MCLL Teachers’ Academy provides valuable professional development for teachers of Spanish

MCLL Teachers' Academy

The idea for the Teachers’ Academy came from a conversation. Elsa Castillo and María Elvira Hernández from the Dept. of Modern and Classical Language and Literatures (MCLL) were discussing new requirements specified by the College Board. Art would hold a vital importance in future advanced placement (AP) exams. This new change, however, revealed how there was a lack of opportunities for teachers of Spanish to prepare their students.

Castillo and Hernández were joined by Dr. Luis Gordo Peláez, a professor in the Dept. of Art and Design. The three of them discussed how they could help teachers gain more grammar ability, expand their vocabulary, and gain art knowledge. 

From that moment, everything quickly moved into motion as Dr. Gordo Peláez agreed with the idea and offered art history as a start to teach new vocabulary and create new lessons in Spanish. He was joined by Hernández. Castillo wrote a proposal outlining the necessity of a program and sent it to then Dean Jiménez-Sandoval. The rest was history as the Teachers’ Academy was approved and housed under MCLL.

Their first offering was “A Spanish Visual Journey Through History and Culture” taught by Dr. Gordo Peláez and Hernández.

It was a five-module course, taught in Spanish, and introduced participants to a variety of objects and masterpieces that visually recorded the history of the cultures and peoples that inhabited Western Europe and the Americas in the 1500s to the early 1900s. It offered Spanish instructors art-based themes and lesson plans that they could develop and implement into their classrooms for the purpose of language acquisition and mastery. 

Dr. Gordo Peláez speaks in front of a piece at the Getty Museum in L.A.
Dr. Luis Gordo Peláez and participants were at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

“Teachers’ Academy was a vivid experience of the history of art. A journey throughout the centuries in which art was a lifestyle, not just a mere adornment,” said Germán Cervantes, Spanish teaching associate and Fresno State graduate student, in a survey. 

Cathleen Rhames of Sunnyside High School wrote in her comment, “Listening to Dr. Gordo Peláez teach about renaissance art brought me back to my undergrad studies in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain and allowed me to reconnect with all of my previous knowledge.” 

The course, she said, was the best of both worlds: it had appealing content and practical career applications.

Jorge Ceballos of Monache High School reflected on the course as a whole. 

“All world language students benefit when they recognize distinctive viewpoints as they access, build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines which they can later apply in their classrooms.”

He further wrote in his comment, “Everything we learn as teachers not only benefits us but also benefits our students, and I think that is the goal of every teacher, to ensure their students’ success.”

For retired Spanish teacher and a non-native speaker Camilla Colby it felt great to hear, speak, and write in only Spanish. The rich vocabulary added to her enjoyment of interacting with new friends. 

Overall, it was a rewarding experience for Dr. Gordo Peláez. “It was very enriching, personally and professionally, to be able to combine my own appreciation for art history with my own language in a class environment and with colleagues interested in educating young generations in Spanish.” 

This sentiment was echoed by Hernández, who was happy to see colleagues benefit from a course designed especially for them and fulfill their needs in the pedagogy arena. 

The end of the course culminated in an excursion to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which Cervantes wrote fondly as the “cherry-on-the-cake” experience allowing them to see real-life examples of all the paintings, structures, and designs that they had learned all year long.

The Teachers’ Academy had participants from all over the Central Valley, including middle and high school teachers, community college instructors, university instructors, Fresno State students, and other members of the community. 

The high success of Teachers’ Academy has lead to two new courses for the 2019-2020 year. Already, 58 participants from a variety of teaching and work backgrounds and from throughout the Central Valley are enrolled.

Currently, “Spanish Literature: Renaissance to Baroque” is presented by Fresno State professors María Dolores Morillo López and María Elvira Hernández. The course offers participants an opportunity to familiarize themselves with and further their understanding of some of the most representative literary works and authors of the Spanish Renaissance and Baroque periods included in the AP Spanish Literature Curriculum. It is taught in Spanish. 

Also, “Medical Translation and Interpretation” is presented by Marc Tamarit, a Fresno State lecturer. The course is comprised of presentations and activities designed to teach medical vocabulary in a simple and practical way for students. One component of the course will be presentations covering the systems and structures of the human body. The second component will be visits to medical centers and hospitals. It is taught in Spanish.

The program is growing fast and in its future, Castillo hopes to partner with other departments, colleges, and offer more courses like Spanish for business professions and Spanish in the wine industry. 

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MFA Creative Writing student, with focus in creative nonfiction. Hmong American writer. Student assistant of Communication Specialist for the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State. President of the Hmong American Ink & Stories 2019-2020.

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