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.