Eastern Oregon University > Mountaineer Magazine > Alumni Stories > Speaking her language

Speaking her language

When she was still in high school, Anay Mendoza, ’19, witnessed the power of language in a classroom. 

She was shadowing a reading specialist in an elementary school, and after the teacher read a story she asked each student a question about it. All except one boy, whom she skipped as she went around the circle.  

“He didn’t speak English well enough to answer the questions,” Mendoza said. “I asked him in Spanish, and you wouldn’t believe the look on his face when he understood what I was saying. He knew most of the answers, but he didn’t have the opportunity to show it.”

Mendoza, one of the first graduates of EOU’s Oregon Teacher Pathway Program, spent her first year as a teacher in a dual-language school. She taught her third graders in Spanish each morning and English each afternoon. 

“Students who are learning English thrive during Spanish time, and vice-versa,” Mendoza said. “It helps students understand and learn a lot about empathy, perseverance—things we’re still learning as adults.”

Mendoza uses images and creative curriculum to engage her students regardless of their language skills. She said cooperation and communication are always the top priority. 

“I’ve learned that it’s better to be flexible,” she said. “This year threw me a ton of curveballs on top of learning how to teach in dual-language: how to be in a new place, brushing up on my own Spanish, and then a global pandemic.”

Like her students, Mendoza is finding opportunity amid the demand to adapt. Her classroom met virtually throughout the spring and commenced in the same way this fall. As the global community discovers new ways to stay in touch, Mendoza’s students are already developing a robust set of communication skills.

“There’s a lot of benefit to learning a new language. You’re given this key to a much wider community,” she said. “It’s not easy to learn a new language. It’s a great opportunity because down the line these kids can connect to a much wider audience.”

Mendoza’s horizons broadened when EOU faculty members introduced Oregon Teacher Pathway (OTP) at her high school. The program collaborates with schools to offer “Intro to Education” classes to teenagers interested in becoming teachers. 

Mendoza shadowed elementary teachers each week, cementing her desire to become an educator and spend her days with young students. 

“OTP played a huge role in my own college experience,” she said. “During high school it gave me the opportunity to discover that teaching was what I wanted to do … it gave me good insight into what it would be like to be an elementary school teacher.”

The program offers credit reductions and scholarships that made higher education affordable for Mendoza and her family. With its grow-your-own-teachers model, OTP aims to increase the number of racially and ethnically diverse educators in Eastern Oregon. 

“OTP is also about representation,” Mendoza said. “It’s a powerful moment when a student sees themselves in a teacher and they realize they can do that, too.”