2023 Hall of Fame Nominee
2023 Finalist from CSCTFL
Language learning has proven to be a tool that made what I thought to be a large world, smaller. In the exploration of language, I have been afforded the ability of interacting on many levels with people with whom I did not previously have shared experiences. Having Spanish as a second language became a common denominator that bridged the worlds of my Spanish-speaking counterparts and myself. My world was one growing up in a single-parent African American home with a mother of 11 children. Our household was one in which my mother’s struggles in raising 8 children alone, after losing 3 to a house fire, did not involve ensuring that we acquired any language other than English. I was fortunate to have the Spanish language placed in my life at various phases between living in a southern town, to moving to the state of Kansas. My high school Spanish teacher sparked my educational future when she told me that she knew that I would become either a translator or a teacher. I fulfilled her prophesy and began translating for a local sheriff’s department while working as a Drill Sergeant in a Boot Camp Prison. This post was the direct catalyst for me becoming a teacher after developing a course for this sheriff’s department to help police officers negotiate traffic stops with Spanish-speakers. Learning Spanish allowed me to live among those whose cultures I have integrated into my own. As a language teacher I am able to share with my students the culture of these people, who live in countries from the Antilles to the Andes. I help my students reach beyond the stereotypes of language learning by providing insight beyond verb conjugations and grammar rules. I utilize my own heritage to paint the picture of how people of African descent came to speak the mother tongue of Shakira, Selma Hayek and members of the cast of The Heights. As a language teacher I have made it my personal mission to give students an authentic and unique experience of language learning. During a school year I am able to introduce authentic cultural information from many perspectives. I realize that my own language learning had barriers similar to those of my students. They also do not have the opportunity to have authentic language exposure. I have helped break those barriers in instances like, during the pandemic, I provided authentic cultural experiences by broadcasting my classes with native speakers, via ZOOM. With students at home I traveled to businesses and restaurants to interview owners, who were from Spanish-speaking countries. Students received live video tours and participated in interviews with the owners of these businesses. Currently I provide students with authentic experiences by bringing native speakers to speak to classes, giving them perspective in the benefits of acquiring a second language. I am pleased that some of these native speakers are my former students. This connection brings full circle their current experience with what they can expect in the future.