Have you ever found that your work as a Spanish teacher is sometimes misunderstood by your professional community? Teaching Spanish may be your passion and your life’s work, but the reality is, most members of a school’s faculty and administration are unlikely to understand exactly what your school day looks like, feels like and sounds like.
Spanish teachers are often in a unique position. Unless you teach in a school that supports immersion learning in all subject areas, most of your colleagues teach in the mainstream language of English. You, of course, spend all of your professional time engrossed in the beautiful language of Spanish. And while most of your colleagues probably remember what it’s like to be in a math class or an English class, not everybody studied Spanish in school; therefore, not everyone knows what is supposed to happen in a Spanish class. These complexities very nearly guarantee that, at times, you may have trouble finding a way to connect with others, others who do not feel a connection to Spanish themselves.
Because teaching Spanish suggests a fundamental difference in communication that can impact all of your professional relationships, you may experience a frustrating sense of disconnect even while you’re doing your best to cultivate a community of learning. Some Spanish teachers are alone in their departments, or even alone in their school districts, while others are compromised by reduced funding and limited resources. The distance between these individuals and their leadership teams might feel especially long due to these circumstances. So how do you handle having to speak with your administrators about a request or a difficult situation if you don’t feel they really understand your work?
Here are some general ideas to keep in mind as you make a plan to approach your administrators with a question, a request or a concern. Some tips apply better to certain situations, and you will know best what works for you and your administrators.
How to Approach Your School Administrators with a Question, a Request or a Concern
• Develop an understanding of your school culture as well as that of your school district.
For example, some teachers think it is acceptable to talk politics in the classroom, while others avoid politics altogether, but what about in Spanish class where issues around culture and identity come up all the time? Sometimes, taking a stand on a complex or volatile issue might guarantee a discussion with your administrator. Learn more about your school community before taking sides so to head off any difficult exchanges with students and by extension, their families. Admittedly, this process is definitely easier said than done.
So how do you learn more about your role as a Spanish teacher and what is deemed appropriate for a Spanish classroom? Speaking directly with your department head or a trusted colleague in another department might be helpful. As well, consider connecting with someone who has been with the school for a few years, like a librarian, to learn about the history of your school’s Spanish classes.
When you do find yourself talking with your administrator, rely on facts and documented events and situations when making your observations about your role or the situation at hand; vague intuitions and dubious claims are less likely to make a positive impression.
• Make an appointment.
By making an appointment, you are sending your administrator a message that you and your concern are important and worthy of his or her time. This message is not one you want to be sending to the administrator very often, but any discussions about money, like funding for a conference, a pay raise or questions around resources, definitely warrant a scheduled meeting. Drop-ins and casual mentions usually minimize a concern, but these techniques can also be used strategically.
If all you want to do is refer to a suggestion or drop an idea into someone’s head, these are great ways to keep things light. Perhaps following up with a scheduled meeting can work well in these instances, and you can introduce your topic with an easy memory-jogger: “Remember when I said something to you about new textbooks in the lunch line last week? Well, I gave it some more thought, and I realized…”
• Express two stars and a wish, or say something positive before saying something negative.
Yet again, due to scheduling constraints, you find yourself teaching Spanish III to a class containing several students who should be in Spanish II. Try to acknowledge the hard work around scheduling before describing your difficulty. Critical comments and negative feelings are better received if your listener hears you discussing the situation in a practical way that acknowledges all sides of the situation.Keeping a positive attitude even while talking about a negative situation actually invites productive conversation and active listening. And phrasing your complaint as a wish, a request for advice, or even as an outright plea for help tells your administrator you are not demanding special treatment; simply, you need some assistance.
• Be prepared.
Take plenty of time before your meeting with your administrator to prepare some notes or to practice speaking your concern out loud. If you plan to ask to take your students on a field trip, explain the educational worth of this event in clear terms. Be explicit about what the field trip makes possible that is impossible to do within the four walls of your classroom.You may have to explain what you do as a Spanish teacher in very specific ways, especially if your administrator does not have an educational background in modern languages, so prepare a brief description of your teaching style and approach to lesson planning if these details are relevant to your concern.
As well, expressing pride in your work and your students can show your administrator that you know your own worth and the worth of teaching Spanish, but take care not to overstep; there’s a fine line between healthy self-confidence and accidental arrogance.
• Be patient.
Understand that change takes time, especially significant institutional change, and no single administrator can work miracles. No matter what subject they teach, many teachers who request additional funding are often met with disappointment. The reasons behind these responses are usually legitimate, like budget constraints and competing programming needs, but it can be hard not to feel overlooked when the English department goes to the theater every spring while the Spanish classes must make do with classroom fiestas.
Find a community of Spanish teachers with whom you can share your challenges and your successes, and look to your students for inspiration.
So, as you can see, meetings with administrators do not have to be anxiety-provoking, not even when the discussion covers anxiety-provoking topics. A little bit of preparation often makes for a more satisfying outcome, especially when discussing complex issues unique to Spanish teachers. Take pride in the fact that Spanish teachers are some of the hardest workers in schools out there today, and feel confident advocating for yourself and for your students.