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Teachers from Spain Connect with TC

As The New York Times first reported, "It may seem odd, in a city with more than a million households in which Spanish is spoken, that the Board of Education has gone all the way to Spain to find people to teach Spanish."

But that it did, says Maria Torres-Guzman, Associate Professor of Bilingual Education. Torres-Guzman has been working with the New York City Board of Education and Spain's Ministry of Education for more than two years to recruit seven experienced teachers for a pilot program that sent them to two school districts in the Bronx to teach Spanish to middle school pupils.

The seven Spaniards, all of whom have been teaching for four years, arrived in mid-August and started their new jobs when school opened in the fall. "Their presence in the system is intended to promote exchanges in educational settings," says Dr. Gomez Dacal, who heads the education office at the Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Dacal also feels that this pilot program will promote better preparation and enhanced foreign language training for teachers in New York City public schools and Spain. "Moreover," he adds, "this initiative will provide the teachers from Spain with greater fluency in English, which will assist them on their return to Spain. Certainly, it will have the added factor of advancing values associated with international relations among students in both countries."

This is the first time that Spain has sent teachers to New York City since a failed program in the early 1980s. That program was discontinued after the teachers complained of a lack of advice and support from both their government and the New York City Board of Education.

As part of a pilot program, Torres-Guzman is offering the teachers a course that will serve "as a support for them as they begin to adapt to New York and the student population." The course will also focus on pedagogical issues since the teachers will be relating with a student population they don't know and new circumstances they have never experienced.

"I'm interested in teachers reflecting on their own process of acculturation and using that as a vehicle for having a conversation around the acculturation process the children are going through," says Torres-Guzman.

She is also holding conversations with the Embassy of Spain about the possibility of setting up a teacher resource center for teachers of Spanish with a particular focus on professional development.

In explaining why the Spanish Ministry of Education is so interested in the pilot project at this time, she says, "The European Community is posing some real challenges to Spain at the level of multilingual education. Moreover, Spain is seeing a growing number of immigrants entering its society. Finally, its domestic situation, particularly in Catalan, is pressing."

Above all, Torres-Guzman says, "Spain is finding the world changing and their teachers need to know how to work in multicultural/multilingual settings. So the Ministry is emphasizing that their teachers will learn a lot here, and they are going to go back with those tools."

So, one may ask, "What's in it for the children of New York City?""First of all," Torres-Guzman responds, "the reason why these teachers were brought here is that there is a shortage of teachers who are fluent Spanish speakers in the New York City Public Schools. These particular teachers are specifically entering school districts where there is a very high need for them and they are being placed in middle schools to focus on Spanish."

"The value of these teachers," she says, "is that they are strong in the native language of many of the children they teach. They also bring another world-a global society-that kids can learn about because the children shouldn't stay only within their own narrow world."

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