Throughout high school, I took Spanish classes. The teacher was wonderful, my best friend was always in my class, and I loved being able to learn a new language. I never became fluent, and now when you tell someone who actually grew up with the language, that you took 3 years of Spanish in High school, they laugh and call it fake. However, I believe I learned alot in that class, the teacher always making sure the students who actually were fluent, were comfortable telling her if a word or two was wrong. Mrs.VanBerkum was also a fun teacher, with a love for not only the language she was teaching, but the cultures that came with it. It was also very evident that she was a follower of God, as she wore her faith on her sleeve… I don’t know if I would have enjoyed Spanish quite as much if I didn’t have a teacher like her.

I recall one test that I felt ready to ace. It was midsemester, and we had our new seating arrangements specifically for the test: Mrs.VanBerkum would usually seat the fluent speakers next to the students who were more likely to know the material: less cheating, more focus. This particular day, I was sat next to a kid I’d yet to talk to at all, he also happened to be fluent. So it came as a shock to me when I heard a ‘psst’ coming from his direction. As I caught his eye, he then proceeded to ask me the answer for question 6 or something, and I just sat there, like… you’re the fluent one, you should know this. My teacher had a motto for the tests, she called it “poop,” and it stood for peepers on own papers. So, when this kid was asking me for an answer, I just whispered back, “poop,” getting back to the test at the risk of seeming like the nerdy kid with a highstrung attitude. I ended up Acing that test, but I don’t know how the other kid did. 

We had to pick out names for class. We couldn’t use our own, and the Spanish names we picked would be the ones we’d go by for the rest of the year. After contemplation, and loss of words, I enlisted my friend to help me with a name. She had chosen Lola for herself, and we decided on Soledad for my name: to which we were under the impression, meant Sunshine, but it’s definition is more or less, Solitude and loneliness. Sol is sunshine, Soledad, although close in sound, is a very different word. What can I say? Our Spanish was a bit rusty. 

I guess that fit better with my high school character anyhow, I was always more apt to do my own thing, as opposed to being peppy and positive, like someone by the name of sunshine may be. The second year students would grade papers for our class, and with that, one of my guy friends- yeah, The guy in a few letters back- discovered my Spanish name, using it to poke fun at me. I didn’t care though, sunshine or solitude, I could live through a year with that name.

During Christmas time, Mrs.VanBerkum gave us vocal cards, pulling us aside to tell us how great we were doing in class and all that. It was personal to each of us, so as I listened to her, she told me that I had reminded her of herself at my age… quiet, and reserved, but bright with the potential to do anything. I nearly cried hearing that: someone who was loved by so many, telling me that I was like her, and that, despite my disbelief in myself, that same teacher believed in me and my future. It wasn’t the last time a teacher would tell me something to that degree, or the first, but it’s the one I remembered being the most meaningful to me. 

As of now, my Spanish needs work. I can still translate a few things here and there, but I’m not as knowledgeable as I once was. For me, ASL is the new language I’m striving to learn, and although it’s done with hands instead of your vocal chords, I’m taken back to those many Spanish classes I’d filled my mornings with in High school. I’m remembering how it felt to fill my vocabulary with more foreign words and meanings, or work alongside people with the same passion for a new language as me. I’m recalling those school days when I had a wonderful teacher to expand my understanding of another language, and of how I should see myself. Spanish was the first new language I learned, but it was so much more than just a language that kept me coming back to the classroom. 

With thanks for everything,

Melissa

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