I did not come to teaching via a direct path. I knew I wanted to help kids, but I started as a psychology major. After working for several years at a residential facility while pursuing my degree, I realized that perhaps there was a better way to help kids before they got “locked up.” Meanwhile, my mom and aunt, both educators, would probably love nothing more than to regale you with stories of when Alyssa did something or said another and how they knew I would eventually land in education, but the time I spent at this facility provided me insight and opportunities I will always cherish.

One day while I was on break, the school on campus was shorthanded and they asked me to help 12 girls–all at a different grade level and basically independent study for every subject. Their blatant disgust for school struck me, and when I asked why, they gave me lots of reasons why they believed they couldn’t do it. Little by little we began to make progress as a group. As I highlighted what they did well or even correctly, I found they were more willing to work on areas in which they needed to grow. Having and inside look at how the system helps I also became aware of the limitations of the help. Girls would transition home and before I knew it they were back. Many said they felt safer “locked up”. To say this bothered me is an understatement. I wondered if I could be of greater help to kids if I worked with them BEFORE they got to the point of being hospitalized or being placed in a group home. Knowing I was six credits short of a major in Spanish I went abroad to finish the credits. Upon my return, I decided to shift my focus to education and sought my first teaching position.

It wasn’t until years later that I read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck that I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the need for a growth mindset in education. Essentially, we can all learn and grow. Intelligence is neither fixed nor finite. We can only improve what we practice. What are you practicing with your students? Are you practicing meaningful exchanges or pieces of the communicative puzzle in isolation?


Published by Alyssa Villarreal

Alyssa Villarreal, is the President of Advance Learning and World Language Coordinator for Shelby County Schools (SCS) in Memphis, TN. Ms. Villarreal holds two masters degrees (Curriculum and instruction and educational leadership). As the World Language Coordinator for Shelby County Schools (SCS), she coordinates the district’s language program, which includes programs in eight languages including Spanish, French, German, Russian, Latin, Japanese, Arabic and Chinese. Ms. Villarreal has written and directed three successful Foreign Language Assistance program (FLAP) grants in her nine-year tenure in SCS. The first was to build a K-12 Russian program and was received in 2007. She was one of eight World Language Coordinators nationally to receive a 2008 FLAP grant to build K-12 global villages in Japanese, Arabic, Russian, and Chinese. In addition to her district duties, she has worked as the Foreign Language methods instructor for the University of Memphis. She has served as program director of three STARTALK programs for Memphis City Schools, consultant to other STARTALK programs and a STARTALK site visitor.

In addition to her district duties, she has worked as the Foreign Language methods instructor for the University of Memphis. She is currently serving as President of the National Association of District Supervisors of Foreign Languages (NADSFL) and was named the 2012 NADSFL Supervisor of the Year.