Why Teachers of Spanish Matter: Sigma Delta Pi’s 12th Annual S.C. Spanish Teacher of the Year Award

By Mark P. Del Mastro
Founding Director, Sigma Delta Pi’s S.C. Spanish Teacher of the Year
Chair and Professor, Department of Hispanic Studies, College of Charleston

Back in the early 2000s, and after having worked in various ways with many teachers of Spanish across the Palmetto State, I was struck by the lack of an all-inclusive mechanism to recognize those accomplished educators of the Hispanic culture and language who were making noteworthy contributions in our schools and communities.  I therefore started a Lowcountry Spanish Teacher of the Year awards program that included all K-12 schools in the tri-county Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester school districts.  With the immediate success of that local awards program, it was clear that a statewide endeavor was in order, which resulted in the inaugural S.C. Spanish Teacher of the Year Award in the fall of 2004, a project sponsored by The Citadel’s Tau Iota Chapter of Sigma Delta Pi, the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society, when I was the chapter’s faculty adviser.

However, those first few years of the contest, and despite the success, were met with skepticism by some in the community: upon reaching out to the local press for news coverage, I was asked why such a discipline-specific teacher of the year program was relevant and important.  More specifically, the reporter asked “well, why not have a ‘math teacher of the year’ or ‘ELA teacher of the year’ contest?” To which I immediately replied: because the ongoing demand for teachers of Spanish in S.C. and the nationwide demographics related to Hispanics underscore the critical importance of advocating Spanish education in the state to prepare our children for the realities of contemporary US society.  Yet my argument was not immediately convincing.  It took 5 years for the needed acknowledgment of our program: in 2009, Doug Keel of S.C. Public Radio’s “Speaking of Schools” contacted me with interest to publicize our project, and we have enjoyed his and other’s sustained attention every since.

Fast forward to 2016: now a co-sponsored program between the College of Charleston’s and The Citadel’s chapters of Sigma Delta Pi, our S.C. Spanish Teacher of the Year now enjoys its 12th annual contest, and on November 10 we will crown our 12th annual awardee.  But as always, we rely on you to help us emphasize why teachers of Spanish matter: ensure that our outstanding K-12 educators of Spanish are nominated by the September 14, 2016 deadline.  The official, downloadable nomination form and related details are found at www.scspanishteacheroftheyear.org.  Let’s make our 12th annual contest the most successful yet, and thanks to all our K-12 teachers of Spanish in the Palmetto State for preparing our youth for the world that awaits them.


Keeping It Practical, Yet Professional

by Bethany Clark

I recently attended a mentor training program on how to mentor and assist first year teachers. These teachers could be just out of college, ready to start their career, or they could be transferring from a completely different career into teaching. Whatever the situation, first year teachers are going to need some help. What exactly do they need? Pie in the sky? Things that are ideal, but not realistic? No, they need practical, concrete examples for how to better their everyday teaching. Let’s think about how that differs for veteran teachers. Do WE want pie in the sky? Unrealistic expectations? No, we want the same thing – practical ways to help us improve our teaching. And how can that be done? Here are a few simple ways to keep teachers’ interest when conducting professional development workshops and conferences.

  • Keep it simple and get to the point. No teacher wants to spend a full day at a workshop when it could have been completed in two hours. Find speakers who don’t care about “listening to themselves talk.” We get enough of that.
  • Give them something they can walk out and use today. If it takes three separate steps to get to be able to use one tool that may or may not be useful in their classroom, teachers aren’t going to follow through. They don’t have time. If it’s a website and they need to sign up, allow them time to sign up during the conference! Yes, that may take a few extra minutes, but then they already have what they need! Or, if problems arise, they can ask you for help!
  • Think of things you’d enjoy and deliver that same content. If you would be bored to death during your presentation, why would you think your listeners are intrigued? They’re not! Make it something exciting and practical (Think: How to save teachers time grading, contacting parents, disciplining students). All teachers are looking for ways to shorten time at work so they can spend time with their families.
  • Ask for feedback at the end of the workshop. Ask them what they would want to hear about in future conferences. Give them choices. At this point, their brains are fried and they can’t think of anything. Possible choices may include: Canvas (or another technology program they are required to use), Tips for dealing with Classroom Management, Activities that keep students’ interests, etc. Have a written (or online) way to collect this feedback. Verbal feedback will be forgotten.
  • Take into account what feedback they give at the end of your workshop and DO IT for your next workshop. Saying “We ask for feedback from all our teachers,” but never changing anything is not listening. It’s checking off a box to say you “asked for feedback”. Give teachers what they want – it makes them happier and they are more likely to stay in the profession.

Hopefully, these tips can help you the next time you give a presentation. Teachers love new, exciting, and practical ideas that they can incorporate into their classroom immediately. I don’t know of any teacher that doesn’t want to better him or herself each year. If you need help with ideas, ask your colleagues. If they’re not willing to share, ask Google or Pintrest. We always want to improve our practice as much as we can, but we don’t have the time to go searching for ideas on our own. When we are willing to share with one another, we all benefit from it!