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‘Iowa nice’ on full display for visiting teachers from Spain

Date: Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Winter coats? Check. Housing? Check. Pots, pans, bedding, furniture? Check. Those are just some of the considerations going on in the dozen-plus communities where 14 teachers from Spain will be heading off to. The communities ensure the teachers can move in with few hiccups. They are, after all, going to be staying at least a year. They are part of the Iowa Department of Education’s Visiting Teachers from Spain program.

The program is designed to fill chronically hard-to-fill Spanish language positions in Iowa’s districts as well as offer a cultural exchange.

“It provides the opportunity for our learners in Iowa to be exposed to different cultures while learning a new language,” said Isbelia Arzola, a consultant with the Department who heads up the program. “It helps students be better global citizens.”

The teachers’ orientation to Iowa began this week in Des Moines. Arzola’s orientation laundry list is long and varied. She explains the fundamentals of the Iowa education system to the teachers, and explains to them what they should expect. Perhaps equally important is explaining life in Iowa, including its notoriously bitter winters.

The 14 teachers didn’t come to Iowa alone. In fact, the vast majority brought their families with them – including more than a dozen children. With only two exceptions, none of the children speak English. That will change, Arzola told the group, since children pick up foreign languages very quickly.

“Within three months, your children will be speaking English better than you,” she said.

Everyone shared their first impressions of Iowa. One common thread was Iowa nice, in which the Spanish teachers unanimously agreed was present with every interaction they so far had.

Carme Prunera
Ana Blanes

“Everybody has been so welcoming in West Liberty,” said Ana Blanes, who will be teaching in that community. “My husband, kids and I are very happy. We are eager to absorb the American culture and share our culture.”

Carme Prunera will be teaching in Audubon while her husband, Jaume, will be teaching in the neighboring district Exira. They brought their three children with them to ensure they have a family experience.

Carme likened the school she will be teaching at to an American movie set.

“When you see schools in American movies, the hallways are full of trophies and flags,” she said. “My school is just like an American movie. In Spain, by contrast, the schools are so spartan.”

All the teachers will teach Spanish or participate in Spanish immersion programs in which classes are taught both in Spanish and English.

Beyond that, the teachers will become Iowans for at least a year.

“The teachers become a part of the community,’ Arzola said. “They want to be a part of the community.”

The Visiting Teachers from Spain program continues to grow in popularity in Iowa. 

“Schools are talking to one another and they are appreciating the value of the program,” Arzola said. “The program increases the capacity in some schools, enabling them to expand their Spanish language classes.”

The Visiting Teachers from Spain Program is a venture between the Iowa Department of Education (Department) and the Ministry of Education and Culture of Spain.

The Visiting Teacher from Spain Program provides local school districts and accredited nonpublic schools with the opportunity to fill vacant Spanish positions. With this program, Iowa school systems have the option of recruiting highly qualified Spanish educators for a period of up to three years. Visiting teachers from Spain are certified Spanish language educators with at least two years of experience. Local school districts and accredited nonpublic schools may hire visiting teachers in accordance with all other local policies in terms of salary scale, licensure, and local system requirements.

The Visiting Teachers from Spain program in Iowa is overseen by the Department. The program serves public and accredited nonpublic schools by the state that operate as an elementary or secondary school, and as stated in the general statutes and regulations adopted by the State Board of Education.