I never thought that I could teach high school students from the United States. I had spent the past twenty-two years teaching English as a second language abroad. I couldn’t imagine myself teaching Spanish to American kids either. To top that off, I had to deal with significant vision and hearing loss, which worsened around that time in my life. But in 2006, I came home to help my mom as my dad had just passed away. My small town community had limited teaching opportunities. However, a nearby Christian high school offered me a job to teach two levels of Spanish.
I hadn’t even spoken Spanish regularly since 1986 when I lived in Costa Rica! How would I teach every day in a foreign language? I couldn’t even roll my rr’s perfectly. I was concerned my language skills would not come back or that I would come across as ineffective.
In addition to this challenge, when I started teaching, I realized my hearing wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Sometimes I couldn’t even figure out which student was speaking. When I frequently asked, “Can you repeat that for me?” students naturally assumed I meant they were pronouncing their Spanish incorrectly. They became defensive, even angry. I just couldn’t hear them; maybe I needed hearing aids.
My vision limitations also created problems in the classroom. Once I tripped over a student’s book bag on the floor and fell into her lap. I apologized but never explained why that happened. I tried to keep my vision loss a secret from the students. Eventually, they saw me training on campus with my mobility instructor when I was learning to use a cane for the blind.
My challenges increased as I tried to manage the students themselves. The students chattered throughout my class sessions and one student often questioned me when I taught grammar. During an especially difficult grammar lesson, she said, “I am confused and if I am confused, everyone else must be, too.” Challenges like these frustrated me and stretched me to the limits of my self-confidence.
And yet, God reassured me at the end of each day. Yes, Amy, I have placed you here. Trust me.
Ten days after I started teaching, my hearing aids came through. What a difference they made! I also asked the students to place their books under their desks so I wouldn’t trip over them. In a separate session, the principal tactfully explained about my vision problems and reinforced my request to keep the aisles clear. She also observed me teaching, and afterward, we problem-solved as to how to maximize my success in the classroom. We moved my desk to the back, and put a podium in the front. Little by little, I began to gain the confidence I needed to manage American high school students. I started to build a bridge and relate to them on their level.
At the end of the first year, the principal asked me to speak in chapel to the students about how I overcame the many challenges I faced. As I prepared my speech, I saw how God had grown my faith. From the moment I chose to trust God to provide work for me in my small community, He supplied every on-the-job need. He showed me that teaching strategies and methods work for any language teaching situation. He met my needs through the free hearing aids and cane training from the State, administrative support from the principal as well as encouragement from my co-workers. Talking to the student body changed me. Far from hiding my challenges, I celebrated victory over them.
I can now laugh if I crash the podium or bump into a chair, and can correct the students’ pronunciation with ease. If my hearing aid battery goes out or begins to chime during class, I joke about it with them. When the students see me with my cane, they understand my vision limitations better and reach out to help me.
Over the past two years, the bridge between my students and I has become stronger. In our free time, I sometimes show them how to read Braille. Language teaching is my specialty, no matter what the language!