Growing up in Ecuador, education was a privilege, says Clemencia Spizzirri. And it was one she was fortunate enough to receive.
That experience, along with a passion for teaching that began as a young girl “playing school” with her older brother, led Spizzirri to want to give back to the community. Instead of going to law school, she became a teacher and taught in Ecuador for 10 years.
She came to the United States in 2003, eventually moving to Iowa. Spizzirri has taught at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines for the past four years and teaches the first two levels of Spanish.
“I really love my profession,” Spizzirri says. “I think we can change so many lives. And it’s so amazing how even a small act of kindness can impact a child’s life. It can change their perspective of how they value education.”
Spizzirri was working on her master’s at Drake University when she visited Merrill during her practicum. She was impressed with “everything.”
“It was wonderful,” Spizzirri says.
When she learned there was an opening for a Spanish teacher, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I teach here because I love urban schools,” Spizzirri says. “I think they’re great because of the diversity and also because I really put my heart in Merrill.”
Foreign language is a requirement for students at Merrill, an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, Spizzirri says. Part of the mission of the IB, a nonprofit educational foundation, is to promote international understanding and respect, according to the group’s website.
Her approach to teaching is for students to learn the language “naturally,” before delving into the technical aspects, Spizzirri explains. The process begins with learning vocabulary words, then vocabulary exercises and describing things they do in their everyday routines.
Rather than focusing on drills or textbook work, it’s about “language in real context,” Spizzirri says.
“I think what’s really important is to love the language and live the language,” she says. “I really believe that learning Spanish is fun.”