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Perillo brings passion for foreign language to the classroom

Student teacher strives to maintain positive energy in teaching and life
The View in Ronda, Spain. Photo provided by Sophia Perillo

“If you make up your mind that you’re gonna have a good attitude about something, and you’re stuck in that attitude,” remarks new student teacher Sophia Perillo, “then you’re bound to find joy all over the place.”

While this may sound simple, finding joy and passion for learning is something many students find difficult in high school. However, when stepping into Perillo’s Spanish class you’re guaranteed to be met with a bright and energetic greeting. Having taught Spanish here since late January, Perillo offers a fresh perspective on education.

Something that sets student teachers apart from most professional educators is how close in age they are to the students. Perillo especially says the thing she finds easiest about teaching is relating to the pressures felt by high schoolers. She recognizes the culture of sports and after-school clubs here, and how that affects the amount of time available for homework.

Perillo, who currently attends Mount Holyoke College, described herself as a hardworking and motivated high school student. She kept herself active with sports and worked hard every day, giving her an overall positive experience.

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She’s aspired to be a teacher since kindergarten, and even used to “play teacher” by creating worksheets and lessons for her older sister. While she remembers many of her teachers as outstanding, one in particular was impactful on her teaching philosophies.

Her 6th-grade Spanish teacher pushed her students to challenge themselves because she believed they could rise to the occasion. Perillo admired her warm presence, and how due to her organization and consistency the students knew they would learn something useful every day in her class. Unlike some other subjects, Perillo always had fun with Spanish and felt it would apply to life.

Although initially nervous at the prospect of leading her own classes, Perillo said she’s gotten over that hurdle and enjoys the process of creating lessons and interacting with her students. She realizes that in a foreign language classroom, it is as much her job is to teach as it is to engage and entertain. A lot of effort goes into accommodating the needs and interests of everyone in the room, and matching the energy of each individual class. Perillo has come to learn that if you want the students’ attention, relationship building is key.

To both learn and teach a language, you need to be relentless.

“Even if you had a bad day, every time the bell rings you get a new shot to try again,” Perillo said. To her no matter what happens outside the classroom, when she walks in there it means putting in 100%. She said she is still improving at the language with the challenge of speaking every day to a room full of students, but she always reminds herself to bring her best.

One challenge of teaching a language class is the degree to which it receives less prominence than other subjects, however, with that comes a lot of freedom.

“I think some of the best learning comes when there isn’t pressure from a system to teach to a test,” said Perillo. She has found numerous opportunities to work her creativity into lessons, whereas that could be harder in a field like math. Along with grammar, Perillo educates students on the life lessons she learned while studying abroad in Spain.

Before traveling to Spain, Perillo hadn’t even let her parents hear her Spanish, let alone native speakers. When she first got there, she thought the whole trip was a mistake. The idea of embarrassing herself in a foreign land was daunting, but her mother told her, “give it a week and see what happens.”

In the end, Perillo’s travel experiences ended up being life-altering. The most memorable moment was going to Ronda. The town was only an hour or so away from the city where she lived, but it felt like an entirely different universe. She also got the chance to bond with her host family. “With the amount of [language] mistakes I’ve made, the amount of things my host family corrected, to have an opportunity to work out challenges has been so helpful,” said Perillo, “But if you don’t have a good self-image as a learner, you might quit.”

Although her host family would sometimes poke fun at her Spanish skills in the beginning, by the time she was heading back to the US they felt so proud of her improvements. Spending time with those who make that time worthwhile is most important to Perillo. She wants to share that sentiment with her students: no matter what level they start at, the sky’s the limit.

“When you are pushed so hard in every other class I think it’s a lot to ask to keep falling down and getting back up again. But it is necessary to learn,” Perillo said. Her goal is to not only give lessons in grammar and culture but to positively impact the lives of her students.

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