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 language teacher, I was over the moon.

Collage of images from a Spanish classroom, including language teacher sitting on a chair talking to students sitting on floor and a bulletin board with Spanish words for months and shapes.

Colleen Haggarty, Spanish Teacher

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 and 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.

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.

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 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 language teacher down the hall who teaches exactly what I do. I have a great relationship with the other 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 was longing to connect on a personal level with another Spanish teacher who 'gets it' and could offer me moral support on the days I needed a little extra reassurance.

Connect and share experiences.

The search for new ideas and resources can definitely feel overwhelming, which is why ACTFL’s Pair & Share program is so perfect for teachers like me. Just like me, many world language teachers join ACTFL for their helpful resources—like articles and professional development—but aren’t aware of their mentoring and networking opportunities. The Pair & Share program is a unique, online, peer-to-peer member networking and career development tool that helps language teachers find, connect, and share specialized experience, knowledge, and skills with one another as an advisor or advisee.

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.

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.

Even though there are unlimited resources available, especially online, who even knows where to begin.

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 Pair & Share program, who are available to make it easier. And they want to help you. You just have to reach out. And it’s not just for newbies. You can sign up as both an advisor and an advisee at the same time, or just the one that fits your needs. I love the idea that I can be simultaneously paired with someone who can help me with my needs while helping out someone who’s just beginning their career as a language teacher.

Join ACTFL’s Pair & Share Program

Are you a language teacher looking for support and advice? Or a language teacher looking to connect and share your knowledge and experience with others in a fun, interactive way? ACTFL’s Pair & Share program matches language teachers to discuss everything from teaching methods and pedagogy to how to incorporate social media into the classroom. Join and watch your language teacher network get larger … a lot larger!



Why I Used To Think Being a Language Teacher Was the Loneliest Job