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An Open Letter to That Parent

Dear that parent,

Yes, you, the one over in the corner talking in hushed whispers, and you, the one starting comments on Facebook, I’m writing this letter to you.

As you type away behind the anonymity of your computer screen or huddle in the bleachers bashing me, my grading policies, and my decisions, I’m sitting here at 5:00 on a Friday afternoon grading papers, organizing art supplies (which I purchased with my own money), and counting money from fundraisers for that dance with the stupid theme. Is this how I dreamed of spending my evenings, weekends, late nights, or early mornings?   I can safely assure you that it most certainly is not. But yet, here I sit in my room long past when the automatic lights in the hallway go off until my car is the only one left in the parking lot.

Why do I do it? You have no idea how many times I’ve asked myself that very question. When I’ve been at school over 15 hours and am still sitting at a basketball game waiting until you pick up your child, I ask myself.  When I’m at school on Saturday to make copies and decorate for homecoming, I ask myself. When I’m busting my butt to fundraise for my homeroom class’s senior dinner knowing that I’m going to have to come up with the outstanding balance myself, I ask myself.   When I’m spending my “free time” organizing cheerleading tryouts, I ask myself. When I’m grading quizzes or planning lessons “off the clock” while my friends get to leave their work when 5:00 hits, I ask myself.  When I’m putting aside that $20 a paycheck so I can buy that class set of books for my students, I ask myself.

Then I remember your child. That high school boy that was so excited when he made an A on his quiz that he asked if he could take it home to show his grandmother. Or that girl that is so nervous to try out for cheerleading because she might not make it. The one who never volunteers in class, but always makes excellent grades. The freshman boy who wants to act tough in front of his friends but always holds the door open for me. The sophomore girl who is so desperately in love but needs a gentle reminder that she doesn’t need him to validate herself. The one who tells me how much he enjoys coming to my class everyday. Finally, the one who told me that she was able to tell a customer at her work the total for her groceries in Spanish. That’s why I do it. For your child. And every other of the 90+ children that walk into my carefully decorated room each and every day.

Although you might disagree with my grading system, coaching philosophies, or choice of prom location, I make the very best decisions that I can every single day. You can bet that I’ve thought through all of your concerns and analyzed all the possible outcomes. You can bet that I’ve weighed the pros and cons so much that my husband and mother can repeat them verbatim. You can also bet that I’m not getting paid to do a lot of the things that you take for granted. I donate my time, effort, organizational skills, and money (yes out of my pocket) for your child.

Please just remember that even though you want what’s best for your child, I do too. So, you can continue to bash me on social media, email my bosses, or cuss me at home. I will continue to love your child and make the best decisions that I can for them every day.

–Profe

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Teaching Cultural Topics

One of the most difficult tasks as a teacher is how to best approach controversial and cultural topics.  As a foreign language teacher, I find this challenge very important.  Although grammar is what most people think of when they think of learning another language, it is not the only component.  Another very important aspect of foreign language is studying the cultures and people that use the language.

Here are my top three ideas for teaching controversial and cultural topics.

1.  Be as subjective as possible

When dealing with cultural issues, it is easy to get wrapped up in how “different” cultures can be.  I like to start all classes where we will be discussing cultural topics by setting some expectations.  #1: I am not trying to make you believe anything.  Your beliefs are yours.  #2:  My primary goal is to expose you to another cultural and way of thinking.  Although it is different from yours, that does not make it better or worse.

I find this to be particularly beneficial when discussing religion.  I try to highlight different cultural celebrations throughout the year, and most of these center on the Catholic calendar.  I teach in a predominantly Protestant community, so this is challenging in and of itself.

I try to present religious celebrations as facts.  This is what happens during El día de los muertos or Semana Santa.  I also like to allow students to share how these traditions are similar or different from their celebrations.  Here’s an example of one of the activities that I do for comparing Halloween and El día de los muertos.

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2.  Explore both sides of controversial issues

Another tip for dealing with controversial issues is simply to explore both sides of controversial issues.  In my Spanish III class, we are reading Esperanza by Carol Gaab.  This novel is an amazing true story about an immigrant family from Guatemala.  Clearly immigration is a central theme of the novel, and it’s a hot issue in today’s politics.

As to not unfairly influence students, throughout the novel we’ve been discussing pros and cons to immigration.  To start the novel, I showed the controversial 84 Lumber Super Bowl commercial.  It was relevant and got the students thinking about the heartbreaking journey that many immigrants embark on.  I love the ending, and it fits perfectly with the novel.

Another activity that we completed was this simulation by Jason Noble.  It is set up like a game where you must decide whether to stay in Guatemala or immigrate to the USA legally or illegally.  It was fascinating to see the students make the same decisions faced by the characters in the novel.

Another activity that I plan to do is have students come up with a proposed solution for immigration.  I haven’t exactly worked out the details of this assignment, but the final product will require them to think about immigration from both sides.

3.  Let heritage speakers tell their stories

This is difficult for me because my school is 97% white; however, I have had the privilege of teaching heritage speakers before.  I traveled to another school in our district for half a day last semester.  Although it was terribly exhausting, the best part of it was having heritage speakers in my classes.  I learned so much more from them than I could ever teach them.

If you have heritage speakers, take advantage of it.  Showing a video from some random girl’s quinceañera is alright, but showing the video from a student in the class is so much better.  I had a student bring in her pictures from her quince, and we spent the whole day discussing the tradition.  This student was the expert, and we all learned from her.  Before Halloween, we were discussing scary legends from the Spanish-speaking world.  A student shared with me how her grandmother saw La Llorana.  Talk about bring a scary story to life!

Heritage speakers can bring so much to the classroom.  Allowing them to tell their stories is one of the most beautiful parts of learning another language.

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3 Fictional Characters

 

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I came across this idea on Mis clases locas by the fabulous Allison Weinhold.  I sincerely hope that my blog can be half as helpful as Allison’s blog has been to me.

Do you remember the three fictional characters posts on Twitter and Instagram?  I don’t know if many students participated, but it was really popular among my peers–and my mother’s.  Last semester, I was looking for a review of ser (to be) in Spanish I, and Allison’s post gave me a great idea.

For this project, students had to create a collage of the three fictional characters that they felt best described their personality.  I said it could any character (cartoon, TV, movie, book, or whatever).  They uploaded the collage of their characters, without their name, to Google classroom.

The next day, students wrote the names of their characters and where they were from on a piece of paper.  Next, they changed the characters’ names to subject pronouns in Spanish (another element of this unit).  Then they wrote positive and negative ser sentences.

Example (my collage is above)

  • Belle–Beauty and the Beast
    • Ella
    • Ella es inteligente.
    • Ella no es perezosa.
  • Marie–The Aristocats
    • Ella
    • Marie es bonita.
    • Marie no es simpática.
  • Katniss–The Hunger Games
    • Ella
    • Katniss es trabajadora.
    • Katniss no es rubia.

Next was by far the most fun part of the activity.  I projected someone’s collage, and students wrote a sentence about each of the characters.  One sentence had to be negative (to practice the placement of “no” in the sentences).  Then they guessed who the collage belonged to.  It was so much fun, and kids were so engaged.  They even wanted to keep doing the activity instead of videoing into the weekend!

Student examples:

Aprendizaje.  This activity was a blast.  It could be done for review of ser or as “a get to know you” activity.  I was shocked at how much I learned about my students from their character selections.  Next time, I will have them include the name of the character and the character’s movie/TV show/book in the collage because some of them had relatively unknown characters.  I will definitely continue doing this activity in Spanish I and might include it as a start of the semester review for II and III.  I also think this activity could be incorporated into other aspects of Spanish.

Do you do something similar?  Would this be a hit with your classes?

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Procedures: Video into the Weekend

For first few posts of Me llamo Profe Hess, I will be describing procedures in my Spanish classes.  When I first began teaching (only 4 years ago), I read tons of blogs explaining the importance of establishing procedures at the beginning of the year or semester.  However, I couldn’t figure out how to accomplish this.  I will be sharing some successful procedures that I use in my Spanish classes.  To see previous entries, click here.

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Videoing into the weekend is something I stole from my high school AP US History teacher, Mrs. Wilson.  After a taxing week taking notes, she set aside the last 20 or so minutes of class on Friday to Video into the Weekend.  Normally, this was watching a documentary about the time period we were discussing.  I’m sure she realized because she is brilliant, but Videoing into the Weekend was something I looked forward to every week.

I adapted this for my Spanish classes, and every Friday we watch a movie or documentary for the last 20 minutes or so.  Let’s be honest–everyone’s brain is fried by Friday at the end of class.  I know that I am ready for the weekend, and the students are too!  So I opt to not fight the fight of squeezing one more thing in before the weekend.  We Video instead.

Before you jump to conclusions about me being one of those foreign language teachers that only shows movies, this is only 20 minutes a week.

Depending on the class, I show either travel documentaries about Spanish-speaking countries or animated movies dubbed in Spanish.  Anthony Bourdain is my favorite travel show.  I do send home this permission form at the beginning of the year for parents to approve.  He’s so funny, and the kids love it.  There is some occasional cursing and dirty jokes, but the usefulness outweighs that in my opinion.

If Anthony Bourdain isn’t an option or I’m not feeling it, I will show an animated movie dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles.  I know this is sometimes frowned upon, but again it’s only 20 minutes.  I like to show movies that the kids have seen, so they know the storyline already.  Finding Nemo, Zootopia, and The Emperor’s New Groove–or whatever Netflix has–are some of my favorites.  If nothing else, the kids are hearing Spanish being spoken by native speakers and seeing the word association.

While I don’t recommend this as an exclusive form of langauge teaching, I think that showing movies has it’s place.  Videoing into the Weekend has evolved in my Spanish III class.  Now on Fridays, we watch an authentic movie from a Spanish-speaking country that goes with the theme of the novel that we’re reading in class.  Look for more posts about Spanish III and novels in the future!

Do you Video into the Weekend? What do you think about it?

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What Do You Teach?

Inevitably, the first question I get when I say that I’m a teacher is Oh, what do you teach? My answer depends on how much—or little—I want to chat with the person. I can say that I’m a high school teacher.  This conversation normally continues on with remarks about how young I look and questions like if I ever get mistaken for a student.

Occasionally I will say that I teach high school Spanish. That brings another curious glance. In rural East Tennessee, speaking Spanish is quite a rarity. If the person seems particularly engaged, I might launch into the story of how I met my husband studying abroad in Chile or a funny anecdote from my class.

However, I know that you’re here because you’re an educator—probably a foreign language teacher—and you care about not only what I teach, but also how I teach it.

For you, I’ll elaborate on what I teach.

I teach high school Spanish I, II, and III. My classes are a mix of all grade levels (9th-12th). We are on a block schedule, so I have students for 85 minutes for half a year. In Tennessee, students are required to complete two semesters of a foreign language.

I teach in a tiny high school in rural Loudon County. It is a PreK through 12th grade school all in one building. There are approximately 220 students in the high school and about 14 high school teachers. Needless to say, I am a foreign language department of one.

Three years ago, I was hired as a student teacher to be the Spanish teacher of my school.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I never had a student teaching experience.  Talk about trial by fire.  I’ve never been one to do things as expected, so the first thing I did was banish all the dated textbooks and workbooks to the supply closet.  From the first moment, I knew that I wanted to make everything that my students used.  Little did I realize what a daunting task that would be.  However, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

I’ve had the creative freedom to pick and choose and design my curriculum, but I haven’t done it completely on my own.  I would be absolutely lost without the amazing Spanish educators that share their amazing brains with the Internet.  (I’m sure there will be a post soon about this).  Through this blog, I hope to give back to the #SpanishTribe community like so many others have done for me.

I’m no spoken word poet like Taylor Mali (seriously—this is my anthem for those bad days), but now you know a little bit about what I teach. The rest of the blog will be exploring the ever-important how of teaching a foreign language. From Teacher of the Year-worthy lessons to major flops, I plan to share it all with you.  I am by no means and expert; however, I’m glad that you’re here to experience the journey with me!