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September 26th marks the start of National Teach Spanish Week, a celebration of Spanish teachers sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), which also serves to raise awareness of the importance of Spanish in schools and to recruit teachers.
I want to celebrate this week by remembering my first Spanish teacher, Sister Judith Murphy at Saint Scholastica High School in Chicago. In the mid 1970s, long before the term HL learner existed, Sister Judith understood that I was different from other students and laid out a specialized course of study for me. I can still recall that very first day of high school when she pulled me aside and told me that I would not spend my freshman year conjugating verbs in Spanish 1, or even Spanish 2. Instead, she would work with me to develop my reading and writing skills so that I could take advanced culture and literature courses during my sophomore and junior years. Long before a pedagogy of HL teaching existed, Sister Judith Murphy already knew what to do: she saw me for who I was, embraced my strengths, and tended to my needs with “cariño” and "respeto".
My route to becoming a Spanish teacher was long and circuitous and included detours such as a Math and Computer Science major at Loyola University of Chicago with a minor in Italian and French, followed by a Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Eventually, I became a professor at California State University, Long Beach, where I worked for thirty years. It was there, as I taught linguistics to hundreds of students such as myself – immigrant children who straddle two languages and cultures – that I found my way to teaching Spanish to bilingual Latinos and came to understand the transformative power of HL teachers.
Sister Judith Murphy embodies that power, as described by Professor Anna Mendoza in her blog:
Empowering teachers is necessary for empowering students. Teachers must understand and transform the possibilities inside and outside the classroom as active agents, in order to lead students to do the same.
I invite you all to celebrate this week by thanking a transformational language teacher – of Spanish or any language – that made you who you are today.
And let us know how this teacher empowered you by responding to this blog.