I began teaching Spanish when my two sons were school age. I really developed in my profession through the generosity of many fine teachers and administrators who shared of their time and expertise to guide and support me over the years. I am licensed by the Commonwealth of MA to teach Spanish grades 5 through 12. My lack of a degree beyond my BA in Modern Languages from Boston College was evident to no one but myself. This wish to undertake graduate work was very powerful and I often looked into different programs in the area though I was constrained as a parent. A few years ago, at an American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) conference, I learned that postgraduate degree programs were offered by Spanish universities: Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Universidad de Salamanca, and Universidad de Granada. When our youngest child graduated from college, that's when I decided it was my turn.
Selecting the university was an easy choice. The city of Granada lies in the southern province of Andalucía. My interest both in Spain's Moorish history and in flamenco made this the ideal location to partake in my studies. Also, the other degrees were primarily in Linguistics or Pedagogy. Granada offered Language and Culture as part of its teaching degree. I began in the summer of 2012. My colleagues were mostly teachers and professors of Spanish from the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. For some, this was their postgraduate pursuit, for others an opportunity to live the life of total immersion in southern Spain.
I felt privileged to walk the streets where so much history had taken place, to greet each dawn in the shadow of the Alhambra Palace, and to hear the sounds of music and a language that was foreign, yet familiar. My professors were each scholars in their own right, sharing and demanding all at once.
The commitment that I made was more than financial – it was challenging to find the energy in 115°F heat to keep up with the pace of daily classes, to survive the late nights studying and writing, and to resist the draining uncertainty of self-doubt. This two-and-a-half year experience was demanding, yet inspiring on multiple levels: personal, intellectual, and professional. I acknowledge with gratitude the encouragement along the way from my family, colleagues, and friends.
For five intense weeks, over two consecutive summers the daily schedule began with a brisk morning walk to the Centro de Lenguas Modernas, housed in a restored palace with a typical Spanish courtyard. Classes began at 8:30 a.m. with a half-hour break at 11:30 a.m., then a class from noon to 2:00 p.m. Lunch break was three hours. We returned for an evening class from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Dinner was served at 8:00 p.m. It was often too hot to return home for the afternoon break so I would study in the school library after a non-traditional lunch of a falafel pocket or spinach pie and fresh fruit that I had to buy during my earlier respite. I couldn't run any errands, as the Spaniards cherish their mid-afternoon break and nothing can be found open for business except for a few restaurants serving a lunch menu.
There were local field trips to cultural sites related to the curriculum and optional trips to surrounding cities on the weekends. In addition to these school-sponsored excursions, I took advantage of days before, during, and after the course to visit other places in Spain that sparked my fancy: Toledo, Barcelona, Málaga, Sevilla, Córdoba and Madrid. This past summer I crossed the straight of Gibraltar in a very crowded ferry during Ramadan to briefly visit the Moroccan cities of Tangier and Tetuán.
The courses of study ranged from Language (e.g. Varieties of Spanish, Linguistics and, Spanish Grammar) to Pedagogy (e.g. Design of Teaching Units, Spanish for Immigrants, Imagery and Media in the Classroom, Classroom Dynamics, Teaching Resources, Acquisition and Learning in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language, and Research Methods). There were also courses about Spanish and Spanish-Muslim art and culture that were complemented by field trips and workshops on Contemporary and Modern Spanish History, Social, Political and Economic Aspects of Present-Day Spain, Spanish Literature and Film, and Latin American Literature.
In addition to the courses that were letter graded, the degree program required a dissertation called a Memoria. I was able to do the bulk of my research for my Memoria during the weeks that I was in Spain. I completed the remaining research and writing over the course of the fall semester and the completed work totaling 110 pages was submitted electronically three days after Christmas 2013. The title of my dissertation is La didáctica de la poesía en el aula de español para niños/The Teaching of Poetry in the Spanish Classroom for Children. It includes eleven original lesson plans for using authentic poems in the elementary Spanish classroom. These selections and many others are actively used in the Spanish curriculum at Oak Meadow.
In March of this year, I received notification that my Memoria had been given a grade of A+. I had completed all the requirements and was awarded the title of Master in the Teaching/Learning of the Spanish Language and its Culture (Specific Degree to the University of Granada) with an official transcript in the mail. My diploma arrived just weeks before Oak Meadow’s own graduation.
As George Eliot wrote: "It's never too late to be what you might have been."
–Vivian Quiroga Klein, MS Team Lead & MS/UE Spanish Teacher