Julia Thomas, OFLA Early Language Learning Chair
Elementary Spanish Teacher, Oberlin City Schools
Hola. My name is Julia Thomas, and I am an elementary Spanish teacher at Oberlin City Schools. As I began this journey as a chair of the Early Language Learning Committee, I knew that there would be so many opportunities to glean and share good advice. I have some amazing educators in my circle, whether they are teachers of a world language or not, and they impart so much wisdom that I know I must not keep to myself; therefore, for my first Cardinal article, I’d like to share some suggestions given for any early language teacher from my trusted friend, mentor, and OFLA member, Maria Paulina Velez-Girard, and expand on how I’ve implemented her advice so far this year.
First, “Smile! Make a good first impression. For some students, it will be their first exposure to a foreign language and will carry as their first impression of that language.” For me, smiling usually comes naturally. I realize that my personality shines through to students through the smiles that we share every class; furthermore, as I am teaching via Zoom, I understand that it is even more important to be friendly and joyful. As I thought through this piece of advice, it became clear to me that I am entrusted with some students’ very first language learning experience. Though it is not always easy, it is of utmost importance to show students that I love them and that I love the language that I teach. I let my passion be infectious, and students have been catching on.
Speaking of passion, Velez-Girard’s next bit of advice is: “Be silly; be funny; move around the class. This improves students’ attention to you as they need to visually follow you singing and playing in the target language.” I sing constantly. I listen to songs and make them my own, playing with the rhythms and adding in words that rhyme or are compatible with the tune, and students love to repeat and sing along.
Finally, the last and most important point: “Interact, talk and play with the students. Make a personal connection first; academic talk should come once you have established a good teacher-student connection. We are re-creating a new academic world, where we need to ensure that each student’s personal and positive uniqueness remains and is strengthened.”
There will never be too much community building done in my classroom. Students needed to know that they are cared for and that they are being invested in from day one. As I got to know kindergarten students and reconnected with 1st-5th grade students, we played games that incorporated their interests, the Ohio world language and culture standards, and the Ohio social-emotional standards.
In conclusion, the advice of Maria is essential to making my classroom thrive, especially in this online environment. What is working for you? How do you show you love the language you teach and the students that you teach?