Trudy is a middle school Spanish teacher for the New Haven Public Schools. She has presented on multiple topics for CT COLT and other language organizations, specializing in classroom instruction methods that are accessible and effective for all teachers, languages and levels. Her commitment to her students and her passion for language teaching is unparalleled; when we sat down to chat, she had just finished the Summer Proficiency Institute and mentioned how invigorating and inspiring it was, even after the tiring year we have all had teaching remotely.
So Trudy, how did we get here, to this point in your career?
Well I never intended to be a language teacher, although my family always knew I’d end up in a classroom… They told me I used to teach the bushes at my house! I truly wanted to be a doctor, but when I was in college, I was not at all enjoying my science classes and I loved the French and Spanish classes I was taking for fun. I switched my major but after graduation, I realized that I didn’t know what to do with a Spanish degree. My mother, being the Jamaican immigrant she was, told me that was unacceptable and enrolled me in a teaching program. When I started in this profession, I never really thought much about the “career” aspect, because in the beginning, teaching is so hard! But along the way, I had some really good mentors who nudged me along in the direction of leadership. In some ways I am a natural leader, but it was only in the past 5 or 6 years that I have really become more involved in curriculum writing and the like. When Jessica Haxhi (New Haven Supervisor of World Languages, ACTFL President) came to New Haven, she encouraged all of us to try new things, and pushed me to present at my first conference. After that, I sought out opportunities with the attitude that I would at least try them, and some things have been very scary, but I’ve found that if you take the initial steps and find people who are willing to work with you, that it can be so rewarding in the end.
Can you tell me one of your favorite teaching stories?
I’m going to tell you a recent one that made me laugh. I have a young male student, a little rambunctious, but such an innately likeable kid. He used to jump up the stairs – Boing! Boing! Boing! – and that’s how you knew he was full of it that day. He came into my class one day and handed me an assignment and I looked at it and said “This is Google translated, you have to redo this! You know I’m not going to look at this.” His response? “I did NOT use Google Translate! I know how much you hate it, so I used a DIFFERENT translator instead!” I just burst out laughing, because what can you say to that? …I guess I shouldn’t be so specific in my instructions next time about translators!
What is something about world language education, or education in general, that excites you?
I like the idea of possibilities. As you know, I am a middle school teacher, and my students are not fully formed people. Sometimes they can be maddening, but they’re usually very lovable. And I think that I teach them at a point in their lives where I can provide options about what they can be and do in the future. While I would love for them all to become proficient in Spanish, I know that isn’t the reality, so I believe that if I can at least impart some different perspectives to them about life (as a Black woman and an immigrant, who doesn’t have a lot of the same life experiences that many of them do) and open their eyes to new ways of thinking and inspire them to grasp the opportunities presented to them along the way… I like the idea of possibilities for my students. Growing up in Jamaica, I loved learning about Spanish history and all that in the classroom – I am a total school nerd – and then when, in college, I did a mission trip to South America and I was standing at Chichen Itza, I realized “Oh my goodness, I learned about this in a book and now I’m LIVING IT!” I would love for my students to have those experiences too.
How have your life experiences as an immigrant shaped you as a teacher?
I think it has made me more business-like in the classroom, very pragmatic and practical in my approach to instruction. But I also think it has given me a valuable perspective to pass along to my students. They know I want them to find or make opportunities for themselves, even if they never leave New Haven, they can still grow as people and have new experiences.
What would you like to accomplish in this role, as Teacher of the Year?
I remember, as a new teacher, feeling very alone, and struggling to come up with what I was going to teach and how to do it effectively. Even now, I am the only Spanish teacher in my building. I know there are a lot of new teachers and singleton teachers out there having a similar experience. Now that I am used to writing curriculum, and as a mentor to new teachers this past year as a part-time World Language coach in New Haven, I am even more certain of the fact that teachers need help and connections. In New Haven, we contributed lesson materials to a bank of materials for teachers to use, and I would like to expand that idea through the entire state with COLT: a lessons and authentic materials bank for teachers to contribute to and take from when they need it, to try new things. This would require me to work with technology and collaborate a bit, because computers and Trudy are not friends… But I truly think this is needed to support language teachers in the state.
What advice do you have for world language teachers, especially those new to the profession?
I do! I’ve been thinking a lot about the growth mindset, and I think it’s so important for new (and established) teachers to always be willing to change and evolve and be flexible in their methods. As a new teacher, I struggled with how to do this, and now I realize I would have been better served if I had others around me to help me… so if you feel alone, you should take the initiative to find others who can support you and reach out and ask for support. So many avenues exist for this purpose. Join an organization like COLT. Go to a conference or a PD session and intentionally learn something from somebody else. Staying isolated and doing things one way is not good. In this profession, we need to always continue to grow.