Carol


Como agua para chocolate.

Some Spanish students just amaze me with some of the things they tell me, particularly when it comes to criticism about teaching. Some students are very blunt and opinionated when criticizing teachers. Most often, they don’t tell me what they think about me or my style of teaching, but they will tell me how they changed to my class because they couldn’t understand the other instructor because he or she spoke Spanish too quickly. Sometimes students will tell me that my Spanish class is their favorite class, which makes me a bit uncomfortable. Then, some will even add that my Spanish class has been the best class of their entire college education.

I can honestly say that most of my students are happy to come to class and we often have fun together and laugh a lot during class. However, I don’t feel that I deserve all the compliments that I receive. When I used to teach at Morton College, an instructor who taught in the classroom next to mine commented about all the laughter she heard emanating from classroom. “You must teach a fun class,” she said. “What do you teach?” “Spanish,” I said. She gave me this look of disbelief. Normally, most students dread studying a foreign language and only do so to fulfill the mandatory general education requirements. But most of my students love coming to class! This last semester, many students told me that this was the most Spanish they had ever learned. And they had fun in class.

When I first started teaching Spanish at UIC, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the students. Overall, they were certainly a notch above community college students because of stricter admissions standards. The main difference was in the attitude toward me as a Spanish teacher by the two school administrations. At the community colleges where I had taught, I was in charge. They would give me a textbook and tell me that I had to cover a certain number of chapters, which I was always did. But I had a lot of freedom in the classroom. Then, I started teaching at UIC, which is a research university, where most of the 100-level Spanish classes were taught by teaching assistants. Since there are hundreds of 100-level classes and the possibility for cheating increases exponentially, the classes are more controlled and there is less freedom for the instructor in the classroom. Plus, the administration wanted all the classes to be equally fair to all the students. So it took me a while to adjust.

I’ve always liked showing movies in Spanish class. At UIC, I once asked if it would be okay to show a movie if we had time and I was told no. So I didnt’ show a movie. I recalled how students liked watching a movie, in Spanish, set in a Spanish-speaking country. I always picked a movie that demonstrated some cultural aspects of Spanish or Latin American society. Anyway, I decided that I would show a movie to my classes the next semester. How did I get around getting permission? Simple! I just didn’t ask for permission to show the movie. If I had asked, I would be told no. And then I wouldn’t be able to show a movie because I was ordered not to. So I just showed it. If anyone of my superiors would have told me anything, I would have said, “But no one told me that I couldn’t show a movie.” Of course, none of my students ever mentioned watching movies in Spanish class.

So, one day at UIC, one of my students tells me that I’m a very good Spanish teacher. I said, “Muchas gracias” and left it at that because I don’t take compliments very well. She was a good student who always paid attention in class and always did the homework and participated in class. Another day, she told me that her friend was also in the same Spanish 103 class as her, but in a different section. Her friend wasn’t happy with her Spanish instructor. A couple of weeks later, she told me how her friend had transferred to UIC from Daley College and how her Spanish instructor at Daley College was so much better than the one she presently had at UIC. She just went on and on about how her friend had learned so much Spanish at Daley College and how her instructor was so enthuisastic and always answered all her questions. I have to admit that I got very bit uncomfortable by all this talk. I wondered who this super Spanish instructor was. I was also afraid that my students would be disappointed to have to settle for me as their Spanish teacher instead of having that teaching wonder from Daley College. One day, I’m leaving Lincoln Hall where I teach Spanish 103. The student who always talked about her friend at Daley College is exiting alongside me. Well, who do see on our way out? Her friend. “Carol!” my student shouts to her. Carol and I look at each other and we immediately recognize each other. I used to teach at Daley College and Carol was my student back then. The Spanish instructor she was talking about was me!

Let’s all go to class


Morton College

That sounds like a very good idea, in theory anyway. The first day of the semester, I always give The Speech about how to excel in my Spanish class. Number One on the list is coming to class each and every day. Why? Well, class, you should come to class because attendance is 15% of your overall grade, I like seeing my students in class, and if you come to class, you might actually learn something. Most students do come to class just because it’s required. Others, however, think attendance should be optional and nothing I say will persuade them to come to class more frequently.

A few years back, a student enrolled in my class who took skipping class to a new level. He showed up the first day of class and then I didn’t see him again for two weeks. I couldn’t figure out why he would miss so many classes. One day, as I was reading the university newspaper, I noticed a guest opinion piece in the editorial section titled, “Let’s all go to class,” in which the author stresses the importance of attending class. In fact, he keeps harping on it even though he missed a lot of classes the previous semester to sleep, play video games, and almost finish writing late papers for his English class. In principle, I agreed with the idea that all students should attend class, but something about this piece made me suspicious. The author was named Patrick. So I immediately remembered him. That’s one thing you should know about me. I don’t often remember names unless your name is David, Catherine, Adam, Yolanda, Patrick, Poindexter, or Allouissius. So I suddenly realized that the author Patrick was the student whom I had only seen on the first day of class and then never again. About two weeks later, he showed up to class again and I asked him if he was the author of the guest opinion. He blushed and admitted that he was, in fact, the author. I asked him if he had ever considered following his own advice. He looked at me as if it had never occured to him! I didn’t see him in class again for another two weeks. His attendance the rest of the semester was very sporadic and somehow he managed to pass the course!

Let's all go to class! Come on! At least once in a while.

Estudiantes


Morton College Spanish Class

The other day, one of my Spanish students asked me if he could be my friend on Facebook.com. Of course, I said yes. And we are now friends on Facebook. I’ve always gotten along with my Spanish students. That’s because I love my students. But not in the sexual harassment civil lawsuit kind of love. I’ve been teaching college Spanish for about twelve years now, so I remember a lot of students from over the years. Some students kept in touch with me for a while after taking my class and then eventually disappeared from my life. Other students occasionally run into me by chance. Some I will never forget.

Elwood Chipchase, Morton College, Cicero, Illinois

I remember Elwood Chipchase and his wife Grace took Spanish 101 and 102 with me at Morton College. He was a minister in Cicero, Illinois, and his congregation was mostly Mexican. He was seriously studying Spanish so could better communicate with his parishioners. Both he and his wife were the students most dedicated to learning Spanish. At first, he didn’t tell me that he was a minister or why he was learning Spanish. One day he asked me why when he asked Mexicans about their mother they kind of paused before answering. Sometimes they gave him a pained look, as if they were offended. I asked Elwood how he asked them. He would greet them, ask them how they were, and how their spouse was in Spanish. Then he would ask about their mother, “¿Y tu madre?” I thought about it a while. Why would they hesitate to respond? Elwood’s Spanish was clear enough to understand. Then it dawned on me. But I felt uncomfortable explaining my theory to him since he was a minister. The problem is that all Mexicans refer to their mother as mamá or mami. They only time they use madre is when they swear at someone, as in, “Chinga tu madre.” Well, he was grateful for my explanation and said he would change his choice of words. The next week he reported that everyone responded more warmly to his inquiries.

¿Qué dice de mi mamá?

Teaching college Spanish


Morton College, Cicero, Illinois

Well, after thinking about the first entry for the College Spanish category for a long time, I guess I should tell you a little about myself. I have been teaching college Spanish since 1995 and I still haven’t decided if I would like to do this for a living. Don’t get me wrong. I truly enjoy teaching Spanish. In fact, I have taught at Morton College in Cicero, Illinois, Richard J. Daley College in Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, and now, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I could have taught at many other institutions, but they usually offered me Spanish classes to teach well after I already had a full-teaching schedule.

I enjoy interacting with the students and I chose to teach college-level Spanish because I would rather deal with adults who take responsibility for their own actions. What I enjoy most about teaching college students is that I often find myself learning just as much, if not more, as the students. Some Spanish grammar was never clear to me until I had to explain it to a class of baffled students who had so many questions about the grammar lesson before us. Once I figure out a way to explain a grammar point, it becomes clearer to me. Occasionally, not all students will understand my explanation, but at least one student in class who did will explain in his or her own words to the other students, usually quite successfully. Well, in some roundabout way I managed to teach the lesson, and I, too, learned something about Spanish and teaching.