HTC benefits from Spanish Visiting Teacher program

Holy Trinity Catholic Spanish teacher Eva Piquer is part of a Visiting Teachers from Spain program through the Spanish and Iowa Departments of Education. She works on a visa program that allows her to stay for five years. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

Barcelona’s Eva Piquer lands at HTC in program that brings Spanish teachers to America

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – A visiting teacher program has opened the eyes of a Spanish nationalist to more than just the educational system of the United States.

Eva Piquer, the new Spanish teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic is currently on a J-1 Visa as part of the Visiting Teachers From Spain program.

The program works in conjunction with the Spanish Department of Education and the Iowa Department of Education.

The IDOE sponsors the visas for the teachers who are allowed up to five consecutive years teaching in Iowa’s private and public school systems.

Piquer said the J-1 visa is good for three years and then teachers in the exchange can apply for a J-2 and J-3 for the additional two years.

But after those extensions the teachers are required to go back to their home country and share what they’ve learned in the United States school systems.

“Maybe in the bottom of their hearts they think it’s better here so they want us to come here and then apply it there,” Piquer said.

Piquer was one of 10 families that moved to Iowa to teach through the program. The teachers applied to the state they were interested in and then the schools picked the candidates they wanted.

“They sent a list to the schools and they could choose, and they chose me,” Piquer said. “We couldn’t choose, but I feel very, very lucky to have come to this high school. I would like to stay here five years in the principal will have me.”

She applied for the program, which has been in existence since 1978, last year, but because of COVID that year’s program was canceled. In the past the U.S. education officials would go to Spain and conduct interviews.

After the initial three years at the school, the teachers in the program have to apply for a J-2 visa through the program for the fourth year, and then a J-3 visa for the fifth year. After that they must go back to Spain.

“We don’t have an opportunity to stay for longer. We can stay a maximum of five years and then we have to go back to Spain for two years to apply all we’ve learned here to the Spanish school system. Then we can apply after two years to come back for five years, and do that for your whole career if you want,” Piquer said.

The only way for Piquer to teach in the United States is through a state-sponsored visa under the program. She couldn’t come to teach last year due to the virus, and no other group being able to sponsor her visa.

“I’m enjoying it very much. I think the main difference in the school system between here and in Spain is the relationship (you) have with your students. I think education works better if you have strong bond with your student. Teachers don’t usually get that bond in Spain. Here I’ve been told its normal and the thing to do,” she said.

“Here you do a lot of hands-on teaching and activities. In Spain we won’t do that. We are still old school. Read, do exercises, and read again, then do more exercises.

“Here I can have them stand in the room and go around and look for clues I’ve created and it doesn’t get really loud or anything. They have self control. But in Spain you would never do that, because they would go crazy. They’re not used to having that freedom.”

She said in Spain the students stay seated throughout the class period, and they also stay in the same classroom all day.

“They do not change classrooms. They have the same chair for eight hours sitting down. So if you gave them the chance to get up and move about in an activity you would lose control,” Piquer said.

To that end she’s created a Spanish decorated room, which again is not permitted in Spain. She’s also created games and activities to allow her to use her creativity in setting the curriculum.

“I created a scavenger hunt and we are labeling the classroom. I had the students understand those words first and I would get them the cards and they would run around and label the parts of the classroom. And that’s something you would never do in Spain unless you wanted to be called out by the principal,” she said with a chuckle.

She said Spanish education officials may be looking for a modernized teaching system by sending teachers to America.

Piquer, who taught English in Spain, said another contrast is the grateful nature of students.

“In Spain they (take) for granted that you have to be there for them and teach them, but here once you get to the classroom they say “hello” and when they leave they say “Thank You” and we’re not used to that,” Piquer said.

“They don’t say “Thank You” there for teaching them, and here they have more self control.”

She said the other families that came to Iowa have to turn in lesson plans every week and write so many things down about what they were doing and justify learning objectives, strategies, and methodology. But because Holy Trinity Catholic is a private school she doesn’t have all that added responsibility.

“I don’t have to do some of that and they give me the freedom to teach my way.”

One of the biggest hurdles for Piquer was obtaining a social security number with the visa. She said she has to have that to conduct personal business like opening a checking account, signing leases, and getting a driver’s license.

Currently she is using Spanish financial cards and she has to pay extra in fees for the currency exchange.

“A way to improve this would be for the program to give us a social security number right when we enter the country.”

Piquer had been to the U.S. before for about four months when her husband, who was just her friend at that time, came to Seattle to work on his doctoral degree. They were able to get a visiting visa at that time and that’s when she said her eyes were opened to many things.

“Over those four months I fell in love with him, and I fell in love with America.”

One of the things she loves most about southeast Iowa is the friendly nature of the community and how easy it was to be accepted.

“They integrated me. I didn’t have to do much of anything. In a community way you are always helping and asking if we need anything. In Spain, I’m from Valencia and then moved to Barcelona three hours north. I lived there for four years and I still haven’t met anyone who says, ‘Are you OK with everything’. I was still the stranger there. But here, like I’m relating with so many people who are asking how everything is.”

She said people have loaned her furniture to help fill their apartment while she and her husband jump through hoops with finances and identification.

“I would love to stay here. I already know that being in the states for just one month. But when time comes I will need to go back to Spain because that’s how the program works. We cannot ask for a longer stay.”

She said her husband initially found it difficult to find work because none of the corporations were able or willing to sponsor his visa. He eventually found a company founded by Spanish people in the U.S. who allowed him to come on in an advisory capacity until he gets a work permit.

Principal Craig Huebner said having Piquer join the staff has opened his eyes to things as well.

“It’s been fabulous. Eva’s come in with the background and experience we need and in my observations I see the kids actively learning Spanish which is something we haven’t had a in a while. It’s exciting to see and being able to share her culture just ups the whole experience,” Huebner said.

“It’s been a good experience for me. Just them sharing about their lives and talking about our communities and culture makes me excited about what we have here in southeast Iowa. It’s pretty cool.”

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