Surprisingly, this year’s American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) Outstanding Community College Teacher of the Year Elia López didn’t set out to become a teacher.
As the oldest of five children with two working parents, López was always striving to set an example. When her family moved to Chicago from Mexico, her older sibling duties were expanded because her parents did not speak English.
“My mom said I was in charge and I took that seriously. I was going to parent-teacher conferences and anything else that needed to be done when my parents couldn’t,” López explained.
When she started college, she planned on a multi-lingual career in international relations. But her first job for a large international company was not what she had pictured, saying “I was being asked to make the coffee in a male-dominated work environment. That’s not why I went to college.”
Luckily, she landed in the classroom and hasn’t looked back. Deciding to head back to school for her Master’s at Northwestern, she had the opportunity to become a teaching assistant—and loved it. After teaching in the U.S. and abroad, setting up language departments in prestigious schools, and dozens of years in the classroom, López found her home at Truman College.
Initially taking a job at Truman College because her daughter was a baby and she wanted a quicker commute, she has become a central part of the Art, Humanities, and World Languages Department for more than 25 years.
“I love it at Truman. I love the diversity and life experience of our students. Every semester I have students from all over the world because our English as a Second Language (ESL) students transition to credit classes,” said López.
Her Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award probably isn’t a surprise to her students at Truman College and more recently at Wright College. But they know they will work hard and learn a lot. In fact, her students joke that it isn’t a Spanish class, “it’s the López Spanish Boot Camp!”
She’s been an active member of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese for years, because she loves both the life experiences of seasoned teachers along with the energy and ideas that young teachers bring.
“These other AATSP teachers give me so much energy. If you help a young person to love learning, you do them such a life-changing service. I feel so fulfilled.”