Ask Away: 5 Questions for an Illinois Spanish Educator
We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Leah Groat—a Hendrix College alumna currently teaching Spanish II and AP at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
1. What inspired you to become a language educator? Was there a specific moment when you knew, or did your motivation change over time?
Both of my parents were teachers. My mom taught Spanish & French and my dad taught math. I was always around education and I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I wasn’t sure what subject I wanted to teach. In college, I was a kinesiology major and enjoyed going to class and playing games/sports all day.
With the plan to be a Spanish minor, I thought studying abroad would be fun. But, once I got to Madrid I knew that I had to double major and get my certification to teach Spanish. Being immersed in the culture and the language, I totally fell in love!
Now that I’m able to pass that passion along to my students, especially in AP Spanish Language & Culture, it’s such a rewarding experience and I couldn’t imagine teaching another subject!
2. What did you do as a student of Spanish to prepare yourself for this role?
Throughout high school I took Spanish classes and took accelerated/honors courses when available. My senior year I took AP Spanish Language & Culture and scored well on the test.
My plan was to be a Spanish minor in college. I took my first class at Hendrix and for about a week I had no idea what was going on! My professor, Dr. Vilahomat, was Cuban and I had never spoken to someone with a Cuban accent; I was completely lost! However, once I got used it, I took every course Dr. Vilahomat taught!
Before my senior year I studied abroad in Madrid where I was totally forced to use my Spanish to survive. Additionally, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot of Spanish-speaking countries (Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, and Cuba) to continue to improve my language skills and to learn about the different Hispanic cultures.
3. What’s the best thing about being a language teacher? Any surprises?
My favorite thing is when my students are able to express themselves comfortably in Spanish.
This happens mostly at the AP level, and the things my kids are able to talk about by the end of the year are incredible! I especially love when they get to the point of being able to joke around in Spanish; to me that’s when they’re truly becoming “fluent” and it’s so much fun to experience!
With the younger levels, it’s awesome when they come back from trips to Mexico or other places, and they talk about how they were able to help their parents communicate with people at the hotel, restaurants, etc. They’re always so proud of themselves (as they should be!) and it’s some of their first real-world connections to language learning.
4. What are some language and cultural activities you’ve done outside the traditional classroom with your students?
I take my students to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago for their Día de los Muertos exhibit in November. It’s in Pilsen, the Mexican neighborhood of Chicago, so they get to see the murals in the neighborhood, the exhibit at the museum, visit a panadería, and have a traditional Mexican lunch. It’s an awesome experience!
I also take my Spanish II students to our local Mexican grocery store and ice cream store during our food unit.
They get to explore and find different ingredients in the grocery store and sample different ice cream flavors. I like for them to see the different cultures represented in our small town, and they always say that it’s one of their favorite things they do during the year!
5. Do you have a favorite language learning moment from traveling abroad with your students?
Last spring break we took a group of students to Costa Rica. One of our activities was a cultural exchange with local students.
Our kids played volleyball, danced, made s’mores, and hung out with the local kids. It was a relaxed environment in which they could speak Spanish, and at the end of the night they didn’t want to leave!
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