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St. Augustine conference gives teacher new tools for classroom

By Staff | Nov 4, 2015

The Sanibel School Spanish teacher Silvia Zavala. MEGHAN McCOY

A Spanish teacher had the opportunity to expand her knowledge during a three-day conference in St. Augustine, affording her some additional tools to bring back to her classroom at The Sanibel School.

Silvia Zavala attended her first teaching conference with the Florida Foreign Language Association Oct. 15, through Oct. 17 after one of her colleagues nominated her for the Teacher of Promise Award. The letters of recommendation from administrators and parents helped her receive the award.

“It’s like a pat on the back. I’m like one of those kids that always wants to do good,” she said of receiving the award. “That means that I have to do better now. It means I cannot stay there. (I have to) keep on learning and doing better. I’m not perfect yet.”

Zavala said she could not have attended the conference without the support of The Sanibel School parents and community.

“This school is special,” she said. “There is no other in Lee County that has elementary Spanish. The parents decided to have this special budget to have a Spanish class. The parents and community really support this school and that is the reason why I am here.”

Technology was among one of the many discussions during the conference, which gave Zavala new ideas to incorporate into her own classroom.

“Technology helps with everyday lessons,” she said. “They gave me a lot of ideas and games and new ways to put together those two things . . . language and technology.”

With her students using Chrome Books this year, she awards them with time to practice their Spanish while playing games when they have a good lesson.

The conference also opened the teacher’s eyes to career development possibilities. Zavala said she now has the opportunity to work with others who are teaching from the same books, as well as Skyping to talk about what works and does not work.

“It’s a roller coaster,” she said of teaching. “You have a great idea and it happens. You have a great idea and it didn’t happen.”

One thing that she has learned over the years is to keep trying and finding new interactive ways to reach her students.

“This is a learning process. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Different kids, different groups . . . bigger, faster, beginner. It’s never the same,” she said of her students. “Even though the chapter is the same. The way they get it is not the same. The way I offer it is not the same.”

Zavala said she has learned to be flexible, changing her lesson plans when her students do not grasp a certain concept.

This is now her fourth year of teaching Spanish at The Sanibel School. She previously taught for five years at The Children’s Center on the island. The teacher of nine years said she followed in her mother’s footsteps, who was also a teacher.

“I remember, I guess, I saw her enjoying it with her old green chalkboard,” Zavala said.

The career has kept her attention because every day is different.

“What I like is the learning side because every year is changing and every time is different,” Zavala said. “Every year is new kids and it’s like starting again.”

She spends time working with kindergarten through eighth grade students throughout the day. Although she thought she had a gift for working with the younger students, she soon found that she enjoys working with the older kids after the opportunity presented itself.

“The ones that I have from kindergarten still remember songs,” Zavala said. “Songs are the things they remember the most. Music is so important.”

She also runs the Spanish Club at The Sanibel School, which has grasped the attention of 25 elementary students and 18 middle school students. The students who participate enjoy practicing their Spanish speaking, as well as playing Spanish games. The club meets twice a month to have lunch outdoors, as well as attend a monthly meeting.

Zavala hopes to start a dancing group within the Spanish Club because of a competition the school won last year at the World Language Fair in March.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.