I fell in love with Spanish during my junior year in college. Spanish class had always been my favorite, but it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Spain—and immersed myself in the people, culture, and beautiful language—that I knew for sure what I wanted to do with my life. When I was offered my first job as an elementary Spanish foreign language teacher, I was over the moon.
Connecting with my students is the easy part.
Most days, I feel like a celebrity. My students are always excited to see me. I’m greeted with choruses of “Señorita! Señorita!” every time I walk into the building. They’re eager and enthusiastic about learning the language. They love singing songs, playing games, and they have so much energy! I even had one student who was so excited to show me a cereal box printed in Spanish, which he had carefully carried all the way back from his vacation in Mexico. It was so rewarding to see how a seed of curiosity had been planted and was flourishing in my class.
But, professionally, something was missing.
It’s easy to see the impact my teaching has on my students, and that’s what keeps me going—even on the tough days. But since I’m the only foreign language teacher in my building, it can feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Sure, teaching is always challenging—especially when you’re a newbie—but when you’re the only one in the building teaching your subject, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only adult on a deserted island, surrounded by a sea of students.
Even though I’m lucky enough to have supportive colleagues rooting for me—from the district level all the way down to the administrators and teachers in my building—it’s just not the same as having another teacher down the hall who teaches exactly what I do. I have a great relationship with the other foreign language teachers in my district, but we’re all in different buildings. We’re all so busy with our own jobs that it can be hard to connect—and it’s just not the same as having someone who knows me and my style to work with consistently.
When I first started teaching, I was looking for answers to questions like, “How do you teach this unit?” or “What materials do you use?” But I didn’t know where to go. Sometimes I simply needed reassurance. I wanted to know if I was doing OK. But I didn’t know whom to ask.
I knew I needed more support.
Just when the search for new ideas and resources felt overwhelming, I received an email that changed everything. It was about ACTFL’s mentoring program. I had joined ACTFL as soon as I became a certified Spanish teacher and had used many of their resources—like articles and professional development—but I never realized there was an opportunity for one-on-one support. As I read the email, I immediately recognized myself in the program’s description. I was a new teacher who was looking for guidance from a more experienced teacher who could show me how to build my skills. The chance to connect on a personal level with another Spanish teacher who “gets it” and could offer me moral support was appealing.
I applied for ACTFL’s mentoring program, saying to myself, “It can’t hurt.” But I cannot even begin to tell you how wonderful my mentor has been. She’s incredibly generous and encouraging. She fully answers any questions I have for her. She shares her insight, her ideas, and her experiences with me—not to mention providing me with loads of resources, like website links, PowerPoint lessons, and more.
My mentor isn’t down the hall, but she’s always within reach.
Recently, I was feeling stuck with my lesson on a particular concept. I reached out to my mentor, and before I knew it, she emailed me the link for a YouTube rap video along with all the supplemental materials she uses to teach it. She introduced me to a resource that I didn’t even know about, and my students went wild over it! Now, every day they ask me, “Can we put on that rap song?”
Having a mentor means having someone more knowledgeable and experienced than I am to bounce ideas off of. Most teachers can walk down the hall and get help. Even though my mentor isn’t in the same school, she’s just as accessible. And actually, it’s been very helpful to have a mentor outside of my district because she teaches in a more established program and has a different, broader perspective. I can confide in her knowing that she has a wealth of experience to draw from.
As a newbie who’s been there, here’s my best advice …
Ask for help. Trying to go it alone is too overwhelming. Even though there are unlimited resources available, especially online, who even knows where to begin? Believe me, there are people, like the ones in ACTFL’s mentoring program, who are available to make it easier. And they want to help you. You just have to reach out.