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K-State Today

March 16, 2012

A group effort: Teaching partners of SVS Spanish program learn Spanish with students

Submitted by Dillon Hayes

Teachers are college graduates. They are professionals in their fields. They possess teachers’ certifications and command respect. But what happens in a classroom where, rather than teaching her students, the teacher learns right alongside them?

Such is the scene in schools using the SVS Spanish program, where instructors who often have little to no exposure to Spanish are called on to guide classes in learning the language. The program, offered by the Kansas State University Division of Continuing Education, provides opportunities for students in schools without certified Spanish instructors to learn Spanish via instructional DVDs and in-class activities.

The instructors involved with the program, called teaching partners, often become students of the Spanish language themselves. Because of the similar skill levels between the students and the teaching partner, the SVS Spanish program can provide a group learning experience.

Susan Boren, a teaching partner at La Plata High School in La Plata, Mo., said she knew only a few Spanish phrases before taking over the program. In her first year as a teaching partner, Boren said she knew just enough to stay ahead of the Spanish I class, but Spanish II was a collaborative effort amongst Boren and her students.

“The students knew that I was a novice, but they didn’t seem to care,” Boren said. “When a new concept was introduced in Spanish II, we worked it out together. That first year, we taught each other.”

Boren said that her students appreciate her honesty regarding her knowledge level, and the unique teacher-student dynamic fosters a sense of encouragement among students who may struggle with the program.

“The students don’t care that I’m not an expert at the language, only that I know enough to get them through their class. When they see me struggle with the pronunciation of a word or unsure about some concept…they don’t feel so bad when they make the same mistakes, and they don’t take my correcting them so personally because they know I’ve struggled with it, too,” Boren said.

Students at Red Lion Christian School in Red Lion, Pa., are learning Spanish through the SVS Spanish program as well, but their instructor is concerned about more than whether they grasp Spanish or not.

Joan Schmuck is the principal at Red Lion Christian School and the teaching partner for the program. Schmuck said that, with the help of the program, she has grown comfortable with both Spanish vocabulary and her role in helping students learn it.

Like Boren, Schmuck said the program’s format led to a collective effort on behalf of herself and her students.

“When a question comes up, we all work together to get an answer,” Schmuck said. “Being a teaching partner is not for someone who has control issues. There have been times when I said, ‘I really don’t know,’ and then we find the answer.”

Though Boren and Schmuck said they will not pursue becoming certified to teach regular Spanish courses, both praised the program for helping them and their students achieve a level of understanding of the Spanish language. Boren said she has enjoyed the program and its enriching qualities.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed learning Spanish,” Boren said. “I like it when I come across something written in Spanish and actually know what it says or can listen to someone speak Spanish and catch some of what is being said. Learning the culture has also been fun for me.

“Now that I am three-and-a-half years in this program, I have much more confidence in my abilities to teach the kids the Spanish language, and hopefully I have made it fun enough that they continue with it in college.”

For more information about the SVS Spanish program, visit www.svsspanish.org.