Kesi’s Spanish Story

 I went to Gatlinburg-Pittman High School on the college path. That meant taking Latin 1 & 2 freshman and sophomore years and honors English freshman-junior year with Walters State Community College Dual Enrollment Composition and American Literature senior year. 

When my junior year rolled around, I thought Spanish would be a good elective to take. What I did not take into consideration when I enrolled in that class is that all of my friends took Latin with me already. I knew one girl who the seating chart placed at the front of the class while seating me in the far back corner with the best friend of the Class of 2000’s drug dealer behind me and said dealer beside him. The best friend cheated off of me while the dealer wrote out their Valium orders for that afternoon. When finished with business, the dealer would get his friend’s paper to copy.  That made for a very long semester for this former shy 16 year old.

Fast forward to summer before my senior year when it came time to meet with the guidance counselor to make my schedule for senior year.  He wanted me to take Spanish 2.  I refused.  I did not refuse much that he suggested, but I refused to take Spanish 2 based on my Spanish 1 experience.  I had 2 semesters of Latin so I had fulfilled that requirement for admission to the University of Tennessee.  The counselor told me about the honors students who had just graduated and gone for his Freshman Orientation at UT.  That student tested out of Spanish completely. While I was happy for that student, I still was not going to change my mind.

Summer 2000 I found myself at Freshman Orientation at UT and in the exam room for the Latin placement test.  Considering I had not looked at Latin since my sophomore year of high school, everything on the exam looked Greek to me.  Halfway through the exam, if even that far along, I began simply filling in bubbles.  I was resigned to taking Spanish as my foreign language as a Volunteer.  I didn't realize the full implication of that until I met with an advisor to work on my own schedule.  I had to take two 100 level Spanish classes to work my way up to the two 200 level classes required for a degree in the College of Arts and Sciences.

100 level language classes are not taught by Spanish professors.  They are taught by grad students who are working on their own tougher Spanish classes.  They have not been trained to teach a foreign language.  They are reading very tough classic Spanish and Latin American literature in SPANISH.  They are working on PhDs.  They don't have time to worry about undergraduates "getting" Spanish. I wish more college Spanish students knew that.

I took at least one class my first year at UT.  After my first year, I moved home over the summer with plans to move somewhere else.  Those plans did not work out, and I lived with my parents for several years at that time.

During summer 2001, I worked at the Guess Factory Store at what was then Five Oaks before Tanger bought the shopping center in Sevierville. My mom needed me to help her with the Pre-Kindergarten Summer School she and a friend had taught each summer as I was growing up. This time she called on me to use my newly acquired Spanish skills to help her and the other teacher communicate with the Mexican brother and sister who were on their roster.  

I had to USE my Spanish textbook to understand what REAL people were telling me! I had to use it to figure out how to TALK to five- and six-year-old children who relied on me to tell the other English speakers what they wanted them to know. The little girl emphatically told me tengo hambre.  I learned she was hungry.  I decided I wanted to figure out how to ask them questions.  I started with te gusta pan, te gusta pizza, te gusta  any word I could think of in Spanish.  I wanted to talk about what they liked.  Then I decided to take it a step farther and tell them what I liked with me gusta pan, me gusta leer, no me gusta leche.  

For Fall 2001 I got classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so I could work at a shop in town on Tuesdays and substitute teach at Pigeon Forge Primary School on Thursdays.  My first day working in the shop in town was September 11, 2001.  I also took my first 200 level Spanish class with a lady from Mexico City who was working on an advanced Spanish degree, except she knew how to teach it.  I wish I had kept up with her because I have thought of her often over the last twenty years when I have had Labrador retrievers in my life. Her family had a lab and she responded to her Spanish and her children's English.  Years later, I also had a bilingual chocolate lab.

I fell in love with Spanish as I interacted with the growing number of Mexican children in the school.  At that time, Mexicans were the first Latino nationality to arrive in Sevier County.  One of the most probable reasons they arrived here then was because of a number of them Latinos were employed in Atlanta during the 2000 Olympics. I was the first volunteer translator and interpreter at Pigeon Forge Primary as I pieced my limited Spanish together to communicate with children, teachers, staff, and parents.  During my time subbing and volunteering at PFP, I became friends with parents and families.  

In spite of all the success I was having at UT and my part time jobs, I found myself in a period of depression by Christmas 2001. I totally cut off all my friends from high school that summer because we had different ideas of what behavior was acceptable.  I worked with ladies I had known growing up at school and for a lady in my parents' Sunday school class at the shop in town.  When Mom told me I could go to the school's Christmas party with her and my dad, I felt I had hit an all-time low.

I went to church frequently that winter, and I read the Prayer of Jabez.  I began praying the Prayer of Jabez.  That prayer changed my life.  I credit the prayer for taking me from a shy, quiet girl to a more confident, outgoing young woman. THAT was when the Spanish really started coming together.  I was praying for God to expand my territory, and He did it in ways I never would have imagined!  

During that time, a professor of a required Spanish class asked me where I had studied abroad. I told him I hadn't.  He said that I sounded like I had spent a semester abroad, and he asked me again.  I told him I had been to Pigeon Forge Primary, Clintwood trailer park in Pigeon Forge, and ESL classes at First Baptist Church where I taught an intermediate ESL class.  

By spring 2004 I was approaching graduation and received an invitation to be initiated into UT's chapter of the National Spanish Honors Society.  At that time, I was also approached at ESL classes by a local lawyer and a man who was ending his time as a volunteer court interpreter.  They encouraged me to become a State of Tennessee Registered Court Interpreter.  I went to Nashville for the training and to take an exam.  I worked primarily in Sevier County's General Sessions Court with random assignments in Juvenile and Circuit Courts and the Department of Children's Services.  

In June 2005 I left interpreting and subbing to begin classes at the Carson Newman College to become a Spanish teacher.  I learned of an immediate opening at Gibbs High School in Knox County and began classes in UT's College of Education to get my Alternative C license to teach.  I took a foreign language methods class one night a week during my first semester as a high school teacher.  I worked at Gibbs from August 2005 until June 2008 when I learned of a job opening closer to home.  I worked at Seymour High School until June 2013 when I decided to retire due to Multiple Sclerosis complications. 

I will continue to post stories about my life in español.

Hasta Pronto!


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