In most Spanish-speaking classrooms, teachers are addressed by the formal pronoun “usted,” a word that conveys authority. BMCC’s Soledad Arias, on the other hand, goes by the more friendly and casual “tu,” allowing her students to check their inhibitions at the door and enter a learning environment without boundaries: “No authority lines are drawn in my classroom.” In this way, Ms. Arias, a native speaker from Buenos Aires, Argentina, cultivates an atmosphere of mutual respect where everyone has a voice, a role within the group, and ample space to pursue their passions: “For projects, I prefer students choose their own topics…that’s the best motivation.” By letting her students become partial directors of their own learning, Soledad Arias brings out the best in them.
Her “outside of the box” approach to teaching Spanish comes from her love for the creative process and her extensive background in the arts. Ms. Arias earned both a BFA and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts (New York, NY), where she studied sculpture and related media as well as film, literature and drama. She sees Spanish not as something to teach through endless vocabulary quizzes, but to explore through playful experimentations, “cross-overs” into various disciplines, and fun group exercises. “Exploring language,” she says, is “a path to growth,” a means for people to better make sense of a complex, multicultural world. Many of Ms. Arias’ students, for example, are social workers, schoolteachers, and nurses attending her classes because “they want to improve the quality of their communication with Spanish-speaking clients.”
Ms. Arias has taught at BMCC for “two very productive years,” her three courses being Introduction to Spanish, Intermediate Spanish, and Conversational Spanish and Culture. She credits BMCC for giving her room to be creative and design her own curriculum. She remains in awe of the work ethic and passion of her students at BMCC: “they come from their jobs during the week, tired, but always eager to work.”