It’s all about making meaningful connections with students– talking, laughing and checking in. It’s these connections that drive Paulina Santos, a member of Bay’s World Languages department, to continue teaching year after year.
Born and raised in Mexico City, Paulina and her brother were sent by their parents to study English abroad in the US. They went to a summer language camp in Missouri where they were the only Spanish-speaking students, so they had no choice but to immerse themselves in the culture and learn the language. Paulina spent the next ten years in Missouri, attending high school and college as well as getting her first teaching job there, before realizing that she wanted to experience more diversity in an urban setting. So she packed her bags and moved to the East Bay where she taught at the Julia Morgan School for Girls in Oakland before landing at Bay.
Paulina pulls from her experience of learning the English language and applies it to her teachings of the Spanish language. It is more than just teaching Spanish: she is immersing Bay students in a language and culture, and teaching social skills that they will take with them for the rest of their lives. Part of the focus within Bay’s language department is the shift from textbook based grammar and vocabulary lessons to true language proficiency through dialog and real-world training. So when the topic is the arts, for example, instead of assigning art-based vocabulary from a textbook , Paulina’s classes are having conversations about their experiences with the art that surrounds them.
In class, they discuss different artists and entrepreneurs and then interact with these artists. Paulina recently had her students take salsa dancing lessons, conducted entirely in Spanish by a local salsa dancing instructor, to give them the experience of the art form and the means to absorb information in a fresh and innovative way. They then wrote about their experience dancing and how it relates to the culture and the arts. They learn so much more this way than just learning vocabulary from a textbook. “Learning a foreign language in high school can only take you so far, so it’s up to them to continue their learning. It’s my goal not to just teach them all of the verbs, but to spark something inside them so that they want to continue [learning the language] because eventually they will find it helpful.”
In order for students to become truly proficient in a language, connections must be made with each and every one of them. For Paulina, this is easy. She genuinely cares about all of her students and makes sure she knows what is going on in their lives. She uses this information to tailor her course curriculum so that it is relatable to her students, using their real-life interests, to help them to connect with the material and retain the information better. Her relationships with her students create deep bonds and trust in the classroom. Paulina also incorporates humor into her teaching and her life, and when one watches Paulina teach, one can see the students laughing and engaged, really connecting with the lesson. Because Paulina teaches all levels of Spanish, she is often able to witness a student’s development over time, not only as a Spanish-speaker but also as a student and as a person .
Paulina’s social nature extends well beyond the classroom. She loves to spend time with friends going to concerts, trying new restaurants and just being out in the world. It’s no wonder that she oversees the Social Events Club at Bay and helps to plan all of the fun social activities for the students. Paulina is an extremely active and outgoing person who lives a healthy lifestyle. Some of her favorite activities include biking to work, taking workout classes at the gym, practicing yoga and camping.
Favorite Food: EVERYTHING…but is very into Phở at the moment
Favorite Book: Jane Green and Emily Giffin novels
Favorite Movie: James Bond series