What is the most rewarding part of your career as a language teacher?
When my students get those aha moments and the language knowledge or culture awareness sink in. Seeing the pride in their faces when they get cultural understanding or make connections to other countries and their people and use the language in many different contexts. At the end of the year seeing their growth never gets old. Traveling with students abroad is still one of my favorite things to do. Watching them step up to the challenge with respect, dignity for others and how it opens the doors to future travel and work opportunities in the future. It is awesome when them come back and present to my classes.
What is one personal or professional goal that you have for yourself, your school or your department?
I continuously work on making myself a better teacher and union leader for myself, family, my peers,and our union. Last year I had to let go of my dream of pursuing my National Board due a couple surgeries, union work and a rough couple years of teaching. It was no easy decision as it was a dream for years. Perhaps, I can restart anew in the future. I love that I am very active in my union because it helps to protect the freedoms that Montana teachers have that other states don’t have. I am very grateful to work in a department where we are always willing to keep learning and try something new. I can go to my colleagues and ask for suggestions,opinions or seek wisdom. No one is above the other, they are all a valuable part of our department. I also want to continue to do union work to keep it strong like many others before me have done. I hope to still work in my union after I retire from teaching someday.
What is one of your favorite travel experiences?
Oh gosh, there are so many. I will just cover a couple.One of my first trips I took a student whose mother was from Thailand. She thanked me that her daughter came back forever changed. She now appreciated so much of all the sacrifices her mother made as an immigrant to this country. She came the next year to promote our trip. Another student traveled with Alice and I to Spain and Costa Rica that I taught in Spanish 1 & 3. This student was accepted as just a handful of Montana kids under AFS-USA Global Prep program and got to travel to Poland this past summer after we returned from Costa Rica.
One of my first trips to Spain, France and Italy had so many success stories. They became world travelers, studied abroad in Spain, Peru, Argentina and Mexico, one is now a lawyer for the 9th circuit court in California and is a social justice warrior and who did a study abroad in Argentina, another is a teacher, who taught my grandson named after my son by his older brother that was on that trip that passed away from cancer in 2011, her friend is a nurse, another owns her own business, one is a radiologist at Fred Hutch cancer center, finally one did a study abroad in Salamanca, joined the Peace Corp in Peru and now she works for the US Dept of Agriculture in Washington DC. My son Thomas went on this trip and when his cancer relapsed and he needed double stem cell transplants came out in to his fundraiser that raised over 12 grand to get us to Seattle to live for 6 months. We still meet to eat together. They called themselves “la familia/the family” They want us to take a trip back to Barcelona to see the Sagrada Familia when it’s done. It is phenomenal When a student learns and enjoys it so much they travel with you twice and/or continue their travel around the world and continue to use and study Spanish and they come back and say your the reason they kept taking Spanish and or how it has changed their life. That still brings me to tears. Being a Spanish teacher and union leader is an honor and a calling. I love that in being a Spanish teacher we help the world by teaching students how to eradicate bias and prejudice as well as embrace things that may be different or at one time scary to them and fight for things in a respectful manner that are right and just. We teach and push them to accountabie and have a work ethic , to show up and participate in a caring environment where they are comfortable to take risks.
Two of the kids that traveled with us last year are already putting their knowledge and love into their classwork and projects. One of them won an art contest for the city of Billings that places their art on utility boxes, She one several hundred dollars. She included our tour director and bus driver on that artwork. A few of them can’t wait to go on our next trip.
Do you have any advice for other world language teachers?
Don’t be afraid to seek out help from others, try new ideas, get involved even outside your department. Get active in your union or at least learn what they do for us. Keep learning and make yourself better but also paramount is take time to rest, enjoy life, family and friends. Do something away from teaching as a vent or healthy break from an honorable but et time exhausting job.
Can you share some thoughts on MFPE and the educator conference?
I have been a rep member to rep council since my earlier days of teaching. I was elected out of 4 members of the then MEA- MFT to represent Montana at a state delegate to the NEA Rep Assembly in Boston and also in Minneapolis for a 2 year term. I attended last year as a delegate as 2nd VP for the BEA.
I feel very fortunate that my state MFPE and local association Billings Education Association alongside the National Education Association have sent me across the state and country to learn about all our union does for not only teachers and staff but our public employees as well. When Wisconsin Unions were split (By then my kids were grown)affecting teaching and its unions I knew it was time to step and do more than just teach Spanish (not that just teaching is a full time job that requires a lot of time because it does). I signed up to be a TLI candidate and finished I am know a TLI alumni & it was one of the greatest experiences of my professional career.I participated in writing Microcredentials in association working alongside the NEA Social and racial justice department of the NEA. and revamping the TLI (Teacher Leadership Institute) I was trained at the NEA Minority and Women leadership conference a couple years ago, I had assessor training.
Throughout all these amazing experiences and talking with other educators across the country and our experiences and our local and state unions it didn’t take me long to realize just how well we have it in Montana. One of my favorites is that we have two days set aside in October for state curriculum groups to attend high quality professional development at our annual MFPE educator conference. It is one of the largest professional development in the nation. A couple years ago I brought the NEA Social and Racial justice trainings to our ed conference in Missoula. Today, MFPE has continued to bring them to our ed conference. This is passionate to me because as a language teacher, these are things that I teach about regularly in my class. Accountability and hard work ethic but also includes opportunities for ALL kids that want to learn and excel. When they don’t want to, we encourage them to believe in themselves. I want all my students to have equity and access to a quality public education and to embrace similarities and differences in each other and with hard work they can and will be successful in whatever job they wish to do in the future.
I could talk for hours on our union for there is a long history about our MFPE state affiliates and the steps it took to get us where we are today. At home I am thankful for my husband who studied union law at George Meany Labor college and my kids who encourage me every step of the way as a teacher and union leader. On a local level I am thankful for Jeff Greenfielf who supported me throughout my son’s cancer journey, Scott McCollough our past president who now sits on our school board for encouraging me to step up on a national level. I am ever thankful to our President Eric Feaver we really wouldn’t be here without his strong and steadfast leadership, his assistant Donna Graveley as the silent leader in all the work she quietly and humbly puts in, Erik Burke our executive director who does a lot for us that most of the members never know about. His presence, support, and kindness is paramount and valued by me, Marco Ferro our director of Professional Development and public policy (he put forth the bill that passed legislation for more compensation for NBCT teachers) and encourages teachers to be NBCT certified and also to be a part of teacher leadership in NEA Teacher Leadership Initiative and promotes great PD. He has encouraged me as his union sister on a few occasions to keep pressing forward to excellence. His assistant Jami Wood who works tirelessly for us to put on the Ed conference and so much more is a gem. Amanda Curtis’ kindness and strength encourages me to do this union work with pride and solidarity for ALL MFPE employees with “ganas” (the want to/power). I appreciate her faith in me and her uniqueness. Finally the last one who quite frankly I can see some of myself in her steadfast, quiet but powerful strength like a locomotive is Diane Fladmore our director of research and collective bargaining. She is also a lobbyist and coordinates member benefits and the MFPE Retired program. Diane has worked tiredlessnes for our retirement. She & Eric Feaver especially and so many others are an immovable, unshakable mountain that I can honestly say I am so thankful for. I wish to continue doing the work that matters that they have all set great examples to follow. We are MFPE you and me and we truly are stronger together.
More info and the history of our MFPE can be found here: https://www.mfpe.org/about-mfpe/history/
Thanks and keep making a difference!