By Inmaculada Naranjo Mateos and Alfonso De Torres Núñez
Visiting Teachers from Spain is one of two international programs developed by the Kentucky Department of Education with education authorities from another country to provide world languages services to students and school districts in Kentucky.
This international cooperation program is sponsored by the Education Office of the Embassy of Spain in the U.S. and various state departments of education. It started in the mid-1980s in California and New York and has since expanded to more than 30 states and 5,000 participating teachers.
Visiting Teachers from Spain enables local school districts in Kentucky to hire highly qualified, licensed, native Spanish-speaking educators to teach at elementary, middle and high schools. These visiting international teachers have a minimum of three years’ experience in bilingual or multicultural education and most have master’s degrees. All are rigorously pre-screened, are open to new methodologies and have a strong interest in international education.
Visiting teachers make a one to three-year commitment to teach in Kentucky, provided that the school district agrees to hire them. Participating districts employ these teachers in accordance with state regulations and policies, and pay them according to their experience and certification level.
This program helps address critical staffing needs that would otherwise go unmet. Often, districts and schools find it difficult to find qualified, Spanish-speaking teachers to fill immersion and Spanish as a world language positions. By utilizing the Visiting Teachers from Spain program, the visiting Spanish teachers and the communities, staff and students they serve all stand to benefit greatly from the experience.
One example of how an immersion school can benefit from this program is Gerry Brooks, principal at Liberty Elementary School (Fayette County).
Liberty Elementary School has had its Spanish Immersion program for nine years. They applied for a teacher from Spain for the first time two years into their program. Brooks said he has received resumes from high-quality teachers to interview for the specific needs they have at their school.
“The visiting teachers from Spain contribute greatly to the work, climate and culture of our school with their excitement for teaching and their enthusiasm for the experience they are having through the program” Brooks said. “These visiting teachers from Spain have a great passion for learning and are eager to volunteer for professional development opportunities in order to further their own profession.
“The experience they bring to the table allows them to lead professional development sessions for our staff, as well as our district. Students are given the opportunity to learn about other customs and cultures through the visiting teachers, who bring so much to the school’s staff.”
Principal Mark Leet of Owingsville Elementary School (Bath County) said he applied to the program two years ago so the students at his school could learn the language and culture of Spain from a teacher whose first language was Spanish. Since then, the school’s students have thrived in the classroom of Francisco Luque.
“After only a few weeks of school,” said Leet, “some of his students were speaking Spanish with their own parents at home and sharing their enthusiasm for this new learning opportunity at school.
“As educators we want to provide all students with equitable access to a rigorous and quality curriculum and instruction that is focused on building global competency with our students. This will provide a foundation for more in-depth learning in middle and high school, and possibly more career opportunities.”
Inmaculada Naranjo Mateos, the new education adviser for the Embassy of Spain in the states of Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio, said the Visiting Teachers from Spain program benefits all of the parties involved.
“Among the many benefits of having teachers recruited from this program is the support highly qualified teachers give schools in teaching subject content in Spanish or Spanish as a world language,” Mateos said. “On the teacher´s side, working in a new environment and having to adjust to a new context provides great opportunities for professional growth.
“These teachers will help the students not only to learn the language, but also to get greater understanding of the cultural differences and eventually, to broaden their minds in a world and future that is multicultural. We are very happy with our partnership with KDE. I am fortunate to be a witness of what is going on here.”
Meet three of the Visiting Teachers from Spain
Ernesto García García comes to Kentucky from a small Castilian village called Gilbuena, although he was raised by the sea in the north of Spain in a region called Asturias. He has been the Spanish teacher at LaRue County Middle School since 2015, and moved to LaRue County High School this year. He came to Kentucky with his wife and one of his three children.
García has worked in education almost since he graduated from the University of Oviedo in 1985. He had many years of experience in both private and public schools in Spain before starting his American journey in 2005, when he went to South Carolina as a public school teacher through an international exchange program. He returned to Spain after one year.
García returned to the United States in 2012 as part of the Visiting Teachers from Spain program and worked for three years in New Mexico. He was recruited in 2015 to work in Kentucky.
His students do not understand why he wanted to come to the U.S. if he was living by the sea in Spain. He responds to their questions with, “I have only changed one paradise for another.” He said the moment he says this to his students is when they understand the important lesson that he tries to teach them every day in his classroom: No matter where you live or what you do for living, the important thing is to love what you are doing.
María Ángeles Martínez Polo and Héctor Valencia Monfort are both teachers in the Spanish Immersion program at Liberty Elementary.
Martínez comes from a town called Cáceres, while Valencia comes from Valencia, a city in the region of Comunidad Valenciana, Spain. They are wife and husband. Both of them had five years of teaching experience in Spain before coming to the U.S. to work in Utah in 2012.
Valencia said that the main reason why he applied to the program was “to travel around the U.S. and learn new ways of teaching.”
“It is a unique experience in which you grow personally and professionally,” Martínez added. “This program is great. It gives the opportunity to the students to be immersed not only in another language, but also in another culture. Furthermore, they develop incredible skills that allows them to perform better.”
Valencia said their unique perspective provides some major advantages for the school, as well.
“I would highly recommend having native speakers in schools for second language or immersion, because of their understanding of how learning a second language feels, their expertise and accuracy on the language target,” he said. “Native teachers also bring their culture in firsthand and share it with their students on a daily basis. From my experience, I can tell that students open their minds when I share with them how we do certain things differently in Spain, developing a deep critical thinking.”
MORE INFO …
For more information on the KDE Visiting International Teacher program, visit the World Languages webpage on the Kentucky Department of Education website, or contact Alfonso De Torres Núñez, KDE world languages consultant, at (502) 564-2106, ext. 4134, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
More information about the Visiting Teachers from Spain program is available on the Educational Program webpage of the Embassy of Spain’s Education Office website and in this video about the program.
Thank you for including in the article a few lines about the immersion school that started everything in Lexington 27 years ago! The only one that provides a unique cultural experience to at around six hundred students and has brought dozens of Visitor Teachers from Spain!