“This is do or die time,” said a girl sitting in the back of Shelley Angerhofer’s Spanish I class, focusing on a small, square white board that was sitting in front of her on her desk. She held a marker in her hand, ready to write.
The class of eighth and ninth graders was quiet, waiting for Angerhofer to say a complex number in Spanish.
Three teams of about eight to 10 students had been competing with each other to get every member on the team to write the correct number on their whiteboards before the other teams. The race was tight.
Each team had given themselves a name — “Un poco loco” (a little crazy), “Las Hamburguesas” (The Hamburgers) and “Claire y Sadie” (named after two girls in the group).
The teams fiercely scribbled after Angerhofer gave them their final number, and hands holding whiteboards shot up around the room, with all three teams finishing at almost the same time.
Angerhofer looked back and forth from one team to another, then pointed toward the Claire and Sadie group.
“Oooooooh,” the team called out in triumph.
This wasn’t the first exclamation since the class period began.
Angerhofer had turned on “Un Poco Loco,” a song from the animated movie “Coco,” while students were quietly working on a warm-up worksheet before the whiteboard activity.
Some students spontaneously sang along with the last part of a climactic line, as the character Miguel sang “I’ll count it as a blessing that I’m only un poco locoooooo.”
During the warm-up activity and the whiteboard competition, Angerhofer circulated throughout the classroom, bending down to help students who looked like they were stumped.
Then the group moved on to a final assessment, where one line of students in each group rotated, so each student could have a conversation in Spanish with several other students, like speed dating.
Afterward, Angerhofer asked them to hold up their hands and show her a number to rate their confidence level.
“You don’t ever have to be 100%,” she said.
As the class drew to a close, Angerhofer called everyone’s attention, realizing that this was the last real class period the group would have together before the end of the school year.
“Is this our last day together?” she asked the group.
“This is our one big happy Spanish family!” a boy called out from the back, with a touch of disappointment.
“Let me just tell you something,” Angerhofer said, pausing as she got a little teary.
“Don’t cry!” said several students across the class, as many others exclaimed “awwww.”
“This has been a real treat to be with this class this year,” she said. “You guys have been uh-mazing. Your skill level is unbelievable, and it’s been just so much fun. Some of you I’ve seen since seventh grade ... those of you who are moving on to tenth grade, come visit me.
“I hope you keep studying Spanish,” she continued. “It’s a skill that will serve you everywhere — whether it’s your job, whether it’s travel, whether it’s meeting new people, which is one of the biggest things that I think it’s brought into my life ... and even go on to take it at the college level. But also I lend my support, I’m here, and if you ever need help, I’m happy to tutor you. Come back, see me.”
After class, students were eager to talk about their experiences with her as a teacher.
“I don’t really understand Spanish that much ... this is my first year, and so I was kind of the underdog in this class,” said Hyland Squire, a ninth grader. “She always offered her support, and she was always there, and she would come over and make sure I got it, and eventually I leveled with everyone.”
“We all have different ways of learning, and she’s able to adapt to how we need to be taught,” said Evelyn Hyer, a ninth grader. “It makes it really easy to understand.”
“I think she knows that we’re all at different skill levels, and she always tries to make sure that everyone is comfortable with their Spanish level and never tries to push anyone past their boundaries,” said Samantha Wangsgard, a ninth grader. “And she’s just a really good teacher, and I’ve learned so much from this class.”
Angerhofer placed first among 850 teachers nominated for the Standard-Examiner’s Apple for the Teacher award, with 1,162 votes.
She is finishing her fourth year teaching and currently teaches both Spanish and English as a second language at Mt. Ogden Junior High.
Angerhofer found her love of Spanish during a high school foreign exchange program in Germany. There she met some girls from Mexico and started to fall in love with Mexican culture and the Spanish language.
She didn’t start studying Spanish until she was a senior in high school, but she says speaking Spanish has helped her define herself and her identity.
“It’s also helped me be sympathetic to different groups of people, relate to them,” she said. “It’s opened up the kinds of food I eat, the music I listen to, the kinds of situations I’ll put myself into.”
Her favorite food is Mexican tacos. A couple summers ago, she and her husband were in Oaxaca, a city in Mexico where tacos aren’t common. They decided to extend their vacation and book a flight to visit Mexico City, for the sole purpose of eating tacos.
“I like to go straight to the source,” she said.
Angerhofer hopes to share these identity-building experiences with her students.
“I love helping cultivate their identity,” Angerhofer said, describing what she enjoys most about teaching. “You know, we’re in the business of making humans who they are and positive members of society. The kids are the best.”