Friday, September 11, 2009

Greenville Spanish Teacher Wins Award

The Greenville News

GREENVILLE, SC – As a student, Kelly Nalley was an overachiever.

She was valedictorian of her high school graduating class and was voted "most likely to succeed" by her peers.

But on her first day as a first-year middle school Spanish teacher, Nalley stapled her finger to the bulletin board. She was 21 years old, and the class was scheduled to arrive 10 minutes later.

That year, she also spent many afternoons crying in her supply closet, exhausted and frustrated.

"Nothing had ever been negative in my life before," she says. "Everyone had always been nice."

In her professional biography she wrote, "After that first year, I decided that I would commit to teach for five years, and if I was still crying in my supply closet, I would find a new career."

It's been 12 years, and on Aug. 14, Nalley was on stage – a far cry from any storage closet – receiving an award as the 2009-10 Greenville County Teacher of the Year.

"She's just one of those teachers who's so naturally good at what they do," said Reem Alnatour, a fellow Fork Shoals Elementary School teacher.

She said Nalley is soft-spoken but effective in classroom management, is in touch with students' emotions, has a good sense of humor and above all, is engaging.

"Whether you're a teacher or a student, she manages to make you feel like you're No. 1," Alnatour said. "She talks to you as if you're the only person around."

She also praised Nalley's classroom activities.

"She tries to bring in the Spanish culture, not necessarily just the language," Alnatour said.

Nalley visits Alnatour's third-grade class twice weekly for Spanish lessons. Alnatour's personal favorite is the lesson on chocolate.

But unlike traditional foreign language classes, Nalley uses a new program called KITE-LL (Kids Interacting Through Early Language Learning), developed three years ago by ETV and the South Carolina Department of Education.

The program integrates foreign language into what students are learning in other subjects. For example, she covers a unit on weather while the students are learning the water cycle in science.

"They're learning the lessons in context," Nalley said. "I'm not stopping to explain how to conjugate verbs or 'how this grammar fits' or how it's comparable to English. We just speak it."

She says it's been incredible to see the difference in how much children learn through this method. Her fifth-graders are on par with students she taught in high school, she said.

"I think in the great scheme of things, I've learned that everything doesn't have to be perfect, because I'm a perfectionist," Nalley said. "That was a hard lesson to learn."

Offering advice for the new school year, she encourages teachers to work together and share ideas.

"You're not an isolated professional in education; you're a team," she said.

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