This year’s SWCOLT Nominee for ACTFL Teacher of the Year is Darcy Pippins. Darcy teaches Spanish III, IV and AP Spanish Language and Culture at Norman High School in Norman, OK–the same high school from which she graduated! She has taught Spanish for 18 years in varying capacities, including Fluency Fast courses and classes at the University of Oklahoma.
This is the second of five posts featuring the regional nominees for ACTFL Teacher of the Year. To celebrate Darcy, please leave a comment on the post with a word of encouragement, a connection that you share, or something that stood out to you while reading her responses to my 10 getting-to-know-you questions!
Why did you decide to become a language teacher?
I was always “good” at Spanish in high school. By good I mean I could conjugate verbs and memorize vocabulary like a boss. My mad skills got me 10 hours at the University of Oklahoma so I continued taking Spanish as an undergrad. I started out as a visual communications major, then quickly changed to Pharmacy, minoring in Spanish. After Organic Chemistry, I decided that Spanish was the way to go. I’m so thankful for Organic Chemistry, because without it, I wouldn’t be a teacher!
What is your favorite memory as a language learner?
In Spanish IV, with Ms. Kincaid, we performed the Musicians of Bremen in Spanish, for the elementary schools in our district. I was the rooster…
What is your favorite word in your target language?
I’ve had several throughout the years, fiambres, fideos, murcielago, ñus, but tiquismiquis is my current favorite.
What do you love about teaching?
EVERYTHING! I love that I get to teach my kids for 2-3 years consecutively and the relationships I develop with them. I love seeing them excited about Spanish, especially when they get to use it in the real world realizing that they are acquiring a language. I LOVE when former students come back to visit on their Christmas breaks and share their language experiences at the university level. I LOVE observing my students teaching elementary students Spanish.
Describe the best professional development that you have experienced.
Learning French through hybrid immersion using TPR, TPRS and CI approaches first with Diana Noonan at SWCOLT and then again with Gayle Trager in Norman, OK. This was a pivotal moment for me; to experience what it is like for MY students learning another language from ground zero. I remember SO much from my French experiences even though I don’t have many opportunities to practice. Every teacher (world language or other subject) should experience learning another language!
Who has made a great impact on your teaching, and how?
Jason Fritze, Lois Lawler-Brown and Russell Ray have made a huge impact on my teaching in different ways. These three were part of the original Norman High School World Language Department my first few years of teaching. Jason Fritze and I started teaching together in 1998. I would’ve quit after my first year if it weren’t for him. He is my rock. He took me to my first NTPRS Conference in 1999 in Oklahoma City. He is the reason I gave up the textbook and never looked back. I taught Spanish I and II, he taught French I and Spanish I. When his CI/TPRS students came to me in Spanish II combined with my students, they spoke circles around my textbook taught students. That was an awakening! He encouraged me to get involved in my state, regional and national organizations and to pursue National Board Certification. I miss planning and working with him very much. Lois taught me to be a leader in our field. She was our department chair and she started the AP program in our district in 1997. I inherited the AP program when she retired. When CI/TPRS was more controversial, she always encouraged us to go for it! She said, “it makes no difference what approaches you use to get students from point A to point B, as long as you get them there.” Russell and I stumbled through this paradigm shift together. We were on a tiny CI island in the middle of a grammar-based ocean. We fought the good fight, wrote our own curriculum, and challenged each other.
What is an area of teaching in which you would like to grow or improve?
I always feel the need for improvement. Novel ways to provide comprehensible input, reading strategies, making everything compelling, embedding culture into everything, different ways to do PQA, and the list goes on an on. I need to find more time to blog and peer observe! Peer observation is one of the best and cheapest professional development and it’s right at our fingertips!
Why should your language teaching colleagues in the US consider joining ACTFL?
ACTFL is the support system and advocacy that you need to justify and validate what you do! Especially now since there is no funding and our political leadership is unstable, you need to stay connected to your state, regional and national organizations. We must convince our parents, administrators, students and stakeholders that ALL students should have access to quality proficiency-based CONTINUOUS world language programs in our country. ACTFL has the research and support that you need to advocate for that!
What is one strategy that you use to provide comprehensible input to your students?
I LOVE PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers). I could do it all day! It’s the best way to build relationships among students. I feel so lucky that I teach language because everything we do in the target language comprehensibly is relevant. I feel so bad for the math and science teachers. They have so much to “cover” due to standardized testing, that they have no time to really get to know their students.