Tag Archives: Spanish

The Best Class Ever

Okay, well “The Best” is always a relative term.

But wow. It was pretty cool.

I’m down to three students now in my Conversational Spanish class. Not a good number for doing various pairing or group activities. One of the students is fairly timid and just taking the class for her job (her employer is also paying for the class.)

She left at the break (midpoint of a two-hour class).

Nice lady, but not into it. The two students who were left have a smidgen of “word nerd” about them, they obviously like and want to learn Spanish and are very willing to stretch out of their comfort zone and venture into new language territory.

We worked on talking about “what time is it?” for a bit, because it is our second-to-last class and I feel like that is something really useful for them to know. We were able to go off on a tangent about three different ways to say “time” in Spanish (hora, vez, tiempo) and the specific meanings and scenarios in which one would use each (I LOVE to get into details like this!) It reminded me of teaching French and having my word nerd students ask me amazingly wonderful tangential questions about the roots of certain words, how they relate to English and Spanish and *BLISS*!!! I am in paradise.

So it was just the three of us, and I suggested (I’m sure there was a gleam in my eye) that we do an exercise that one of the ladies had done in class before, where  they choose one of the photos-cut-out-of-a-magazine-and-laminated-onto-a-card cards and make up a character based on the person(s) in the photo.

In class so far we have learned how to talk about what someone’s name is, their age, their family, what activities they like to do and adjectives to describe their personality. We’ve worked on asking people questions to find out this information.

So the last half hour of the class (and the details of the exercise were entirely their idea!) consisted of these two students randomly choosing a picture and then challenging themselves to come up with details about the person, presenting these details orally as they invented them. Conjugating verbs, remembering adjectives, recalling how to phrase things like “she has to” do a certain activity or “she likes to” do something or other.

My whole job was to occasionally correct them (which they were completely open to, it was fantastic!) as well as to provide the occasional word that they were struggling to remember. Also, I would ask questions about the characters they were inventing, to try to extend the game a bit further, when they seemed unable to generate more raw details on their own.

It occurs to me as I write this that most readers would think this was boring as sh*t. I apologize. I know I’m a total language geek, I freely admit it, embrace it, live it. But this was so damn cool you don’t even understand.

If we could have every class like this, and we could meet a couple times a week, they would be fluent so fast. They were just swimming in the words, splashing around in meaning, engaging their imaginations with their visual perception with their understanding.

It was truly magical.

Class Tonight

Tonight, barring unforeseen catastrophes, I’ll be teaching again at a college (granted last time it was as a GTF at a University teaching a credit class, this time it is as some kind of hobbyist instructor teaching a continuing education class at a community college) for the first time since the spring of 2007. (Why? Moved across the continent, had two children in addition to the three I already had, have no Master’s Degree to validate my existence, and various other little excuses…)

The Spanish conversation curriculum I’ll be using is something I developed and have taught twice before, but it was within an even more informal arrangement teaching private church groups. LOTS of fun (and they seemed to enjoy it too! :D), but after the ten weeks were up they also seemed content to move on to other things.

I want to create addicts. I want them to love Spanish, to feel like they are gaining incredibly useful tools, to see that they are acquiring keys to new worlds.

I know, I’m a word nerd. The Geek of Speak. We are few and far between. I should consider myself lucky that I get this chance to stand up in front of a group again and spread the language love.

But you know, there are a lot of ways to get people hooked. It doesn’t have to just be on the language. It could be on the camaraderie, on the entertainment value. It could simply be that people come to feel like they are actually accomplishing something, and want more.

Especially since we don’t have grades or tests, and they won’t get any “credit” on a piece of paper for having completed our class, I have to work especially hard to let them know when they’ve succeeded. I have to make it obvious that what they acquire at the end of a lesson is infinitely more valuable than receiving official approval from an institution of higher learning — when you’re face to face with another human being who happens to speak a different language, you can waggle a piece of paper at them showing that you’ve successfully completed some accredited course, but it’s much more important to be able to actually communicate.

I am obsessed. (Less necessary words were never written.) I need to just calmly prepare, then let it go.  If this is the last time I ever get to teach Spanish, or anything else for that matter, let me just enjoy it, and make it the best class I can for whoever my students happen to be. It doesn’t have to turn into anything else, doesn’t have to make me the area’s go-to, beloved continuing ed instructor.

Just make tonight magic.

Gig Poster


The rock star poster for my upcoming class! (The class itself WILL include accent marks… I’m guessing maybe the poster font can’t handle it or something? Anywho, that’s the only part that bugs me.)

It always gives me a little thrill when my program director makes these up to hang around town. We’re gonna have FUN!

Also, I took Hank (4 years old) with me to pick up my materials from the college yesterday. I got him a honey bun and a soda (BIG special treat for our family) from the vending machines in the building where my classroom is, since he was a real trooper about climbing to the top floor to find the room with me. (He was impressed with the size of it, and found it quite space age when I let him push the buttons that make the movie screen come down out of the ceiling.)

Later on at home, he was talking to a neighbor kid who had come over to play and said something about “when we were at my Mama’s work.” It’s been a long time since one of my kids has used that phrase. Another little thrill.

They are adding up.

Finding my niche

Leave it to me to take a humble little molehill and dream of it growing into an amazing mountain.

I found out yesterday that my molehill did get a little bigger. I’d previously learned that I would be teaching a 3 hour budgeting class at a local DSS office for clients applying for cash assistance. Two classes, actually, one in English and one in Spanish.

Now I’ve learned that we finally made our minimum enrollment on a beginning Spanish conversation class through the continuing education department at the community college that is contracting me to teach the budgeting class. This is the third semester my class has been in the schedule, but the first time there’s been enough interest.

Let the good times roll!

I’ve always wanted to teach, and I’ve struggled for years with the idea of getting my teaching license and working at a high school. Because here’s the thing: I hate grades. I hate red tape, I hate mandatory testing, I hate all that extraneous garbage that wastes valuable time we could be spending working with words.

And with continuing education classes? No grades! No one is forced to take the class for their major or to graduate. There doesn’t have to be any testing at all. Every activity, worksheet, homework assignment, every last little thing we study is simply for the benefit of the student. Does that not sound like an educator’s dream come true?

Now granted, the budgeting classes have a mandatory element to them. All the folks in there are being required by the government to learn some pointers on how to handle money. And really, we can all learn more. Even once you have enough income and know how to manage it perfectly, you can then move on to investment information and things of that nature. There is always more to learn.

I want the class to feel like a seminar where they can gain valuable information to make important changes in their lives that will enable them to achieve their goals. Right out of the gate we are going to list our priorities, our habits and our goals, because you know what? I’ve been in survival mode. I’m not that far from it right this minute. And in that headspace it’s really hard to see the big picture. I want to take them to a safe place for a few minutes where they step back and think, oh yeah, I have choices, which choices am I making right now? What do I want from life? What habits have I picked up that are keeping me from it? What habits can I cultivate that will get me where I want to be?

I have high hopes, I know.

I have higher hopes for the Spanish conversation class. When I taught beginning French at the University of Oregon, almost every student was only in there because they needed two years of a foreign language to get their B.A., and all the Spanish classes were full. Bleh. Only a few students were really into learning the French language, or any foreign language.

But in this continuing ed class? Every student wants to be there for some reason. Hooray!!! I will make them super glad they took the leap. We are going to have fun and we are going to build a solid foundation for fluency in Spanish, and not even have to slog through much grammar to get there! (Unless they want to wallow around in the grammar for a while, because, being a word nerd, I’m all about the wallowing. Love me some delicious words squished between my toes!)

So is this my niche? I can come up with lesson plans, activity ideas, vocabulary lists, for HOURS and never feel like I’ve done a lick of work. In fact I savor such activities as recreation time! Can I rock these classes and get the word out, and become some kind of alternative teacher? Someone who makes the material engaging, relevant, alive? An instructor who draws you in so that you, too, feel like you’re playing, and you don’t even realize you’ve *gasp* learned something?

I know when I’m tutoring (which also involves no grades or tests or any other sorts of torture devices in order to address the subject at hand), I always walk away having been paid by the parent, and I think, wow, I get paid too? Because I LOVE it. I would do it for free, but I also like for my kids to eat, so I’m gonna take the pay and feel like absolutely the luckiest person in the world!

But okay, first things first. Dreams of a continuing ed dynasty of students in love with learning will have to just sit and brew. For now I have to make these assignments I’ve been given sparkle. I’ve got to do all my research. I’ve got to be fully prepared, and then some, to give all my passion and enthusiasm so that it becomes contagious and people are excited about things like managing finances that they had always thought was something hideously awful (guilty!).

Wish me luck.