Center Interview With MALAS Alumna and High School Teacher Maria Eugenia Zelaya

As part of this year's International Education Week, the Center interviewed María Eugenia Zelaya, Center alumna and teacher at Eastside High School.

Center Interview With MALAS Alumna and High School Teacher Maria Eugenia Zelaya

November 13, 2018

María Eugenia Zelaya graduated from UF in 2002 with a master’s degree in Latin American Studies. She currently works as a teacher at Eastside High School in Gainesville, Florida. Her curriculum concentrates in intermediate and advanced Spanish. In this interview, she discusses her motivations to become a Spanish teacher and how she expands her curriculum to provide her students with a more integrated and global learning experience.

What motivated you to become a Spanish teacher and how long have you been teaching?

I am originally from Caracas, Venezuela and moved to the United States in 1992. I have always wanted to teach others about my language and my culture. I had the opportunity to teach lower level Spanish classes at the University of Florida while working on my MALAS degree and worked with the UF Upward Bound program that allowed me to teach high school students Spanish on the weekends and during their summer program. After those experiences, I just fell in love with teaching Spanish and decided to work as a High School Teacher. I have been teaching high school for the past 12 years and I currently teach at Eastside High School.

What kind of content do you integrate into your language courses?   

My language classes are not the regular Spanish class you can find in a high school. I have been able to create units that will cover topics on global issues, social justice, and peacebuilding. My students learn about human rights, immigration, education systems in different countries, indigenous groups, government systems, environmental issues, peace and conflict; among other topics. They are able to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment; they recognize their own perspectives in a diverse range of topics and recognize others’ perspectives.

Can you talk about some of your collaborations with the University of Florida Center for Latin American Studies and other agencies promoting Latin America/Global Education?

I have been fortunate to be part of some of the amazing professional development that the Center for Latin American Studies has done for teachers. Specifically, I have been working on bringing virtual guest speakers and integrating virtual exchange in my classroom. With the Center’s Outreach Director, we organized a Global Teacher Leader Initiative Workshop in June 2016 with the goal of promoting the integration of global education among Alachua County Public Schools.

What prompted you to begin integrating virtual exchange in your classroom?

I believe in giving my students as many opportunities as possible to practice what they are learning in the classroom. By connecting them with students their age, we make the language real. They are able to talk in the target language about those things that they like and understand that even if they live in a different country and speak a different language they have so many things in common.

What do you recommend that other teachers do to engage in global professional development opportunities?

The University of Florida Center for Latin American Studies offers great professional development and is an excellent resource to find virtual guest speakers.

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