The Love of Languages Runs in the Family

Spanish Teachers and Sisters

Tricia Becker, Spanish Teacher
Lakota Local School District

Professional development at a Labor Day picnic?!? No way!! Well…maybe…if it is you and your sister, bouncing ideas back and forth about recent activities that worked well in your Spanish classroom, or discussing how to best meet the emotional needs of teenagers while maintaining  high expectations for student achievement. This is a normal occurrence between myself, Tricia Becker, and my sister Laura Martinez, two Cincinnati Spanish teachers. I am currently teaching Spanish at Lakota West High School and Laura is the foreign language department chair and Spanish teacher at Turpin High School.  This is our story and reflection on our love for ALL students in the World Language classroom. We attended the OFLA conference last year together, as well as other local conferences, and plan to attend again in 2020. When we are together, we always find time for family and fun, but we mix professional collaboration into family events, giving us the opportunity to grow as teachers, even outside of school walls.

Throughout our high school years, Laura and I were fortunate enough to have a single Spanish teacher whom we credit with giving us what I like to call “the bug”.  “The bug” is when you find yourself getting hooked by the language. You start to become curious about how to say everything you are saying or thinking in your first language, now in your new language. You begin to dream in your second language and fantasize about travel experiences in your future, where you will be able to use the language in a real world setting.  You simply can’t stop obsessing over it. Our teacher’s name was Bea Cook. Yes, she demonstrated a love and passion for the language, but more so, she changed the world by demonstrating a love for ALL students. Señora Cook showed us that language learning is available to ALL students; the high and low achieving students, the shy and the outgoing students, the easy to teach and those that need patience and time to learn, the emotionally unstable and those that seem to have it all together. All races, genders and personalities were welcomed and embraced in her classroom.  Relationships built on trust, compassion and understanding allowed for growth in her students because she believed in them. This is the passion that drives me and Laura as we embrace the challenges and accomplishments of our teaching careers. We know that most of our students will not pursue the language as a part of their career, but they will absolutely remember how we made them feel while a part of our classroom.

The following is a brief interview between myself and Laura into the thoughts and insights of how to make languages available to all students and how to enjoy your teaching career despite the struggles and stressors that come along with it.  We hope you enjoy and can take away some practical applications for your classroom:

Tricia:Laura is in her 9th year teaching Spanish 3 and 5 AP and is the World Languages Department Chair at Turpin High School.  Her Spanish proficiency is out of this world as it happens that she fell in love on a study abroad and married a Spaniard.  They are raising their two daughters in a bilingual house and travel to Spain frequently to visit his family. While I am the older sister, I am newer to the teaching profession, and look up to the wisdom and experience that Laura shares willingly and with joy.  Many times I have come to her for sound advice, and she always is a voice of reason. What I love most about our professional interactions is that almost a decade into her career, she keeps her focus on the reason why she got into the profession of teaching, the students. And even better, and rare in this profession where burnout and negativity can be found all around, she still loves the art of teaching.”

Laura, “Tricia and I have always shared a love for the Spanish language and the cultures of the people who speak it. She is the one who led the way, introducing me to Latino music, studying abroad first, taking me to events throughout the city put on by the Hispanic community. Fast forward 15 years, and she continues to lead the way. Even though I have been teaching longer than her, she has blown me away with her excitement, willingness to try new things, and passion for everyone in the school who crosses her path. From virtual reality field trips to 3D printing the Aztec calendar, to becoming a Hope Squad mentor, she has put in 100% every single day and she has breathed new life into my teaching. Tricia is my big sister and continues to lead by example, as she has done our whole lives. I believe we are destined to work in the same school one day – if I could only be that lucky!”

Tricia: “Teaching with passion can be tiring.  What do you do when you just don’t know if you have the “umph” to get up and do again the next day?”

Laura: “In short, do it anyways! I am all about balance, so, yes, there are days when students are doing self-directed activities while I am battling a cold and catching up on grading, but I usually just slap that smile on my face and show my enthusiasm, even if I am tired.”

Tricia: “How do you handle having students in your classroom that just really struggle to learn a new language? Is there a place for them in the FL classroom? Maybe they have a goal of getting into college or earning an honors diploma. How do you help them reach those goals?”

Laura: “I think you have mentioned two different things here. Yes, there are students who are in Spanish just to get the honors diploma or to fulfill a requirement to get to college, but my goal is to change their minds. I think that if I show my love for the language and cultures, hopefully that will rub off on some of them. There are also students who struggle with language acquisition, and that is when solid teaching practices come in. There are a million things that can help: improving rapport, providing extrinsic motivation, reteaching, extra help before school, pairing them up with a peer tutor, helping them to connect personally to the language and cultures, etc.”

Tricia: “What would be a piece of advice you would give to new language teachers or those considering entering the profession?”

Laura: “Try to focus on the big picture. Students will remember your passion and that you cared about them, that you tried to make class enjoyable. Many students, unfortunately, do not continue on with the language, and that is okay. Do not let that keep you from seeing each student as an opportunity to make an impact.

Tricia,  what advice would you give to those experienced teachers that are thinking about leaving the profession or are burnt out because of all of the undesirable aspects of teaching?”

Tricia: “Keep your focus on what got you started in the profession.  Try to revive that passion and drive. Remember that our students are still developing the skills they need to be successful as adults, and modeling the desirable characteristics of kindness, hard-work, empathy, compassion, integrity, etc will have more impact than any lesson or curriculum.  Be interested in what they like and do your best to make your classroom a place where students feel welcomed and want to be!