We’re thrilled to be sharing Peggy Malec’s voice this week as she has made her in person school year filled with connection, love, and constructing her own classroom! Read her incredible story:
Tell me about you
I’ve been in the classroom since 2011. I started out as a TESOL instructor and hated it. I fell into my job as a Spanish teacher. We were living at a boarding school in California where my husband taught Latin when one of the teachers had a medical emergency. I was called into the division head’s office on a Thursday afternoon and was told that I would begin teaching Spanish 1 and 3 on the coming Monday. I was terrified. I cried a lot. I felt insecure and scared. My Spanish was rusty, and I found myself working to stay a few pages ahead of my students. It was a struggle and then something sort of amazing happened: I fell in love. I fell in love with my students and I fell in love with teaching, but it took me much longer to develop my identity as a teacher. Only in the last few years do I feel like I know who I am in a classroom.
In my classroom, I am kind and patient. I am affectionate and compassionate. I love my students and I love the work that we do together. When I am with them, I don’t want to be anywhere else. I want to hear what they have to say, and I want to help them to grow and try and I want to help them fail joyfully as often as they succeed.
Tell me about your school
My school is a smallish boarding school in Hudson Valley New York. Our students tend to be very talented at a variety of things but are maybe not traditionally academically talented. Our faculty motto is that every student is known and needed. This means that we spend a lot of energy on getting to know our students and we put a lot of effort into making sure that they have a role to play and that they know that class, sports, and activities wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t there. I have a lot of freedom to do what I want. My students want to connect with each other and with me. I know I’m extremely fortunate.
How are you teaching this year?
We are in-person this year and I am grateful. We all wear masks and stand six feet apart, but we are together. On another level, I’m teaching with a lot of love. I call my students “mis niños” and try to communicate affection for them in all that I do. I want to be a warm demander. I want them to know that I will ask them to work and I will support their work.
How you set up your class and why?
My classroom is in the attic of our school library. All summer, I begged to be given a deskless classroom. I offered to teach in the gymnasium or the dance studio. When I got my classroom assignment, I felt defeated because not only was I teaching in three different classrooms with desks, those desks were set up in rows in order to allow for social distancing. Heartsick, I went to talk to the school librarian to see if she would let me teach in her library. With a gleam in her eyes, she said that she could offer me something even better, but we would have to do some manual labor. We went upstairs and she showed me the library attic which had empty bookshelves taking up the center of the room.
A few days later, a crew of female faculty showed up in that room with sledgehammers, crowbars, and goggles. I even brought my 3-year-old daughter and she got to bang on things with her own little hammer. We tore down the shelves and created a wide-open space. We found some old carpets and rugs around campus to cover the bare spots on the floor where the bookcases had been. The librarian used some of her budget to buy me a projector and a screen. Although we had emailed Admin about our plan, they were still shocked that we had gone through with it.
I love my classroom. It is a safe little space away from the noise and distractions of the school. I have made signs in Spanish that reflect my belief in human dignity and have covered certain surfaces with white board decals so that we can write on the columns and some of the walls. The nickname for the classroom is “The nest” and lately faculty have taken to calling my students and me “nesters”. I am a happy mother hen.
Also, there’s a rumor that my classroom is haunted. A colleague and I have tried to hold a séance, but no ghosts appeared. I’ve ordered a Ouija board and we are excited to try again.
What are you focusing on in the first weeks of school?
I am aware that all of this could fall apart, and we could be forced back to virtual classes at any time. With that in mind, I am trying to really dig in with my students and create connections and community that can carry through a period of remote learning. I am also trying to establish routines and habits that will help us to transition when we need to. I am also focusing on letting my students see and feel how grateful I am to be back in the classroom. I never want one of my kids to doubt whether or not I care about them. I can’t control how they think about me, but my hope is that when they feel worried or scared that they think of me as someone who cares and wants to help.
What are you goals for you and your students this year?
I want us to form a community of learning. I want us to try new things and discover new skills and challenges. I want us to respect and care for one another. Language comes through usage. My goal is that our language usage will be meaningful and nourishing.
How will you be taking care of yourself this year?
The way that I’m teaching this year really fills my cup. When I am in my classroom, I am happy. If that changes, I will take a hard look at what has changed so that I can get it back to a better place. I am also acknowledging that I can’t do it all. I’m going to drop the ball sometimes. I am going to fail, and I am going to need to fix the things that I break. I am going to be wrong and that’s not just okay, it’s normal. If I were using the ACTFL scale for myself as a teacher, I would say that I am an intermediate mid who is about to become intermediate high. I know who I am and I accept where I am in my growth. I’m also asking for more help. My mom is quarantining with friends in Albany right now so that she can come and stay with us and help us manage this wild life that we’re living.
I am exceptionally fortunate. For all the swirling chaos and bad news in the world, I am able to find joy and do work that feels meaningful. I am filled with gratitude and wonder.