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Q&A with Valentina Páez, World Languages Department Head
from The Winsor Bulletin

“In my classes, girls assert themselves, period. They do not use excuses or ask permission to learn. And I hope that by practicing those skills, they build the needed confidence to thrive in the world.”

[NOTE:  Valentina Páez, longtime Spanish teacher and head of the World Languages Department, shares her thoughts in this Q&A from the Winsor Bulletin magazine.]


Q: What excites you about teaching?  

A: For me, teaching is an ongoing invitation to the exploration and creation of ideas along with the never-ending journey of self-reflection and self-discovery. So it is very exciting to see students create and reflect on their learning, and make personal connections with ideas and cultures. I see that everyday!

Making sure I bring the best pedagogy to my teaching is also a source of excitement to me. Reading, learning, staying engaged in a community of teachers across the country and in South America enriches my life everyday and infuses a deep commitment to teaching.


Q: What do you hope girls take away from your classes?

A: In my classes, girls assert themselves, period. They do not use excuses or ask permission to learn. And I hope that by practicing those skills, they build the needed confidence to thrive in the world. But in class, they also make mistakes and many of them. So I hope that by valuing the role of mistakes in learning, they learn the needed humility to guide their confidence.

 

Q: Why is learning Spanish important?

A: Even though our students live in a country where many languages are spoken, I believe that knowing Spanish is clearly to their advantage. Spanish is another door to explore different ways of life and worldviews in a globalized world.

They can use their Spanish in their everyday lives, with friends and neighbors. Some of my students are heritage learners and heritage speakers. For them, studying the language is a way of getting to know their culture more deeply and bringing their culture into their classroom.

 

Q: What does "global citizenship" mean to you?

A: Global citizenship is not simply gaining information about other cultures. It is knowing yourself and your culture well enough so that you can understand what happens when you feel a connection with another culture or person, or when that connection doesn’t seem apparent. Learning about other cultures helps them learn about themself. The question for me is, What is it about me that doesn’t get the “other”? What about my own culture is getting in the way of my understanding of the “other”? Global citizenship starts with understanding yourself and who you are in your communities, your “cultural” lenses for understanding the world, especially when these lenses are inadequate for reading a different person, community or culture. That, I think, is a wonderful place to be. It is a true place of learning.

 

Q: How do you bring your passion for music into your lessons?

A: Ah, music is at the heart of Spanish class. It is not an add-on in the curriculum. We sing authentic songs, songs that evoke the everyday life of Spanish speaking communities. They also play guitar, drums and many percussion instruments. Students often create musical responses to a dialogue, a painting, or their own work using the instruments we have in the classroom. One of my students said last year, “I am happy when I sing this song. I feel I am part of a band.” Playing drums allows them to have a personal experience of the songs, and gives them a direct access to the culture that speaks this language they are studying. It is personal to them… and powerful to watch. We often say, our students may forget the conjugation of irregular past tense, but they won’t forget the songs they sing in Spanish class!  Music is the heartbeat of a culture and you can feel that when you play and sing.


Q: What have your years at Winsor taught you?

 A: Winsor has provided me the space to grow as a teacher and to see my teaching practices as an evolving process nurtured by the deep and meaningful relationships with students and colleagues. Shifting the language learning to one that puts students at the center has been one of the most significant lessons. Being the facilitator of the learning allows my students to make the most important decisions about what they want to learn and how. I have learned to structure the classroom experience so that students are free to explore their interest and engage more passionately with the subject. And I am still learning.