Why I Teach

"Viva la Conexión"

Spanish teacher Tricia Kelly reflects on one of her favorite teaching days. 

Tricia Kelly
Photography by Jessica Scranton

Some days it’s really hard to be a middle school Spanish teacher. Balancing multiple levels of proficiencies in multiple classrooms with minor doses of pre-teen hormones can lead to a bit of la vida loca. Yesterday, however, was not one of those days. Instead, it was the kind of day that reminded me of why I love this job.

It started with the weather forecast: sunny, highs in the 50s with moderate wind. Perfecto, especially since it was the day to fly barriletes in Spanish 7. We are in the middle of a semester-long study of Guatemala and have been learning about a unique way of celebrating El Día de los Muertos. Guatemalans—especially in two small villages of Sacatepéquez—create giant kites to fly every year in early November. With these barriletes, participants invite their ancestors back to Earth for the day. Barriletes are immense and filled with beautiful colors, symmetrical patterns and messages of peace, hope and connection.

Our seventh-grade students study the history and meanings of these barriletes and then get to work on creating their own miniature versions. Collaborating in small groups, they choose colores, formas y mensajes for their barriletes. They conjugate verbs for cut (cortar), glue (pegar) and fly (volar). (Watch out! Volar is stem-changing!) They practice how to sound out Sa-ca-te-pé-quez and how to roll the double “r” in barrilete so they can present to their classmates. They make predictions (¿sí o no?) about whether the kites will fly. I love this unit: It’s authentic, it’s fun, and it helps students feel a personal connection to this language they are learning.

Yesterday, as I headed through the hallway, that connection started to run even deeper. Frances, our spectacular lower-school librarian, asked me if I still had all the Guatemalan picture books I had checked out in September. I did. “Could you run them down to Lindsay’s second-grade classroom?” she asked me. She explained that one of Lindsay’s students was, on that very day, celebrating the anniversary of his adoption from Guatemala.

I went to speak with Lindsay, and right away she adjusted her schedule so I could come and share some information on Guatemala with her class. I brought a few books, a flag and a small gift of Guatemalan worry dolls. Her student stood next to me and beamed as he shared impressive knowledge about his birth country. He knew about active volcanoes, Lago Atitlán and traditional Mayan clothing. He opened up the book his family had sent in with him and pointed out how “most people in Guatemala look like me.” When I brought out a barrilete, he quickly flipped to the back of his book and showed the photo of Sumpango, Sacatepéquez, with barriletes gigantes dancing in the air. 

We invited Lindsay’s class to come outside with us that afternoon. Amid the excitement, I happened to catch this moment: Two seventh-grade students—one whose mom is from Ecuador, the other whose mom is from Perú—are standing with this second-grader from Guatemala. They are laughing, chatting and getting ready to fly a kite. 

This was a great day to be a teacher. It was a great day to witness the kind of global connection we get to celebrate on a sunny, perfectly windy day.

Next unit: MayaWorks and fair trade. Viva la conexión.

Tricia Kelly is a Spanish teacher at the Gordon School in East Providence, Rhode Island.

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