Commonwealth Center Report: “What Should Spanish Teachers Know?

by Professor David T. Gies

A Report by the Center for the Liberal Arts

How The Report Was Written


A new initiative undertaken by the Spanish Project of the Center for the Liberal Arts was an attempt to develop guidelines for what Spanish teachers in the Commonwealth of Virginia need and want to know in order to become more effective professionals. The project developed in several stages as detailed below. While numerous constituencies have had a voice in the development of the guidelines (teachers, professors, administrators, the general public), the most important one was that of those who actually face these issues on a daily basis, that is, the classroom teachers.

We have developed a conceptual statement on the importance of language study and a practical “list” of items which might serve as a tentative guide to colleagues and universities which train Spanish teachers. Our overall focus, in keeping with the guidelines of the Center for the Liberal Arts, has been content in the discipline.

Stage 1: Conceptualization

Stage 1 began in 1984 with the creation of the Center for the Liberal Arts, whose charge was to study teachers’ needs and to develop outreach programs to meet those needs. Since that time a rich variety of discussions, courses, institutes, workshops, and lecture series have been attended by a large percentage of teachers of Spanish from the Commonwealth. Details of the Centers’ programs (and in particular those of the Spanish Project) are available upon request from the Center.

Stage 2: Workshop and the Creation of the Initial Document

Stage 2 was a workshop held at the University of Virginia on October 20-22, 1989, attended by fifteen Spanish teachers from across the Commonwealth. The participants were a mix of experienced teachers (up to thirty-three years) and new entrants into the field (two or three years). Our discussions focused on the following questions:

  • How were you trained to teach Spanish?
  • How do you wish you had been trained?
  • What preparatory experiences are essential prior to teaching?
  • What preparatory courses and readings are essential prior to teaching?
  • Should study abroad be mandatory part of training?
  • What do you now know that you wish you had known about when you first entered the classroom?

We concentrated on the content of the Spanish curriculum, that is, on the what of teaching (those areas of language, literature, and culture which are the core of the discipline) rather than on the how of teaching, although, as will become clear below, the techniques of teaching played an important role in our deliberations.

The initial “product” was a statement which consisted of an ideal Spanish major for university students being prepared to teach Spanish. Such a major, if developed and instituted by colleges and universities, might better prepare students to enter the teaching field. To that statement was appended a list of suggested courses and a core list of literary, linguistic  and cultural items which all teachers might profitably know.

Stage 3: Distribution and Comment on Document by Commonwealth Teachers

Stage 3 took place between October 1989 and August 1991. The document was tentatively entitled “Preparation and Training for Teachers of Spanish,” was prepared and distributed to Spanish teachers and selected college faculty throughout the Commonwealth. These individuals were asked to read it carefully, reflect on their own experiences and knowledge, reflect on the implications of the statement and list, and make their views known to the Center for the Liberal Arts. Attached to the report was a return post card which enabled teachers to acknowledge receipt and to offer any short comments they might have; longer evaluations arrived in narrative form or in the form of comments and addenda to the report itself.

Stage 4: Workshop and Revision by “Commonwealth Five”

Stage 4 began as we identified five of the most experienced and involved teachers with whom we have worked over the years, sent them copies of all the comments received from the teachers, and organized a one-day workshop designed to revise the preliminary document. The workshop took place on October 12, 1991. What we learned in Stage 3 was the the preliminary document was generally, but not completely, acceptable, so changes were made which more accurately reflected the responses from the field.

Stage 5: Creation of Final Draft of “What Should Spanish Teachers Know?” (General Statement and List)

Attached is a final draft of the Commonwealth Center document, “What Should Spanish Teachers Know?” It might be used as a working report for the implementation of curricular changes on two levels, designed to meet the needs of three separate, but related, constituencies:

  1. The Undergraduate Spanish Major. The document might serve as a guideline at colleges and universities for the design of an undergraduate Spanish major for those students interested in secondary-school teaching.
  2. The Master’s Degree. The document might serve as a guideline at colleges and universities for the design of a Master’s Degree designed specifically for working teachers who seek (or already have) certification but who are interested in improving their linguistic, literary, and cultural knowledge in Spanish.
  3. Professional Development. The document might serve as a basis for in-service lectures and courses which teachers might draw upon for professional growth.


What Should Spanish Teachers Know?

General Statement

The Spanish Project of the Center for the Liberal Arts at the University of Virginia has been engaged since 1984 in a dialogue with Spanish teachers and high school administrators to determining the needs and desires of Spanish teachers in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Numerous initiatives have been undertaken (in-service lectures, courses, institutes, workshops) to provide Spanish teachers with content-based activities and to develop new activities deemed essential for professional development.

The enclosed document is not meant to dictate classroom activity or university curricula, nor is the list of books and cultural items a rigid canon proposed for immediate adoption. Rather, this statement is being offered as a contribution to the Commonwealth-wide and national debate on the content of the Spanish curriculum and one, it is hoped, which will be considered as future and current teachers design personal and institutional plans for the improvement of Spanish teaching.

Over the years Spanish teachers have repeatedly told us that their most urgent need is for specific information (authors, works, topics of cultural life), not general concepts (“to know Spanish better”) or general techniques (“to be able to teach better”). In response to this need, we propose authors, works, and topics as well as a sequence of courses which might help to meet this stated need. We recognize that most colleges and universities cannot be all things to all students, and will not be able to offer every item suggested here, but the list of works and courses might be a useful guideline, or at least a starting point. Deficiencies might be made up through professional development programs.

A professional and confident knowledge of the Spanish language is essential to quality teaching of Spanish. this self-evident truth is, however, not necessarily the reality of many beginning teachers. In addition to a superior knowledge of the language, it is important for teachers to be aware of the history, art, architecture, politics, and social structures of Spanish-speaking countries (both Spain and Latin America). We have incorporated such aspects into our program.

Discussions with teachers have produced four areas of interest, which we address in the proposed plan.

  1. Teachers want continuing work in the grammar, syntax, and pronunciation of Spanish.
  2. Teachers want work in Spanish and Latin American history and culture.
  3. Teachers want to study classic and current literary texts.
  4. Teachers want to study the methodology of teaching language, literature, and culture to their students.

An ‘Ideal’ BA Major Program in Spanish

This program presupposes a basic knowledge of the first four semesters of college Spanish. The courses designed for the major in Spanish begin after this basic requirement (through course work or by examination) has been completed. The courses listed below are not in sequence; that is, each program or individual should decide what is the best sequence to follow. When possible, all courses should be taught in Spanish.

The major consists of a minimum of eleven courses (33 college credit hours); additional related courses are listed in Appendix A.

  1. Spanish Peninsular ‘AB’ Culture and History
    Note: ‘AB’ culture is a term designed to encompass both aesthetic (A) cultures (art, architecture, music composition performance arts, etc.) and behavioral (B) cultures (values, customs, festivals, etc.) Both contain history and historical items. The label is unimportant (the distinction is often made between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, or ‘BigC’ and ‘Little c’ culture). It is hoped that much of ‘B’ culture will have been learned in basic grammar courses, where things like family relationships  lifestyles, fiestas, and so on, are frequently integrated into the learning sequence. We also suggest that such items be included in the Situational Vocabulary course (see #10 below). A more detailed explanation is provided in Appendix B.
  2. Latin American ‘AB’ Culture and History
    Note: Culture courses should be required of all students planning to study abroad and should be taken before the semester or year abroad.
  3. Approaching Literature Through Analysis
    Note: This course should be taken before other classes in literature. It should include methods of literary analysis, a study of literary and rhetorical terms and techniques, genre, narrative style, poetic forms, etc.
  4. Spanish Peninsular Literature
    Note: This course will focus on key/master texts. A list of suggestions is provided in Appendix C.
  5. Latin American Literature
    Note: This Course will focus on key/master texts. A list of suggestions is provided in Appendix C.
  6. Elective Literature
  7. Phonetics and Phonology of Spanish
  8. Advanced Grammar and Composition
    Note: Composition shall include the writing process.
  9. Situational Vocabulary
    Note: This course will emphasize listening and spoken comprehension, and audio-lingual proficiency. Topics may include items from the behavioral culture list.
  10. Spanish and Foreign Language Teaching Methods
  11. Applied Linguistics



Appendix A: Other Related Courses

The courses listed below provide additional breadth and depth to the core Spanish major (33 hours). While we strongly support the idea that the best preparation for teaching Spanish is a firm knowledge of the content of the discipline, we recognize the importance of courses which enhance the teacher’s general knowledge of pedagogy and the child in the classroom. It is recommended that students preparing for a career in teaching take as many of these as possible.

Related courses Pedagogy
 World History  Teaching Reading
 Spanish History and Politics  Teaching Writing
 Latin American History and Politics  General Teaching Methodology
 History of US and Latin American Relations  Computer Literacy
 International Economics  Child and Adolescent Psychology
 World Geography  Public Speaking
 Music Appreciation  Contemporary Issues/Education
 Art Appreciation
 Related Course in Anthropology
 Related Course in Sociology

Appendix B: AB Culture Topics

Note: Clearly, the items listed below are examples and can only approximate an overview of cultural topics. A basic familiarity with these topics is deemed important, and it is to be emphasized that this list is first and foremost a list for teachers, not necessarily a list for students; teachers will naturally draw upon their own knowledge and experience when teaching culture or when pursuing additional study. We aspire to this knowledge and consider these items a platform, a beginning, a distillation of some of the most essential concepts and items in Spanish and Latin American culture and history.

A (Aesthetic) Culture
Performance Arts (Visual: Dance, Theater, Cinema, TV)

Genres and Works Personalities
ballet folklórico Alicia Alonso
el flamenco (José Greco, Antonio Gades don Juan
La barraca (Lorca) Cantinflas
la zarzuela Luis Buñuel
café teatro María Félix
La pastorela Carlos Saura
publicidad (TV) Pedro Almodóvar


Composers and songs Performers
 Manuel de Falla  Julio Iglesias
 “La Llorona”  Plácido domingo
 la tuna  Alicia De Larrocha
 Agustín Lara  Carlos Gardel
 “Uno de enero” (song)  Andrés Segovia


Creative Arts (Environmental: landscape, monuments, architecture)

General Monuments Places/sites
 patios  Valle de los Caídos  Chapúltepec Park
 plazas  El Escorial  Retiro Park
 misiones  La Alhambra  Nazca lines
 anfiteatro romano  acueducto de Segovia Easter Island
 Antonio Gaudí  Macchu Picchu
 catedrqales  Chichén Itzá
 castillos  Tikal
 Cristo de los Andes


Creative Arts (Fine Arts: painting, sculpture, handicrafts)

Artists  Creations  Artesanía 
 El Greco  Piedra del Sol  ceramics, azulejos
 Murillo  Chac Mool  weaving
 Velázquez  Tiahuanaco (weeping god, Bolivia)  santeros
 Goya  silverworking
 Picasso  damascene
 Miró  arpilleras, molas
 Dalí  musical instruments
 los muralistas (Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco)


B (Behavioral) Culture

Interpersonal relationships

nuclear and estended family
dating and sexual roles
machismo, femenismo, Marianismo
familial approval
el ‘qué dirán’
gender expectations

Manners and Etiquette

forms of address
youth and elderly

Hidden Dimension (space and time)

schedules and appointments
physical and social distance

La moda

fashion consciousness

Food and meals

staples and traditional meals
festive meals

Diversions and Pastimes

family celebrations

Politics and Government

Bureaucracies and attitudes toward government
nepotismo, compadrazgo
Spain and Latin American views of US
routes of influence

Education and Technology

school schedule
federal involvement in schools
role of technology in society
educational structure

Faith, Religious Beliefs, Myths and Superstitions

life and death

Habitat and Living Patterns

house, barrio, town, and city planning
attitudes towards animals

Class Structure

social mobility
attitudes towards indigenous cultures


how do Spaniards and Latinos see themselves and each other?
civilización y barbarie


Appendix C: Masterworks of Spanish Literature

  • Poema de Mío Cid
  • Fernando de Rojas, La Celestina
  • Lazarillo de Tormes
  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha
  • Félix Lope de Vega, Fuenteovejuna
  • Pedro Calderón de la Barca, La vida es sueño
  • José Zorrilla, Don Juan Tenorio
  • Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Rimas
  • Benito Pérez Galdós, Doña Perfecta
  • Juan Ramón Jiménez, Platero y yo
  • Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, mártir
  • Federico García Lorca, Bodas de sangre
  • Ana María Matute, Historias de la Artámila
  • Camilo José Cela, La familia de Pascual Duarte
  • Juan Goytisolo, Reivindicación del conde don Julián
  • Eduardo Mendoza, La verdad sobre el caso Savolta
  • Carmen Martín Gaite, El cuarto de atrás

Appendix D: Masterworks of Latin American Literature

  • Popol Vuh (selections)
  • Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo
  • Estéban Echevarría, El matedero
  • José Hernández, Martín Fierro
  • Mariano Azuela, Los de abajo
  • Rómulo Gallegos, Doña Bárbara
  • Rubén Darío, Azul
  • José Enrique Rodó, Ariel
  • Horacio Quiroga, Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte
  • Pablo Neruda, Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones
  • Alejo Carpentier, El reino de este mundo
  • Carlos Fuentes, La muerte de Artemio Cruz
  • Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad
  • Rodolfo Usigli, El gesticulador
  • Isabel Allende, La casa de los espíritus
  • Nicolás Guillén, Motivos de son
  • Elena Poniatowska, Hasta no verte Jesús mío
  • Octavio Paz, El laberinto de la soledad