Saturday, August 6, 2011

Finally...My Bright Idea

Really cool Spanish teachers just don’t exist.

My goal in life is not to be “cool”.  I was never, ever in my life considered “cool”, and I’m ok with that.  Being cool has its downfalls – always having to look, act, and just BE perfect is not my style.  I have faults.  I have flaws.  I have quirks.

I’m just like any normal human being.  Normal people aren’t cool.

My Spanish teacher in high school, Mr. Walendziewicz (pronounced “wall-in-JEV-ich”) was not what I would consider to be “cool”.  He was, by far, my favorite teacher ever, and he is the reason that I became a Spanish teacher – but he wasn’t “cool”.  He worked hard, loved what he did, and did not put up with stupid crap.

If I had to describe him in one word at that time, I would have chosen “odd”.

Now, I would describe him as “passionate”. 

Have you ever heard the phrase, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”?  It’s one of my favorite mantras.  Mr. Walendziewicz definitely was a perfect example of this.

I do love teaching Spanish.  Not teaching Spanish for a year unquestionably made me realize how much I love it.  I made the most of my time teaching ESL, so I didn’t think that I would miss it as much as I did.

Now that I will be teaching Spanish again, I am excited, as I usually am when a new school year approaches – but, I need something to keep the passion alive throughout the year.  Reading China Millman’s article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and visiting Smoke as a result of reading that article sparked a bright idea to help keep the fire burning, and I cannot wait to see how it takes off.

Here is the basic concept:

My goal is to allow my students to explore the different Hispanic/Latino restaurants that exist right here in the Pittsburgh area.  However, this will be difficult, given that the district’s budget is EXTREMELY tight this year.  Students and parents will have to pay more out-of-pocket expenses for supplies, equipment, etc., so spending money for school-sponsored field trips will most likely be low on the priority list.

As part of my Spanish 1 and 2 classes, my students will have the opportunity to earn extra credit.  This will be the ONLY way that they will be able to earn extra credit, as extra credit is defined as “going above and beyond the regular classroom expectations.”  Of course, my students are expected to learn the material as defined by the curriculum, to do their homework, to study, etc.
My students will be able to earn extra credit by visiting the “authentic” Hispanic/Latino restaurants, ordering an “authentic” food item, and bringing me proof.  “Authentic” meaning NOT Taco Bell, Qdoba, Chipotle, Don Pablo’s, etc.  and ordering a Chalupa, or ground beef taco, or chimichanga.  It means trying something new, something that may not be on a chain restaurant’s menu, like fried plantains, or mole, or chicken prepared Peruvian-style.

I have been working diligently this summer to contact restaurants about their authentic menu items.  Several have been very receptive to the idea, and I thank Ibiza Tapas Restaurant on the South Side, Las Velas in Market Square, and Chicken Latino in the Strip District for being so quick to respond to my letter or email, detailing my plan.  I hope to hear back from others in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I have been compiling a list of restaurants and their locations for my students to refer to in the event that they chose to explore these establishments.

How will my students get to these places?   Some of my students drive, but most are not old enough to do so.  Hopefully, their parents, family, and friends will be supportive and offer to go with them (there will be incentive for this, too).  Also, public transportation is an option, or perhaps carpooling with friends who do drive.  This is the “above and beyond” part of the extra credit – it needs to be earned, not handed out like any other homework assignment. 

Essentially, I will be advertising for these restaurants like crazy this school year.  I am planning on visiting these restaurants myself, if I haven’t already (but I have no problem going back to them, either!)  I will write a review of my experience so that my students know what to expect.  Those reviews will be part of this blog, just like my review of Smoke in the last post.

In the spring, I want to expand this knowledge into the community and surrounding communities with a Latin American festival, of sorts, as a fundraiser for a trip to Spain that I am planning for my students who are interested in traveling.  I hope that these restaurants and other community groups will want to be a part of this celebration of Latin American culture.

So that’s my idea, in summary.  I will have more details for my students at the beginning of the school year, and in the meantime, I will post reviews of the restaurants that I have visited so far.

Follow me on Twitter: @senoritacibulka

See you August 29th, kids.


  1. I just found your blog from your review of Chicken Latino posted on Facebook. It is a great read! I'm not sure what school district you teach in, but if your students can travel for the extra credit, you should have them try Los Chiludos located in Southpointe in Canonsburg. It is a very authentic Mexican restaurant in which you can use your Spanish to keep you from getting rusty! I love their guacamole! I will be trying Las Velas based on your reviews!

  2. What you are doing is great! We would love to have you come to our show during this month so you can tell us ALL about your story! Talk to you soon!

  3. Thanks, La Rumba! I look forward to talking to you!