2017 Hall of Fame Nominee

Darcy Pippins

Norman High School
Norman, OK
2017 Finalist from SWCOLT

I tell my students that I became a Spanish teacher because I got a C in Organic Chemistry. I kind of stumbled into this profession not knowing what I was getting into and not really understanding its value. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I was that student that could memorize vocabulary and conjugate verbs in my head. I understood the verb charts and pronouns, but I couldn’t spontaneously produce the language easily. That first year I literally stayed one page ahead of my students in the textbook. My Spanish to English dictionary was my best friend. I learned so much that first year and continue to acquire language and culture every day from my students (my teachers). It wasn’t until I pushed myself to focus on communicating with my students that I started to fully understand the value of learning and teaching another language. As I began to study language acquisition and learn the ACTFL proficiency levels I realized that I didn’t have to be perfect, nor did my students. We were learning together, each on our own path toward greater proficiency.

Because of my traditional language-learning experience, I felt obligated to teach it differently, finding ways to instill passion for language and developing cultural competence for all students. I want my students to appreciate its value, to be tolerant of other cultures, and to better their lives with the ability to communicate and develop relationships with people worldwide. I want them to become advocates for language-learning. Maybe someday when they’re in a leadership role, they will remember their experience and be a supporter of world languages. I hope that my enthusiasm and passion is contagious among my students.

According to one of my students, “Learning a language is kind of an art, it humbles you. You can’t understand the majority of the world because you’re ignorant to everyone else. Languages open up the opportunity to defeat ignorance, the opportunity to embrace the world.” In a casual conversation in the teacher’s lounge a monolingual colleague said this about the value of learning another language, “I feel like a part of me is incomplete or void. When I walk down the hall and hear other languages I think the people speaking are part of my greater community and yet I don’t understand what they’re saying. They’re required to speak my language but I can’t speak theirs. When a person views themselves as part of the greater global society, you feel inadequate when you only speak one language.”

Eighteen years later, I’ve achieved National Board Certification, presented at the state, regional and national levels, but most importantly I’ve realized that accomplished teachers do not work in isolation. I see how humbling yet energizing it is to be a language teacher. Perhaps in teaching languages, just like learning languages, absolute perfection isn’t possible, nor should it be the goal. The goal or greatest value is the journey itself: the relationships, the cultures explored, the joys shared both in learning and teaching.