Rachel Newland, PhD
During my first semester at LCC,I had the opportunity to connect with an international student enrolled in my Spanish 121 class. From the outset, I could tell she was motivated to learn and wasn’t enrolled just too fulfill a degree requirement. During our face-to-face sessions, she always asked excellent questions – the ones other students probably had on their minds but were too shy to ask. Additionally, she possessed a lot of the qualities that we try to instill in novice learners: she wasn’t afraid to make mistakes and was comfortable enough in her own skin to take risks and explore language and culture from a new perspective.
During the first few weeks of our emergency online sessions, this student was nowhere to be found. I reached out to her through e-mail a number of times to remind her about our virtual meetings and extend my help along with available LCC resources.
About three weeks into our online sessions, the student was able to make it online managing young children at home while pursuing her desire to learn. These online sessions gave us the chance to catch up with one another on a weekly basis and maintain critical interpersonal connections in the midst of the pandemic.
During our last virtual check-in, this student stopped by and we ended up talking for over an hour. She expressed her initial motivation for wanting to learn Spanish, explaining that while growing up in Palestine, she would watch a Spanish telenovela to pass the time at home. Since then, she has wanted to study Spanish as a third language. I told her how admirable it was for her to begin to pursue her dreams while raising a family and interacting in an unfamiliar culture. She told me how, initially, she was worried about telling me that she was from Palestine, noting a negative experience she had with another instructor when disclosing her national identity. I empathized with her experience, noting how frustrating it must have been to feel like her identity was erased or undervalued.
Looking forward, I now realize the importance of fostering a humanized and inclusive classroom. More specifically, the more attention I can give to undervalued or underserved identity categories in my instruction, the more comfortable students from these identity categories will feel when talking about themselves , which is a key component of foreign language learning and broadening one’s perspective on identity, ability, and the world.