New Books, New Plan

I was working in my classroom today, looking at my new Spanish novels and checking the new scope and sequence.  I have big plans, so I hope I can get this all pulled together. I cannot be the only teacher with this dream.  We, meaning teachers in my ESU (Educational Service Unit), are making a concerted effort to increase fluency using comprehensible input.

We all start a new school year with high hopes, but sometimes we get discouraged before Christmas. Let’s make a pact not to give up too soon this time.  Fluency is too important, even if we have trouble convincing parents and students of this.  I am lucky that I have the freedom to do what I know is right based on research.  Many teachers are not so lucky, so I do feel blessed.

I promise not to give up this year, no matter how challenging it gets.  My students deserve my best efforts, and I want them to experience that feeling of satisfaction that comes from learning more than they thought they could.


This school year has been different from last year in various ways.  The main thing I have changed is my way of teaching.  I threw out my book and have been concentrating on giving students tons of comprehensible input.  They were a bit scared at first—and so was I, to be honest.  They didn’t know what to expect without a book.

I am feeling much less apprehensive as I practice using a lot more Spanish in class.  I explained the goal to the students (90% or more in Spanish) because it shouldn’t be a secret.  I have had students share their feelings about comprehensible input lately.

One student said speaking Spanish is “becoming second nature” to her.  Another told me he thinks we are meeting the goal of 90% Spanish in class.  He also shared that he is understanding almost everything!  I of course, am thrilled that my students are learning and happy.

I can’t wait to see how much the students learn (and retain) by the end of the year!  Every positive comment from them encourages me more.  For more information about comprehensible input, visit Martina Bex.




I had some time to sit and drink coffee while one of our dogs was having a dental yesterday. Chance ended up minus 13 teeth by the time the morning was over!  He’s recovering well, by the way. 

I was in a tiny town in rural Nebraska at the local gas station.  In spite of that, I was able to use not only English, but Spanish and ASL—American Sign Language!

People often give me weird looks when I say I love languages, but I truly value learning something just because it’s interesting and I can.

I was—and still am—so thrilled that I had the knowledge to communicate in ASL.  So few people in this area study it.  How lonely life must be for that kind, deaf fellow in that tiny town.  His uncle sat with us at the small, round table. He was surprised and happy when I started signing with his nephew.  I was sad that so few people ever tried.  

The next time someone gives you a strange look when you mention an uncommon interest you are passionate about, don’t let it bother you.  Your passion may lead to something wonderful.  Learning for the love of knowledge feels amazing.  Using what you have learned is truly priceless when you can make another feel less alone.


I have been teaching languages for the last sixteen years, and I have seen and heard many weird comments during that time.  I have noticed that many people simply don’t appreciate the work I do.  To be honest, it makes me sad and a bit angry.

I have heard things like, “Speak English!” or “Why can’t everyone learn English?” too many times to count.  Think about it from my perspective if you can.  I am a professional paid to speak my second language—in this case Spanish.  I am paid to teach people as much as I can in the time allotted to me.  I have been trained extensively in the various methods to do just that, literally spending years staying current with research in my field.

When my students encounter me, I need to create the expectation of using the second language.  What that means is when I see students in town or anywhere else outside of my classroom, I like to speak to them in Spanish.  It activates what they already know and expands their minds to be able to learn even more.  They gain confidence when they are successful.

Sit back, be quiet and let me do what I’m trained to do.  It’s not my fault there is no official language for the United States.  It’s not my fault that students are required to take at least one year of Spanish to graduate.  It’s not my fault that it is harder for some students than others.  If you think about it, that could easily apply to math or science, etc.

What any teacher does is build background knowledge for life.  Our job is to combat ignorance.  A little support from the community would be nice.  Tolerance for other cultures wouldn’t hurt either.  You’re never too old to learn!

P. S.  To the community members who are always supportive, thank you so much!  You make the rough days easier.

Good Karma

Breakfast at the hotel gave me and Bela a chance to send out some good karma.  When we got to the breakfast area, there was a lady putting a couple of plates together for family members who did not want to come downstairs.  As I fixed my own plate, the lady (Janice) and I started chatting.  Janice said her family members wanted waffles, but that was too bad since she wasn’t sure how to run the waffle iron.  I showed her, and she got her waffle.  By this time, Bela had emerged from our room and was in the process of fixing her own plate.

Bela and Janice started talking—Bela was “schooling” her about Comic Con and her costume.  Janice asked if Bela could help her carry plates to her room, and off they went.  Before Bela came back, another lady with her grandchild  (I’m guessing….) came for food.  Oddly enough, she wasn’t sure how to manage making waffles.  I smiled because Bela had to show me at another hotel years ago.

Janice wanted to see Bela’s Black Butler Undertaker costume, so they met up in the lobby before we left for the Mid-America Center.  Before we actually left, I spoke to one of the housekeepers who was getting ready to clean rooms.  I greeted her in English, then said, “Buenos dias?”  She answered in Spanish, so I explained in Spanish that we needed more towels and shampoo and the trash taken out.  I didn’t want the beds made or anything else done.  She said she would pass that along to her fellow housekeeper who was assigned our room.  The hotel clerk passed us in the hall while we were chatting and commented, “That is so cool.”  I was thrilled to be able to use my language skills.

Imagine my surprise when I was able to use ASL as well on this trip!  More about that later.

Black Butler Undertaker and Stiock the Vast (Ysabela and George)

Black Butler Undertaker and Stiock the Vast (Ysabela and George)

Adult Students

My high school students do not understand why I drive 75 miles to another town on Monday nights for six weeks to teach a Spanish class for adults.  Until they are adults, they may not get it.

I usually teach high school kids who are in the class because they need it to graduate.  Learning is not their main purpose for being there.  Some students really want to learn, but they are few and far between.  Most want to do the minimum work and receive a maximum number grade.

The adults who sign up for class want to be there.  They are intrinsically motivated, so they will pay for the class and show up for it.  These adults come ready to learn.  Some are a bit intimidated by the material, but they are willing to try.  That’s what matters.  We manage to have a lot of fun in class, believe it or not.  I usually bring some candy—Smarties or Hershey’s kisses—and we play games to help learn vocabulary.

Last night, one lady had some sugared fruit for a snack, and our gentleman brought some doughnuts for us.  There’s always coffee and the company is great.  I will be so sad to teach next Monday because it is our last night for the semester.

Learning Time is Any Time

How many fun, learning opportunities have you and your kids missed out on due to work and school schedules?  Are your children interested in things not commonly taught in a  school curriculum?  Do they want to do internships or apprenticeships to learn a trade?  Homeschooling may be the answer for you.

The first step is to check your state’s regulations.  If you like what you see, you can prepare yourself and your child(ren) to take the next step.  You will face challenges and negativity along the way, so be armed with research to back up your position when you take your child(ren) out of school.  Many well-meaning, intelligent people are not educated about the differences between socializing and socialization, just to name one issue.  If you have done your research and feel confident homeschooling is the best option for your family, stand firm.  Some will ask about “gaps” in your child’s education.  One way to make a point is to ask the concerned questioner what s/he remembers from school.  That should take care of that.

Children can learn anywhere.  Sitting around a table or at a desk with peers does not guarantee learning.  The first rule of learning is that the information must be meaningful to the student(s).  Since I teach Spanish, let me use that as an example.  Is it necessary for all students to speak Spanish?  No.  Do I think it is an important skill?  Of course!  Could it become meaningful to a student later?  Absolutely.  Many times schools set requirements that do not fit all students, but it’s done to make sure our students have a well-rounded education.  Fair enough, but all students will not find the information I have to share as important as I do.  They may not ever need to speak Spanish.  According to school requirements, however, they must pass the class if they wish to graduate.  What if a student wants to learn Arabic or French or any other language the school doesn’t offer?  As a homeschooled student, any foreign language could count toward graduation.  Schools are sometimes limited by funding and teachers, but a homeschooled student can find resources online or at a community college to fit interests and life goals.  In Nebraska, there are Lakota-speaking people.  It is even offered at the community college.  For my daughter, this is a meaningful class.  It will also be her third language!  She is already fluent in English and Spanish.  Using her as an example, would sitting in my Spanish class for a year be meaningful?  I don’t think so!

Now picture her as a homeschooled student.  She can learn a third language that is meaningful to her and relevant to where we live.  Most parents and teachers will agree that we want well-rounded, life-long learners.  Put that in plain language: we hope students will want to learn new things forever while having a broad base of information.  If students feel “trapped” in a classroom with peers they do not like, how are we planning to accomplish that goal?  Creativity doesn’t have to be sucked out of learning; it can still be fun.  Some of us have forgotten what it’s like to be creative and have fun while still providing opportunities to learn.  Homeschooling can do that!

Ideas for learning opportunities are everywhere.  Surround yourself with intelligent professionals who can teach you and your child new skills.  An internship of two weeks can teach more than a quarter in a class if the learner is motivated and the knowledge is meaningful.  I have a friend who owns a bakery, another raises goats and chickens.  Either friend could certainly impart information to my child.  Will I give them a chance?  You bet!  If my child shows an interest in something, I will seek a way to provide information!

I am trying to pay attention to my daughter’s passions.  She loves to sing and write songs.  I support that, so I bought her a guitar.  She was invited to a cosmetology school’s open house.  She was interested, so I took a day off to get her there.  Yesterday my daughter danced for an hour just because she wanted to.  If she dances several times a week, that certainly could be called physical education!  Good for her!  That’s the beginning of her homeschool journey.  I can’t wait to see how her passions develop now that she has the freedom to explore.  She is no longer limited by a school schedule.  Learning time for her is any time.

Learning time?

Learning time?

White Skin, Mexican Heart (Preview)

I see my younger daughter’s eyes glaze over as her daddy and I tell one more round of “remember that time in Mexico….” Used to be, she’d chime in with her own recuerdos. Now that she’s a teenager, her memories seem to be pushed back into the closet of her mind, stored like winter clothes no longer needed, but pulled out when the chill comes to the air once again. She is living in America after years in Mexico. I am still living in Mexico, at least in my dreams.

For as long as I can remember, my dream was to live in Mexico. There was never a solid reason why; it was just something I had in my heart and guarded until the right time. When I met my husband, things suddenly made sense. He took me to visit there, and I was in love—with him and Mexico. My mom jokingly told me I was dropped by gypsies, and that’s where my urge to travel came from.

My husband, mi media naranja, and I relive Mexico like it was yesterday, for it feels that way. We lived through hard times, no doubt, but we have made it—back on top after years of struggling and separation. And, yes, we do remember vividly all the battles we fought to be together and make a life that matters. As he says, “When the children are gone, what will we have? We have to build our lives, not around them, but as an example to them.” My hombre is a smart one.

I remember when I took our young daughter, Ysabela, to Mexico for the first time. We drove from Virginia to Merida, then on to Seye. To home. My father-in-law came with us to “protect” and smooth the way. I suspected he just wanted to go home and relive his old times with his friends. He did help, especially when we crossed the frontera. Everyone was crammed into a blue Suburban bought for four thousand dollars. We received many funny looks—a gringa with her hija, suegro, seven huge cats and a guard dog bigger than most had ever seen in the pueblos. Amigo was his name, and he was magnificent. Part chow, part German shepherd, he had a cinnamon Chow physique with the black muzzle of the shepherd. In his eyes, I could see an almost-human intelligence. Once we got to the village, he was my guardaespalda. Nobody dared come near me when he was close. One wrong move and I know he would have gone for the throat. Somehow, the malvados knew it too.

I was excited to see Mexico through Ysabela’s eyes. All she knew of Mexico was from our stories. The first day of our new life was full of wonder—for us, especially Ysabela—and for the gente in the village. Apparently we were the first gringas to be there in a long time. They were accustomed to the church missionaries visiting and leaving soon, but we were different. I moved the pets in and secured the house while I watched Bela out the living room window. I lost sight of her, so I went outside. She had been playing in the park across the narrow street. All I could see at first was a mosh pit of Mexican children. I finally caught sight of her in the very center of it all. Girls were touching her hair and looking at her like a doll on the shelf at Wal-Mart. Bela has always had the black hair and eyes of her daddy, but pale skin like me. The first few weeks were difficult for her, I know. You would have never known it just by watching her, though. Full of herself at just seven years old, she expected to be liked and accepted. Eventually she was. She learned Spanish the easy way—she was surrounded by it and consumed by the desire to make herself understood. In three months, the bad kids no longer could insult her and sit back and laugh. She could defend herself quite nicely—or not so nicely. While she learned the language and soaked up the culture, she would tell me some of the kids called her “inglesa.” I told her she’s americana. That’s different. Many of the children were simply curious; others were hostile and envious. In their eyes, Ysabela had it all. She brought toys with her, of course, and everyone wanted in the house to see and report to their mamas. There was much chisme about who we “really” were.

To be continued….

The Chicken Chick