Every semester, the students enrolled in Dr. Patricia Sánchez’s Bilingual Approaches to Content-Based Learning class take to the streets of San Antonio armed with a pen, some paper, and a cell phone. Their assignment is to learn about the community around the elementary school they are assigned to as a way to better understand the young students they will work with as future teachers.
Sánchez calls these “community ethnographies.”
“This assignment is often an eye-opening experience for the students,” said Sánchez, associate professor and recently named chair of the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies. “It gets them out of their comfort zone and into spaces where they learn more about the city.”
The students then use what they learned about the community and integrate it into classroom lessons that they will teach during the semester. Their curriculum brings the children’s and families’ funds of knowledge into mainstream settings.
“If you’re going to do a math lesson with second graders, why not use the local mom and pop shop where everyone goes to buy groceries each week?” she said. “The community ethnographies make the lessons relevant to the public school students while bringing the community into the classroom.”
This sense of community, Sánchez said, is something that she strives to bring into each and every one of her classes.
“If I expect my teacher candidates to know their young students and communities, then I, as a professor, also need to know who is sitting in my UTSA classroom – not just a person’s first name and major, but their backstory, their family’s history,” Sánchez said. “What I model in the university classroom is something that my students can bring with them into their future public school classrooms. It helps build mutual respect and a strong appreciation for each other.”
This past summer, Sánchez was one of four professors from UTSA and one of only 56 educators from across the University of Texas System to receive a Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award. She is the first faculty member from the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies to receive the annual award.
“It is a tremendous honor to not only be nominated, but to be named a Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award winner,” she said. “This award gives visibility to the work we do as teacher educators, particularly the work we do in preparing educators to serve our local bilingual communities.”
Last spring, she also received the UTSA President’s Distinguished Achievement Award for Teaching Excellence for her work in the classroom.
“I try to have assignments that reflect my students’ strengths, but to also have tasks that address their weaknesses,” said Sánchez. “I don’t want anyone to be bored in my classroom, so I avoid lecturing for three hours. We’ll have in-class activities or break up into collaborative groups to process content and build student-to-student relationships. I also try to create assignments that honor various learning styles.”
More than 900 students have passed through Sánchez’s classroom in the 13 years she has taught at UTSA. Many of these students, she said, are positively impacting the field of education in some way.
“Becoming an educator has so many challenges in today’s public school climate. It has changed so much in the last decade. I emphasize to my students that the concepts and skills I impart to them are ones they can effectively use in their classroom for the next 20 years,” she said. “After each semester, I feel better about our public school system because another group of UTSA teacher candidates is ready to go out and impact the future.”
Story by Jo Ann Jones, COEHD