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Margarita Carhuaslla - Learning a New Language to Teach Others

Published on 3/8/2016 6:00:00 AM

Name: Margarita Carhuaslla
Role: Spanish Teacher at Young Scholars of McKeesport Charter School and Baldwin Elementary School
Graduating Degree Program: Master of Education (MEd) in Foreign Language Education

In 2004, Margarita Carhuaslla was faced with a difficult decision. She lived in Peru and taught elementary students, and her sister lived in Pittsburgh. The two had talked for years about Carhuaslla coming to the states. However, once the paperwork was ready, she only had six months to decide if she was willing to completely uproot her life and move to another country where she didn’t even speak the language. She decided to take the journey.
Growing up, Carhuaslla loved “playing” teacher. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be since I was a kid,” she says. Flash forward, and while attending college at age 19, a high school needed a substitute teacher, and she took on the role. “It was scary at first, but I was excited at the same time.”
When she graduated from college in 2006, she began substituting at a high school and eventually worked temporarily at an elementary school, which eventually became a full-time role. “I realized that teaching younger kids was what I liked to do," she says. “I liked what I was teaching in respect to language, using different strategies like games and songs. Being a teacher is more than being in the classroom and teaching a subject, you need to get involved with parents and community in order to help the student to achieve the learning objective." 

But to teach the elementary kids, she had to have an additional degree than the one she currently did for high school education. She went back to school for two years at the University of San Martin de Porres.  
And after moving to the states in 2004, she spent nearly 10 years working as a nurse to earn money as well as taking ESL courses to learn English, before finally returning to school via the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.
Despite her years of teaching and schooling, attending the University of Pittsburgh helped Carhuaslla in a variety of ways. She says, “When I started doing my practicum here, I was teaching but didn’t know if the students were understanding me. Teaching your own language to students whom never learned it before can be sometimes difficult. I learned how to teach again, this time how to teach your own language. You have to be creative, use a lot of images, use a lot of communication. Learning another language is more than just to know how to speak the language, but you need to understand the perspective behind the language in order to understand it. As a Peruvian, I love to show and share my culture with my students.”
One particular class she enjoyed was with faculty member Heather Hendry Annegan. “Dr. Hendry had a big impact in my learning on how to teach another language.”

So as graduation loomed, did Carhuaslla feel she was prepared to lead a classroom again, this time in an entirely new language? “I was ready to apply what I had learned. Sometimes the reality is different though, so you need to be able to adapt your teaching to the students that you are working with,” she says. “When you get to the classroom you still learning, learning never ends. You learn from your students and from the community.”
Since graduating in April 2015 from the School of Education, Carhuaslla has been splitting her time between both Baldwin Elementary School and the Young Scholars of McKeesport Charter School. She teaches Spanish to students from kindergarten to fourth grade.
The most challenging aspect of her teaching has been figuring out how to reach the students. “At first, it was kind of awkward because of the language and culture barrier. Even though I had experience teaching, I felt that it was the first time that I was teaching. I needed to know my students, where they come from and their background in order to create my lessons,” Carhuaslla says. “I tried to build a relationship with my students in order to gain their confidence so they can open up to me about their lives, desires of learning, abilities and troubles. To know the background of each student is really important. Each student has different abilities and you need to focus on that.”
One particularly amusing and satisfying moment for Carhuaslla, when she knew she was reaching her students, occurred around the time she was teaching her class about ways to express how they feel. “One of my students went to the doctor, and when the doctor asked about how he was doing, the child responded to the doctor in Spanish. It was funny, but at the same time, it made me realize that they were learning. When you hear stories like this, you know that students are getting what you are teaching and using it outside the classroom which is ultimately the purpose of learning a second language. It is a rewarding thing.”

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