Leticia Villagrana adapts to teaching foreign languages

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most schools in March 2020, teaching and learning has changed dramatically, requiring educators to operate on the fly.

While most academic procedures and methods have been completely reversed, some things, like exceptional teachers, will always remain.

Now, all teachers work hard and deserve recognition, but one such teacher in particular is Leticia Villagrana, a teacher at Pioneer High School.

“She teaches high-level Spanish lessons,” said Sandra Reese, director of pioneers. “One of the hardest things to do is teach a new language and vocabulary to children in a distance learning format. She does this very successfully.

Villagrana has been teaching for 22 years. A native of Woodland, she graduated from Woodland High in 1994 before earning her bachelor’s degree at UC Davis in Chicano Studies and Spanish. From there, she moved to Sacramento State and earned her single-subject teaching degree in Spanish.

Initially, Villagrana chose to study Spanish because, in her own words, she didn’t want to “specialize in English and have to study poetry and literature of the 14th and 15th centuries”.

In an ironic twist, Villagrana found a funny coincidence when she ended up having to read and study Don Quixote, a classic 15th-century novel, except this time, in Spanish.

Villagrana’s romantic ties to his mother tongue also led to his decision.

“I love Spanish,” Villagrana said. “I love grammar. I like literature. Even though English dominates my life, I think Spanish is where my heart is.

Villagrana began her teaching journey at Woodland High School in the fall of 1999 after being hired as an intern. As part of a part-time assignment, she taught Spanish one and two and an English language development course before finally landing the full-time spot after another teacher left abruptly over the holidays. of winter.

When Pioneer High School was founded in 2003, word spread that the school would obviously need teachers. According to Villagrana, no one from his department volunteered to go. To fairly select who would move through the city, a point system was implemented.

“It was between me and a colleague, and he had one more point than I made, so I had to go,” Villagrana recalled with a laugh. “It wasn’t a good thing at first. I graduated from Woodland High. I became a teacher because I wanted to give back to my community and I wanted to provide them with the services provided to me by my teachers there. I bled orange.

After a tough first year, her husband pulled her aside and told her to either keep going through tough times or teach somewhere else.

“It ended up being the best thing that could happen,” Villagrana said. “Pioneer was a very young school, so it offered a lot more opportunities for professional growth. I was able to be the head of my department.

During her second year at Pioneer, she became head of the global languages ​​department. A few years later, she had the opportunity to become an English language specialist for the school. Although it was not a raise, she mentioned that it gave her experience in administration.

Villagrana was an EL specialist for 11 years, teaching only one class. She returned to full-time teaching in the fall of 2019, about seven months before all district campuses were closed and sent to a distance learning format.

“Last year in March I felt extremely cheated,” Villagrana said. “I couldn’t live all year with my children. It was hard. We were three months from the end. I felt bad that I couldn’t say goodbye to them, especially my elders.

While she does her best in everything she dies, her classes these days remotely naturally have less impact. Villagrana says she spends most of her day staring at a Zoom screen with about 30 names on it.

“Students don’t like to turn on their cameras,” Villagrana said. “He’s tough. You don’t know if they’re on the other side or if they just hooked up and left, so I do a lot of video recording. I thrive on the relationships I build with my students, so I wonder and worry if they know I’m there for them and care about them.

Villagrana cares about the socio-emotional well-being of all of its students, as do many other teachers. She will constantly ask her students if they are okay, and if not, she tries to do what she can to make them feel better.

“She’s very connected to the community,” Reese said. “She likes it. When she’s bonding with kids, I don’t think she thinks of it just as bonding with kids. I think she thinks of it as bonding with family. It is reflected in the way she practices her craft.”

Distance learning has cost her a lot this year as she feels it has now become the new norm, unlike the virtual format which seemed weird to her at first. She mentions that while the bigger picture isn’t optimal, her peers have pointed out some things to her that she may not have recognized as her students tried to make virtual connections.

“One of those things is the conversation with kids who take the time to say ‘goodbye’ at the end of a period, or kids who take the time to say ‘hello’ at the beginning,” Villagrana said. . “They take the time to send that, and they’re the ones connecting what me.”

She also has another student in one of her morning classes who asks her every morning if she has had breakfast. This stuff gives her the energy to keep going when she feels down.

“I get my energy from my students,” Villagrana said. “I love what I do. I tell them they are the best thing for me. It doesn’t matter what is happening in the world or at home. The moment I get to school and I walks into my classroom, and I can hear them talking, nothing exists beyond these walls but them. That’s why I teach.

“If she agrees to do something, I don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s just done,” Reese said. “She’s just very spectacular in the way she does her job and the love and care that she puts into it.”

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