Sarah Loyola: Opening Doors to the World

I hear from students that sometimes they don't remember the material we teach them -- they remember the connection they had with us. As teachers, we can have the biggest impact on students through the relationships we create with them.

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Crossing borders.

"I tell my kids about my travels because I want to open them up to seeing the world. I hope that they'll get out and connect with people from other cultures. And language is that bridge between cultures -- it's such an important element of learning the world.

If you ask anyone what they want to do with a language, it's speak it. When I first started teaching Spanish, I taught it from a grammatical perspective, which is how we were all taught it when we were young. But now, a lot of us can't speak it, because we didn't actually utilize it and practice with it in real life. Learning a language should be about interpersonal communication. A few years ago, I was getting so burnt out on teaching the same things day in and day out -- you know, the differences between ser and estar and all that. So I started changing things up, concentrating more on having kids speak in class and organizing around project-based learning. Now every year and every day is different."

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Loving learning through teaching.

"In college, I was one of those students who couldn't decide on a major. I just loved studying so many different things -- history, English, political science. I didn't know what I wanted to do; I studied what I loved. In the end, I chose Spanish because of something someone said to me once: language is a perishable skill. It can be lost if it's not maintained. I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I feel like I'm one of those people who grew up in a time when education needed to change dramatically. Now, I have to be constantly learning to stay abreast of the changes happening in the world.

One of my biggest hopes for my students is that they become lifelong learners, and that they end up loving learning by the way we're teaching them. If you aren't continuously learning, you'll be left behind."

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The magic behind the language.

"Now, at our school, the kids choose a language in the second grade and go through to 12th. They start young and it's all communicative. People are terrified of speaking a language. But kids aren't as afraid. Second graders are so much more comfortable, and that comfort level is there by the time they get to high school. And when they have more confidence speaking, they want to go abroad and use it.

Last year in my Spanish 6 class, I had three kids that didn't take AP, but I knew that they were super strong. I said to them, 'I think you could take the AP test and pass' -- and they said that sounded crazy! But I worked with them after school, outside of class, and they all got great scores. And even though they tested out of Spanish, they said they still wanted to continue it. When the kids want to keep going with Spanish, that's how I measure success. So many of them go on to study abroad and send me letters or pictures. A girl I'd taught years ago came back last year to introduce me to her Chilean husband. She said that she wanted me to meet him because she wouldn't have met him without me. Those moments are the ones that touch me."

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The making of a community.

"Students come back and visit the teachers that create a community in their classrooms. A place where kids feel comfortable expressing themselves -- not an environment where the teacher's in control, and the student is left on the periphery.

Last year, I had a class that grew very close. We just became a little community. We used GroupMe to communicate, and we'd always be sending funny jokes and messages -- in Spanish, of course! -- and we just became this tight group of 14 kids and one teacher. At prom, we all took a big group picture together, and at the end of the year, they got the photo framed and all wrote sweet messages. We always had a great bond, one that I really haven't had with any other class.

I hear from students that sometimes they don't remember the material we teach them -- they remember the connection they had with us. As teachers, we can have the biggest impact on students through the relationships we create with them."

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