Spanish professor greatly changes ways of teaching

Photo of an old building.

By Evan Atkins

May 1, 2019

Many people dream of traveling the world, but never make the time to do so. One GCC Profesora, however, made her dream come true when she traveled to Salamanca, Spain to study European techniques for teaching language.

Adjunct Instructor of Spanish Julie Miller has been teaching at GCC for the past 17 years. But rather than be content with her teaching methods and knowledge of the Spanish language, Miller applied for, and was awarded, a scholarship to take a Master’s class in Salamanca.

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) offers scholarships every year for professors of various languages to take advanced classes either online or abroad.  Miller’s scholarship earned her a summer-long Master class on advanced Spanish and European techniques for teaching language at the University of Salamanca, in the City of Spanish itself.

“The grammar I used to cover is very different now because I was exposed to a much higher level and way of thinking about it,” said Miller.  But she learned far more than just language mechanics on her trip. “I learned about the European standards [for education],” she said.

 “Anytime an instructor gets to experience the culture authentically and then bring that back to their students; it just adds so much to a course,” said Kathy Kimber, professor of Spanish at GCC. She said that she was “impressed” that Miller, as an adjunct Instructor, would be willing to take on such a challenge and responsibility.

Miller said, “In attendance [at the Masters class] were teachers from Russia, Belgium, Italy, France and Peru.” By exchanging lesson plans, curriculum, and teaching techniques, as well as being immersed in Spanish culture for a whole summer, Miller said that her own teaching methods have changed a lot. She now uses her experiences visiting the Spanish cities, monuments, and people to teach her own students about Spanish culture and language. She explained that, instead of using contrived, often silly, word-games to teach her students the tenets of grammar, she now uses games that children from Spain play in real life.

Claudia Drechsel, who took Spanish online from Miller while she was still in Salamanca, was impressed at how different the class was from other language classes she had taken. “[Miller] had a ton of pictures up on social media,” she said. She was impressed at the quality of the online class and how well Miller taught it, even at such a distance. 

Miller had reasons for taking on this challenge other than just a desire to become a better professor of Spanish. “I needed to do something that I would tell my students to do,” she said. “I felt like I had to be a model.” She wants to show her students that dreams can come true. Miller said, “A message I want to send is that it’s a national scholarship. It was like, one in a million shot. I want people to try… you never know.”