Margarita Boyatzi Dempsey
2014 Hall of Fame Nominee
Smithfield High School
2014 Finalist from NECTFL
Teaching a foreign language is the best job in the world. I have been fortunate enough to have been teaching foreign languages for over thirty years. There is no other discipline where students can so easily demonstrate what they have learned and the progress they have made from September to June. Students learn at different speeds but they ALL learn. It is a gift to witness their successes. And I have learned along with them. I do not teach the same way I did when I started my career. My classroom has changed from teacher-centered to student-centered. Now my students move at their own pace, work independently or in groups, use technology and learn vocabulary and grammar in context. I ask my students to present tasks, to interact with other students and to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning. I am more aware of using checks for understanding to inform my planning and classroom practices. I know, and my students know, what the end product will be and what the essential questions are when we begin a unit. I can then scaffold activities and help students make the connections in order to be successful. Culture is integrated in everything we do, whether it’s part of the vocabulary theme or grammar point or a YouTube clip. Making students aware and therefore more tolerant and accepting of other cultures is one of the most important things I do. Thanks to technology students can see, hear and read about people throughout the world and what is happening this very minute. Technology allows my students to write blogs, make videos and games, plan a Facebook page and create short stories. They use technology to research and present projects and also to listen to music or news broadcasts. It opens the world to them.
Part of my responsibility is to make our community aware of the importance of learning a second language and that is a constant struggle. I continually remind parents and administration of the connection between foreign language study and improved literacy skills. I also keep our activities and accomplishments in the public eye. We have a very successful FLITES (French Language in the Elementary Schools) program. FLITES is a voluntary after school program where my advanced French students teach fourth graders basic French dialogue. I use many drama techniques in my class and I have my French V and Spanish V classes present a short play which they have written at our school’s Evening of the Arts. I have also organized trips abroad to Canada, Spain and France. All of these activities keep our program exciting and offer unique experiences for our students. It is a wonderful way for students to integrate what they have learned into the real world. It doesn’t get much better than that! I am very proud to be a French and Spanish teacher.