World languages teacher grows department while adjusting to American teaching

In her 15th year at the school, world languages teacher Edith Paredes still has plans to expand her department

February 11, 2015

World language teacher Edith Paredes stands in her classroom with an American flag on Wednesday, Feb. 11.
Photo by Sharnelle Bennett
World language teacher Edith Paredes stands in her classroom with an American flag on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

 

As she walked through a job fair in spring of 2000 after having recently receiving her teaching license, world languages teacher Edith Paredes’ motive was different from most of the other attendees.

“I just thought it would be a good idea for [seeing] ‘How was the interview [and] hiring process in the U.S.?’ and went to a job fair,” Paredes said.

She had intentions to move back to her home country, Paraguay, soon afterward, but an encounter with former principal Dr. Joe Novak changed her mind.

“De Soto school district was not on my list,” Paredes said. “He sold the school. He was so charismatic, I was like, ‘I want to work here.’”

However, Paredes was in the U.S. on a student visa at the time, which only allows for a year of work experience. During her interview, she told Novak this, and he offered to aid her in the process of getting a work visa if she were to continue to teach at the school.

“He said, ‘Yep, just give me six months. And, after six months, if I like what you’re doing, it’s a done deal,’” Paredes said. “After the six months, I got back to him and [he] said, ‘Yep, I want you to stay here.’ So, he helped me do the paperwork and do the application.”

After that year of teaching, Paredes never moved back to Paraguay. Instead, she stayed at the school, teaching for all 15 years since it opened in 2000.

Before her first year of teaching high school Spanish, Paredes had not had much prior experience teaching Spanish. Instead, she had mostly taught English as a second language and kindergarten-level reading in Paraguay.

“That was a different kind of challenge for me, because I had taken courses, [like] Spanish literature in the high school, but that had been a long time ago,” Paredes said. “Since I was a native speaker, I was not forced to take like a proficiency test or anything like that, so I was also learning along … It was a whole learning process for me as well.”

Her students helped her learn along the way, though, and she began to learn to teach Spanish the way they had previously learned it.

“When I was teaching the present subjunctive they would say, ‘Oh, yeah, the weirdo,’” Paredes said. “And I was like, ‘The what? The weird what?’ Or the boot verbs, and I was like, ‘the boot what? I don’t call them boots’ … And they would show it to me, and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, and that makes sense.’”

When I was teaching the present subjunctive they would say, ‘Oh, yeah, the weirdo.’ And I was like, ‘The what? The weird what?’”

— World languages teacher Edith Paredes

As she kept teaching in the U.S., Paredes became more accustomed to American high school culture, and eventually got her residency and citizenship after marrying her husband. Despite this, she said she struggled with getting used to the informal nature of teaching in the U.S.

“Where I come from, there’s a huge gap between the teacher and the student,” Paredes said. “It was kind of an adjustment … to say, it’s OK to be yourself in the classroom in the United States … It’s OK to laugh, it’s OK to make jokes, it’s OK to kind of like dance around and walk around and still be a teacher figure and be respected.”

The years began to pass and, as Paredes stayed at the school, she began to see the world languages department grow. In her first year teaching, the department consisted of her, a part-time Spanish teacher and a French teacher. Now, it has five Spanish teachers and one French teacher.

“I’m very happy that it’s grown this much,” Paredes said. “More and more kids are taking Spanish; more and more kids are going all through the five years. I saw the middle school Spanish program grow as well, starting with Spanish I in the eighth grade.”

With a growing department, the district also began hiring more Spanish teachers. World languages teacher Niti Kamath had Paredes involved in her hiring process.

“I was a little intimidated by her actually because, obviously she’s a native speaker, and it was funny because she was very, very pregnant at the time as well,” Kamath said. “It was kind of a mix of intimidation but also sympathy, because she was pretty large at the time … She was very nice and very personable, though, too.”

Even though some members of the world languages department have come and gone, Paredes still experiences a close bond with her department.

“We love the new people coming in, but I still certainly miss the ones that have gone,” Paredes said. “We’ve always been known for a very tight world languages department … We’re really good friends and we have a good time together.”

For Kamath, this bond extended into the classroom as well. She said Paredes has helped her and other world languages teachers in many different aspects of their jobs.

“She’s probably helped almost every single person in our department with at least every single aspect of teaching, and also our personal lives too,” Kamath said. “She is very outgoing, and she makes it very comfortable to go talk to her, whatever issue we might have. She really is more of my friend than the head of the department.”

Paredes also helped to extend Spanish I to district middle schools. As she continues to teach, she hopes to see high school languages more available to younger students in the district.

“I would love to see Spanish starting in the younger ages, and foster that love of even more languages, not only Spanish,” Paredes said. “[That way], here in the high school we can focus on more like literature and speaking groups … and kind of make it grow in a way that [students] can exit the building with being more fluent and kind of knowing what they want to do in the future with Spanish or French or whatever else. That would be really cool, that would be so awesome.”

After 15 years of teaching at the school, Paredes still doesn’t regret her initial decision to work at Mill Valley.

“There’s not one day, I’m not even joking, that I wake up and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to work,’” Paredes said. “I love my job, I love the kids, and I’m so spoiled to have the cream of the crop … I work with incredible people and I still love being here every day.”

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