From student to educator: Fulbright Scholar Hannah Gish returns to Spain with bilingual teaching ambitions

Hannah Gish

A dog named Tammy prompted an eye-opening experience about language for Northern Arizona University graduate Hannah Gish. She was in Spain on a study abroad trip, met her host family for the first time and learned to give the family dog commands—in Spanish.

Now, Gish is preparing to return to Spain as a Fulbright Scholar to teach English to elementary school-aged children in the Canary Islands. The scholarship will fund her ambitions to expand her knowledge in bilingual teaching programs and her passion for community service.

Hannah and Tammy“Before Tammy, I had never thought about how dogs speak different languages like people can, but I quickly picked up commands and words to talk to Tammy,” Gish wrote in her application for the scholarship. “I was able to see a real-life example of how language works. People, and dogs like Tammy, know and understand many things but express them in different languages.”

While working in elementary school bilingual programs, she has seen this same principle of language understanding in the classroom. Students learn and understand the content, but express ideas in multiple languages. A student in NAU’s Honors College, she graduated with a major in elementary education, a minor in Spanish and an endorsement in teaching English as a second language.

“I feel that my English-Spanish language certification has prepared me for this exciting opportunity to teach English abroad, and the Fulbright Scholarship means that I can share my knowledge and experiences from the United States, but also gain more knowledge and experience abroad,” Gish said. “I am excited to improve my Spanish and work toward being fully bilingual so that when I return to Arizona, I can be an amazing bilingual educator.”

The Fulbright Scholarship was established to foster international partnerships between the United States and other countries. In 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill from Congress authored by Sen. J. William Fulbright, a representative from Arkansas, that put the program in motion. Citizens and governments work together to create student exchanges that benefit the needs of all participants.

The application process for Gish started last year in May when she reached out to the Honors College senior academic success coordinator Andrea Graves. Through several Zoom meetings, the two of them determined the Fulbright Scholarship was the most ideal program for Gish’s goals. Gish spent months writing essays and compiling all the application materials to submit everything in the fall of 2020. Finally, this April, she accepted the grant.

Gish leaves for Spain in September and said her first trip to the country as a student is the reason she wants to return as an educator. On her first trip, she stayed in Salamanca and took three Spanish courses—grammar, cinema and literature—at the Universidad de Salamanca.

Hannah horseback“I loved living and learning in Spain, and staying with a homestay family. It was such a huge growing and learning experience for myself,” she said. “I am elated to be going back to Spain to explore the beautiful, tropical Canary Islands.”

Her teaching focus will be on the Spanish primary education system and incorporate teaching strategies she has learned from NAU’s Spanish-English bilingual program along with experiences from teaching on the Navajo Nation. Her teaching method is based on promoting a “growth mindset” in children instead of a “fixed mindset.” She describes this as promoting perseverance and determination in students over frustration and complacency when situations or learning material might be tough.

Her teaching style can be broken into three steps. First, she makes sure students feel comfortable in the classroom to encourage participation in activities. Second, she is careful to deliver clear diction and pronunciation, utilizing small group conversation and discussion to give each student focused attention. Lastly, she is supportive and patient with students and emphasizes the importance of taking time to understand the challenges associated with bilingual language learning.

In addition to teaching, community service and engagement is a priority during her time in the Canary Islands. While in Salamanca, she was actively involved in the community and participated in many of her host family’s activities. In Arizona, she volunteered for the nonprofit organizations Arizona Humane Society and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She hopes to join or help coordinate similar organizations overseas that will mentor and guide the local students.

After teaching in Spain, her goals are to earn a master’s degree in bilingual and multicultural education from NAU and return to Arizona classrooms. She wants to focus on a dual-language program that supports a high-needs population with many English language learners and promote the method of small group interactions in the classroom.

“I am excited for this opportunity to grow and challenge myself as a person and an educator,” Gish said. “I am proud to be a Fulbright recipient and represent and honor myself, NAU and the United States abroad.”

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Jacklyn Walling | NAU Communications