Learning, but in Spanish

Off the Beat

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In second grade, I accidentally started a protest. I found out from a letter sent home to my mother that my elementary school would be poisoning the gophers that lived in the field where we played.

I told my friends what was happening, and at lunch we all held up signs we had drawn in crayon of what we thought gophers looked like, with exclamations such as “No Poisoning!” branded across the top. We circled the lunch tables, chanting something I don’t remember, causing enough racket to force our principal out of his office.

As he approached, stern expression slipped over his face, I knew that this tirade against administration unraveling in the cafeteria was my fault. While he wagged his finger and disapproved of the riot I had instigated, the feeling that my opinions and values were not important to my elementary school education became very apparent.

This wasn’t the last time I would be confronted by the principal for “accidentally” rebelling. To teach us poetry, Mr. Read, my high school English teacher, assigned us an analytical paper on how to read and understand poetry. The paper was brimming with superfluous, arbitrary rules, such as “only young, less developed people like rhyming poetry” and “poetry has to have a clear and defined meaning.” Fuming, I read through this bogus list of rules, leaving angry comments on everything I thought was ridiculous.

When Mr. Read brought us together to talk about what we’d read, I made the unfortunate decision of raising my hand and saying, “This paper is total garbage.” After my long diatribe about how this guide was not in line with my thoughts on poetry, we ended up arguing enough to warrant me being sent to the principal’s office.

I was never the type of person to get along with teachers. Oftentimes, I was left feeling like teachers believed that their students had nothing to contribute. Classes felt like a drone of teachers liking to hear themselves talk, unfazed by the discouraging blanket of boredom their inapplicable lessons were wrapping around their students.

I felt this way until I met Sra. Lyons, my AP Spanish Language teacher.

Sra. Lyons was a breezy force to be reckoned with. She was a master of the deadpan stare and an undercover Anthropologie model. Her contradictory energy –– both welcoming and ready to kick your ass –– left me awestruck as I scratched lessons on the subjunctive tense into my notebook.

Where most were pretentious and unimaginative in their teaching styles, Sra. Lyons created an exuberant environment that was silly, constructive and rigorous in one fell swoop. She taught Spanish not as a subject but as a language. It was meant to be used — not just to talk about grammar but to talk about politics, to tease students about liking each other and to discuss culture.

Her class wasn’t simply a Spanish language class, but a history, geography and literature class all at once. Her lesson plans spanned from simple listening warmups to reading the short story “Borges y Yo” by Jorge Luis Borges, knowing full well that we wouldn’t have understood it even if it was in English. But as she explained the story –– about a man who has separate public and private personas –– she made it incredibly relatable to us high schoolers by connecting it to social media presences.

Sra. Lyons wasn’t afraid to have a personality. She didn’t treat her students as if they were simply kids, but as if they were adults. She bantered with us, unabashedly criticized us and sweetly listened when we frantically worried about our grades. She made a point to make Spanish lessons something we could actually use in the future by teaching honestly.

While other teachers were preparing us for college, it felt like Sra. Lyons was actually preparing us for life.

For the most part, I felt like I fit in during high school. But when it came to the classroom setting, I was always afraid to be who I was. Conforming to what teachers expected of me was never a strong suit of mine, and no one liked the snarky girl arguing about how to read poetry.

But Sra. Lyons did. Sra. Lyons did not teach her students how to be submissive and soft-spoken like other teachers had. She didn’t want to take our personalities and replace them with knowledge about Spanish — she wanted us to be our own people.

Sra. Lyons taught me Spanish (and history and literature and geography) within the context of who I was. And I know if she had seen me in second grade, protesting the poisoning of the gophers, she wouldn’t have sent me to the principal’s office. She would’ve smiled and given me some matches to start a fire.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.

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