From foreign language to frijolitos

Sra. Rachel Condon has experienced nearly every aspect of Spanish culture – making her uniquely qualified to present it in the classroom.


Alexis Bamford

Condon in the World Language Department’s planning center. She was drawn to Spanish because she feels that it is “useful regardless of [career].”

TOWAMENCIN – As a student at the University of Delaware, Señora Rachel Condon took a leap of faith, landing an ocean away to study abroad in Granada, Spain. She recently took another, albeit smaller, leap, this time with more immediate implications for the North Penn community. After five years of teaching Spanish at Penndale Middle School, Condon accepted a job at North Penn High School; it is her 12th year of teaching overall, and her first of teaching Spanish 4.

“I’ve always wanted to be up here,” Condon said enthusiastically. “Students have matured so much – so students that I’ve taught two or three years ago are totally different people.” She added, ‘the camaraderie among teachers is strong here; the pride for North Penn is strong here.”

Condon first became attuned to her aptitude for languages as a middle schooler in Utah. “I knew Spanish would be very useful in a variety of different ways [regardless] of what career path I had chosen,” explained Condon. Her proclivity for conjugations and cognates only grew from there; by her junior year of high school, she began to think seriously about entering the then-thriving field of education.

“I love those ‘a-ha moments’ for things that are seemingly so simple, like how to tell the date,” she continued, citing daily interactions with students as the highlight of her job. “I don’t know if students. . .know how much that teachers actually care, and I really care about every single one of my students.”

Condon resumed her pursuit of Spanish language and culture with a master’s degree in Hispanic Studies from Villanova. She described the program, tantamount to reading Shakespeare in another language, as ““probably the most challenging thing [she’s] ever done.”

“You have to get all of the innuendoes, you have to know the time period, you have to know the history,” she stressed. Condon recalled feeling like an “underdog,” as “most of the people in the program were native speakers.” Regardless, Condon persevered, graduating from the program after a grueling series of essay-based exams. She attributes to the program an expanded knowledge of Spanish cultural values and a deeper understanding that has successfully translated in her classrooms.

“Learning about [literary] theory has helped me approach [teaching] in different ways and also, as we get further on in the upper levels of Spanish, you do more reading and discussing in Spanish, and I feel like I’ve become a better teacher through understanding how works are written and what they’re supposed to represent,” she concluded.

Also contributing to her unique understanding of Spanish culture is her experience studying abroad in Granada, Spain. Condon described the semester as “one of the best experiences” of her time in college and her “first recommendation.”

“I think the anecdotes are the most meaningful things that I can provide. . .having those experiences to tell students about, I think, makes them connect more to the language because they see that I’ve connected with it,” she explained. “[For example], in Spain, they have a different perspective on how you use water when you shower. . .my host mother really did not want me to take anything longer than a five minute shower.” Additionally, “on New Year’s . . .they eat grapes for every stroke of midnight. . .12 grapes, and you have to eat them in 12 seconds,” finished Condon. “But no textbook would ever tell you about that.”

Condon has certainly held nothing back in her quest to immerse herself in Spanish culture, but upon closer examination, one might surmise that a different career path would be in order.

‘I’m very proud of my musical background,” began Condon, noting that both of her parents, as well as her aunt, grandmother, and multiple uncles, are professional musicians, many in the Utah Symphony. (Condon currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and a five-and-a-half year old Irish Doodle named Penny, whom she described as “queen of the side eye” and “very cuddly.”) Regardless of

Penny, the “queen of the side eye.”

this background, Condon and her sister were never pressured to enter the field of music.

“My parents also never pushed becoming a professional musician on us,” said Condon; instead, she described a household bustling with encouragement, classical music, and an emphasis on being well-rounded.

“My sister & I took tennis lessons and we took piano lessons. . .my mom always said it was helpful because it was a different type of intelligence to be able to play sports and to be able to be musical. . .I think that also applies with language,” she observed.

“That regimen of having something to practice and study that was outside of academics. . . was really important,” she added. Condon believes these experiences helped her learn to process the world in different ways – precisely what she hopes to accomplish by teaching others a language.

One of Condon’s signature educational methods is a game called Frijolitos; she credits a former student teacher with its invention.

““For things that happen in class where students go above and beyond, where you surprise me with something, you impress me with something… you get a frijolito” Condon explained, using the Spanish word for “small bean.” She continued, “whichever class has the most frijolitos at the end of the marking period gets a fiesta.”

“Part of it is that I really amp it up. . .once the students buy into that, then that’s it – it kind of runs itself. . .It seems to be a very effective tool for engagement [and] enthusiasm,” concluded Condon.

When asked about her advice for people discouraged when learning a language, Condon was emphatic that ““no one is expecting you to [speak, read, or write] perfectly.”

“Some people struggle more with language than others, and that’s okay. . .the end goal is to be able to communicate with somebody [and] get your point across,” she finished.