Paloma Contreras, a Spanish teacher at KIPP Houston, explains why teaching Spanish is her passion. Her classes not only inspire students and families to learn a language, but also challenge them to grow in their knowledge of the world.
By Paloma Contreras, 3rd and 4th grade Spanish teacher, KIPP Houston
Spanish is more than just a language. The majority of my students are Latino, like me, and for many of them, Spanish class means developing a stronger sense of pride in their heritage. And for my students who don’t share that background, Spanish sparks an interest and pushes them towards learning more about the world. In Houston, we have so many nationalities represented by our residents and, in turn, so many opportunities to learn about new cultures. I encourage my students to attend free cultural events and try new restaurants in the area. This past fall, when we returned from summer break, so many of my students told me that they tried new foods like sushi and empanadas!
But learning about other cultures is so much more than trying a new cuisine. As an elementary school Spanish teacher, I love seeing the joy and pride on my students’ faces when they have a “light bulb” moment in class, connecting what they have just learned with the world around them. I pride myself on teaching rigorous lesson plans, so it really warms my heart when parents request more Spanish homework because they enjoy working on it along with their child. It is such a joy to know that both students and families are invested in the work. That means that the learning goes further than my classroom, because they are sharing that knowledge with their families and communities—that’s what it’s all about.
When I first came to KIPP to teach Spanish, I had no idea that my colleagues would become some of my best friends, and that my students and their parents would make me feel like family. I’ve lost track of how many group outings I have had with my colleagues and vacation time that we have shared (including going to Africa for the first time). Now, four years later, I realize that my “team” is not simply the people in my building or grade level, but also teachers and community members throughout the entire Houston area. Being a part of the KIPP network means interacting with KIPP teachers citywide.
Teaching Spanish is my passion, and teaching at KIPP has been an incredible way to bring that passion to life. What continues to keep me inspired is knowing that we are not only challenging our students academically, but that we challenge them to grow in their knowledge of the world. I can only hope that the joy students share in learning will carry on through the rest of their lives, both inside and outside the classroom. I can’t wait for the day when my students will come back to tell me about all the new countries and cultures they’ve experienced.