Season 5, Episode 4: Class Chronicles with Abelardo Almazán-Vázquez

Welcome to Inspired Proficiency and thank you for joining us for episode 4 of season 5. As always, please tweet any takeaways and inspirations to #inspiredproficiency. Don’t forget that Ashley and her podcasts are also on Facebook in the group “Inspired Proficiency Teacher Collaboration” with lots of great ideas for the classroom.

Download the episode here or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts here or find it wherever you listen to podcasts! 

Don’t forget to play! Inspired Trivia! Visit Wayside Publishing to answer the trivia questions and enter the prize drawing! Winners announced on Twitter.

Today’s episode:

This time of school closure is tough and Ashley is grateful for her family and her pets. Are you noticing what you’re grateful for in this crazy time? Share with Ashley on Twitter and focus on the positives in this tough time! Reach out to our community of listeners via Facebook and Twitter! Again, today’s interview was recorded before COVID 19 but still important information for World Language Teachers.

Today’s Interview:

Welcome to Abelardo Almazán-Vázquez who is originally from Mexico and has lived in the United States for about 17 years. He began his teaching career in Cleveland, OH and now teaches in VT. He teaches Spanish at the Putney School which is a progressive education boarding school in southern VT.  Today he talks to us about his learning journey related to identity and gender.

Identity and Gender

  • Fabian is a nonbinary gender nonconforming student in his classes
  • Abelardo needed a way to make his student feel welcome and seen in a gendered language. He started using @, or x, or e. @ meaning o, a, or both referring to genders masculine or feminine but lots of adjectives in Spanish end in e so why not continue that with the gendered endings as well. Alto, alta, alte (tall)
  • He wanted to create a classroom where all identities were validated.
  • This process requires unlearning of older and more traditional ways of gendering language.
  • Gender neutral pronouns date as far back as 1976.
  • Social media has made this identity amplified more and allows us so many more ways to educate ourselves and others on these topics.
  • Throughout his journey he shares with others that this is a lot of work to learn and unlearn and the teacher is a great modeller of how to do that. Don’t be afraid to be fragile and vulnerable for your students and show them that you’re not always perfect and that’s ok for students to see and understand.
  • Back to Fabian and how to connect with this student, Abelardo wrote a story to connect with his students about the Muxes (moo-chays) people of Mexico. They celebrate themselves as being the third gender.
    • Neither the man, nor the woman
    • Gives them pride and sense of identity
    • Helped to decolonize the views of gendered language and machismo and homophobia
    • These people are amplifying their voices and their identities. 
    • We know more about them thanks to social media and the internet.
  • How can we elevate our textbooks and our curriculums these days? Can we add elles? Can we add vos? (These are both Spanish specific but that doesn’t mean other languages don’t have something that the “mainstream” textbooks or curriculums have discluded.)

Advice to teachers wanting to create a safe and respectful space for identities:

  • Start by asking questions
    • What if questions
    • What if we did this?
    • What if we thought this way?
    • What if this happened?
  • Be patient! It takes time to develop these skills and mindsets to help students.
  • Start with yourself and ask those questions no matter how difficult they might be.
  • Start small. Your classes. Your students. Your school.
  • Listen to students and their pronoun requests. It shows them they are SEEN.

Social Justice in the Classroom:

  • Story about a student who is a citizen of the world
  • They were studying the undocumented migrant workers who worked in VT. VT is not a state where this topic is discussed or debated as much as might be in other states.
    • These people live invisibly by the farming industry rests on their shoulders
  • Her students decided to do a Project Based Learning project.
    • She, this 17 year old student, dressed as a migrant worker and went to work on a farm.
    • She worked with them side by side for several days.
    • The farm owners often spoke about getting rid of the migrant workers and automating the farming process.
    • The student was a vegetarian but she tried to blend in and forced herself to drink the milk and eat the bacon and eggs with everyone else.
    • The migrant workers accepted her and applauded her for what she did.
    • She shared her project with her the whole school.
    • She joined the Migrant Justice group in Burlington, VT.
      • Works with the supermarket Hannaford in New England to join the Ben and Jerry’s milk agreement
    • She contacted Ben and Jerry’s about buying their milk from hands that were abused by their work environment.
    • Her work was so powerful but she got many students and community members to join the cause and be more than just allies in this social justice campaign.
    • What a great way to get involved in the immediate community of the school!
  • It only takes one student to amplify the voice of many and make a difference. Abelardo related this to youth activists like Greta Thunberg and Malala.
  • It’s not too hard to fight for change! Anyone can make a difference!


Game Segment with Sarah Breckley:

Power Talks

  • Distribute one card from a regular deck of cards to each student
  •  Students do not look at their card
    • They carry it around, tape it to their forehead, tape it to their back, hold it in front of them so other people can see but the student cannot see their own
  • Invite the class to mix and mingle in the target language
    • Provide starters, pictures, prompts, whatever you think YOUR kids need to help them talk
    • Inside outside circles are great if you have kids that are hesitant to talk to each other
  • As they interact, they should treat each other based on the face value on their card
    • High number or face card would get smiles, special treatment, praise, kind words
    • Middle numbers are kind of just enh, not awesome, not awful, not really excited to chat with them, not ignoring
    • Lower numbers questioned, not made to feel part of the group, unwanted but instruct students not to be mean and outlaw words you think are too hurtful
  • After a few minutes of small talk, stop and don’t look at cards still
  • Then have the kids guess the value of their card by moving into low, middle, and high value groups
  • Then they can look at their cards
  • Use this activity to talk about diversity, cultural norms, kindness, valuing others, preferential treatment, inclusion, etc…
  • Sarah used it recently to talk about white privilege and this was a hook or lead in into the activities related to white privilege
  • Great for class but ALSO for and advisory class or social emotional learning and how are actions affect others
  • You can also control who gets what type of card and hopefully boost some lower confidences or teach some lessons about how to treat each other


If you try this TWEET ABOUT IT with #inspiredproficiency on Twitter. We want to know how it went! 


Calm Segment with Julie Speno:


  • Designed for being calm and calming one’s spirit and energy
  • There isn’t a need for poses or being in particular places
  • Kids need their own space where they can focus (probably away from other students)
  • Meditation
    • Close your eyes OR focus on an image of picture you want to focus on
    • Focus on one thing and allow yourself to slowly come down from a higher energy space
    • Important for the teacher to also do it at the same time
    • YOUR energy has a direct relation to THEIR energy
      • Can lower the lights
      • Can use a quieter teacher voice to guide this
  • How long?
    • This depends on your kids and what you want to get out of this
    • It can be 5 minutes at the beginning or 5 in the middle of class
    • It can be whenever you notice ramping up of energy and invite students to calm down
    • Can range from 2-5 minutes
    • But if they need longer, and you have the time, then give them the time


Has your classroom been calmer from these tips, thenTWEET ABOUT IT with #inspiredproficiency on Twitter. We want to know how it went so others can learn as well! 


Inspired Trivia:

Visit Wayside Publishing to answer the trivia questions and enter the prize drawing! Winners announced on Twitter.


Resources and links mentioned on the show:

  • Blog post mentioned in the show
  • Other blog post from the show
  • Interview with Maria Datel about creating inclusive classrooms
  • Ártemis Lopez website and on Twitter @queerterpreter
  • Read more about the Muxes people of Mexico
  • Justicia Migrante/ Migrant Justice in Burlington, VT
  • Playmeo games
  • Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh



  • Abelardo Almazán-Vázquez on Twitter @abelardoalmazan
  • Sarah Breckley on Twitter @SarahBreckley and her blog
  • Julie Speno on Twitter @MundoDePepita and her blog

Season sponsorship brought to you by:

Episode sponsors:

  • World Language Classroom by Josh Cabral
  • El Mundo de Pepita resources in Spanish, French, Russian, German and ESL
  • A.C. Quintero and Jennifer Degenhardt and their classroom readers

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