Moments of Fulfillment Do Come in Teaching, Thank God

I just have to tell somebody what happened yesterday.  I was pushing my cart through Wal-mart, turned the corner and saw two of my students from regular Spanish 3 this year coming toward me.

"Regular" Spanish 3 means the two 40-student classes I had this year that were comprised of students who did not want to enroll in Pre-AP Spanish 3 because, in general, they were only getting a third year of Spanish 3 for college and really had no personal passion for learning it, as many of them frequently informed me loudly throughout the year.

I pushed those classes hard all year, basically at 95% of the level that I pushed my two Pre-AP Spanish 3 classes.  They read a page of Spanish every day, had at least a basic conversation in Spanish about the "Question of the Day," learned a new set of complicated vocab phrases, heard me tell a story, answered questions in Spanish about the story, and went through page after page of grammar worksheets on Preterit, Imperfect, Preterit versus Imperfect, Subjunctive, Future, Conditional, Present Perfect, and Past Perfect.  (That was in the fall.  In the Spring Semester, they went through every single grammar topic again.)

I grilled and drilled those classes, and yes I did have some major whining at times.  In fact, one of the students I ran into yesterday was hands-down my Most Vocal in letting me know she did not like the class, did not want to learn Spanish, was only taking it for college, wasn't learning anything because she didn't feel she was good at it, etc.  Pretty much every day she played on her phone as much as she could before I'd insist she participate, which only worked occasionally, and usually if I did get her to put up her phone, she would put her head down on her desk.  Lots of sighing and eye rolling from this one, too.  (Now let me also say that personally, I have absolutely nothing against this girl, and understand that when you don't like a class's subject matter or workload, you just don't.  And she did let me know a few times her attitude was nothing personal against me as well.)

The other girl was a good student this past year, but also not necessarily the eagerest beaver in love-love-loving Spanish class.  Neither of the two girls loved Spanish 3 enough this past year to continue on to Spanish 4 or AP, let's put it that way.

Okay, so the two of them spotted me in Wal-mart, and immediately brightened and made a bee-line to talk to me.

"We just got back from Nicaragua," they told me.  (I remembered the Vocal Girl telling me several times in class that she was going to Nicaragua for a mission trip or community service type thing in the summer, and she would usually add, "And nothing I'm learning in this class will help me communicate there."  This seemed to be her opinion because my vocab phrases are too "weird" and not "normal speech."  I get that a few times a semester in class, actually.  "When are we ever going to need to say this???"  I tell them, the reason you're learning Le enseñó a saltar con el Pogo Stick all as one phrase, is so you can learn le enseñó a; I just need the Pogo Stick so you'll remember the other part.)

"Oh, Nicaragua--you already went and came back?" I asked, cringing a little waiting for Vocal Girl to let me have it about how little she understood or was able to communicate.

"Yeah, and I spoke way more Spanish than I expected," Vocal Girl told me.

I could hardly believe my ears.  "Did you understand them, too?"

"Yeah.  I would understand a lot for awhile, and then all of a sudden someone would talk way too fast."

"I was pretty much fluent by the end of the week," the other girl chimed in.  "I was conjugating verbs in my head at night in bed, and they all made sense.  And then the next day, I would use them on people, and they understood me, and I was like, 'YES!'"

Vocal Girl had a lot more to tell me, too.  "At night, when we would get back to the Quinta, I'd still be speaking Spanish.  Then I would go, 'Oh, I guess we can speak English now.'"

The other girl said that all the verb conjugating that was so hard and didn't make sense in class, suddenly made total sense to her.  "And I don't know why!"

I was beaming by then.  "Because you're using it in real life.  I wish I could take the whole class to a Spanish-speaking country for a week, because then they would really get it."

So they held me there for a few more minutes, telling me all about how well they did in Spanish in Nicaragua, until I told them for the third or fourth time how proud I was of them and how they'd better come by my room next year to say hi.  They promised they would, I wished them a great summer, and we parted ways to finish shopping.

And I still have this huge grin on my face.

Lesson learned?  NEVER give up, on any student, ever.  Never give up teaching the best I can, every day, knowing that even when it looks like a total waste of time, it isn't.  I'm just telling you that if THAT kid, that particular Vocal Girl, learned usable Spanish and felt proud of herself in a real-world scenario, then all my hard-fought teaching was worth it because it DID accomplish something.


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