriad of skills and shown me that I have so much to offer to my students, both elementary and college-aged. I have been able to live out my values, one of them being community, as I experience this well-maintained community of Spanish instructors. With this group that evolves every year to become better and better, I have enjoyed so much workshopping and brainstorming as well as creating and implementing some amazing plans and materials in order to get our students to interact with the language confidently. Furthermore, it seems that as the program has grown and matured, I have done the same; I feel more confident in how I can use my teaching experiences to help student teachers grow. Of course, in teaching, I learn that I still have so much to learn, but knowing that I get to do it alongside the people in this program makes me smile as I remember that we will figure it out together.
I am sure that I would not be where I am as a professional or as a person without the involvement of the SITES program. Collaborating with Kim Faber has helped me to trust the process, to be ever curious and open-minded, and to always strive to improve myself. I hope to instill these values in all students who I encounter.
If you are curious about the Oberlin College SITES program, please feel free to visit their website at www.oberlinsites.org.