Our Featured Teacher series introduces world language educators from across the country. Today we are excited to feature Ryan Casey, who teaches Spanish in Lexington, MA, and he is also a former Latin teacher. According to colleagues and students who nominated him, Ryan is a teacher who never stops learning and exploring. Read our Q&A with him below. Do you know a world language educator you would like to see featured on this blog? We’d love to hear from you!
Wayside Publishing: What language do you teach? Do you speak any other languages?
Ryan Casey: I teach Spanish, although I taught Latin during my first year. I teach grades 9-12 at Lexington High School, my alma mater, in Lexington, MA. I am in my fifth year of teaching.
WP: How did you become a language teacher?
RC: I always knew I wanted to teach. My AP Spanish teacher used to call me a “future Spanish teacher of America.” In fact, I did some substitute teaching for a former Latin teacher of mine while I was still in college! After graduating from NYU, I returned home and started as a long-term sub and then a part-time teacher at my high school. My colleagues really supported me becoming a member of the department.
WP: How did you come to learn the language that you teach?
RC: I benefitted from an elementary world language program when I was a kid. After discovering an aptitude for Spanish, I continued for the rest of my academic career and continue to be a lifelong learner, including regular travel to study in Spain.
WP: What is your approach to teaching a foreign language?
RC: I strive to create a communicative-based classroom that maximizes the time we have together to actively use the language and engage in lots of discussions and interpersonal activities about Spanish-speaking cultures. Part of my background is in journalism, and I had a mentor who said that what she loved about her job was that it was always something different every day. I try to achieve that same feeling for both myself and my students.
WP: What is the best and the most challenging part of teaching a foreign language?
RC: I think the best part is when students are excited to tell me about an experience they had when they encountered the language out in the world somewhere—especially when they were thrilled to realize that they understood it. Even hearing that my students have a playlist of Spanish music or have been watching a Spanish Netflix series makes me happy. One of the challenges right now is getting other people—colleagues in other departments, parents, administrators, other members of society—to understand what effective language teachers do nowadays. Our classrooms look very different from the ones of the past. Many people don’t even realize that we speak almost exclusively in the target language during class.
It would be great to see more understanding of what happens in today’s language classes.
WP: Why do you think it’s important for students to learn a second language?
RC: Right now, I think one of the most powerful elements of a good world language education is developing empathy in our students. The ways in which our classes ask students to reflect on the products, practices and perspectives of other cultures ensure that we are raising not just skilled learners, but good human beings who will be good ambassadors of their schools and their respective countries. Current events suggest that our world could benefit from more empathic attitudes.
WP: Do you get to travel to a country where your language is spoken? Can you talk a bit about your travels?
RC: I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks studying in Salamanca, Spain, when I was 17. It was my first time in Spain and my first immersion experience. I studied at a wonderful school called Colegio Delibes with incredibly talented, passionate teachers who helped me develop my own love for the Spanish language and culture. I’ve since returned to Spain many times and have even returned on multiple occasions to Salamanca and to Colegio Delibes, where I’ll be leading my first student trip next year! I am so appreciative of my “familia salmantina.”
WP: How do you keep your skills and your teaching fresh? What tips would you have for other teachers on pursuing professional development opportunities?
RC: Social media is such great (and free!) PD! There’s so much on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and endless blogs. I love to peruse what’s out there and pick something to try right away in class. I can get immediate feedback from the kids on whether the idea worked for them or not and then try something else another day. Often times, all it takes is one idea to inspire me for an activity or lesson. It’s easy to leave a PD session and be overwhelmed by the idea of implementation, but I find that if you jump in and try it as soon as possible, you’ll know right away whether it’s worth keeping/developing or not.
WP: Do you have a favorite moment from your classroom?
RC: One of my senior classes surprised me in the fall with a card. They knew that I had recently won MaFLA’s New Teacher Commendation and they got together and wrote me lovely messages that they presented to me at the end of class one day. I was completely floored. It made me reflect on the importance of developing a strong classroom community and the benefits of forming a language “family.”
WP: What is your favorite resource for teaching?
RC: I am so glad that I made a professional Twitter account last summer, because I have been getting so much inspiration and information from colleagues around the world, especially through #langchat and #CharlaELE1. It’s my favorite form of PD; while I’m relaxing at the end of the evening, I can scroll through and find something to think about or to put into practice.
WP: What is your favorite word or expression in your foreign language that does not exist in English?
RC: I’m cheating a bit, because this is translatable, but I love Spain’s multi-purpose “vale”!