Like many new college students, my first semester was a precarious experiment of doing as little as possible and still earning A’s. For the most part, I coasted through classes and usually I got away with it – until I earned my first “B” from Hesston College’s tiny, power-walking Spanish maestra, Maria Day.
In Elementary Spanish, Maria was the queen of agonizing pauses that forced each student to reflect on how little preparation we had elected to complete. Each question, interrupted only by the tiny clicks of polished heels, demanded an answer – and not in English, mind you. In the many instances when I froze, painfully aware of my open but incomplete homework, and stammered a poorly conjugated response, I knew that at last, Maria Día and I agreed: I would have known the answer if I had thoughtfully completed my homework.
It was hard to slip past Maria. Passing in the hallway turned into an inescapable Spanish practice session. Not once did she lapse into English or let her students take the easy way out. She was on time, prepared, and there were no translation dictionaries. From her first “hola” until graduation ceremony, Maria engaged students in learning as an ongoing act of peace – one that she believed would keep changing the world long after students completed her class.
I left Maria’s class with my first “B” and a clear understanding that grades – and the learning they represent – are earned with serious work. Maria Day never raised her voice over my lackluster homework, but slowly, she taught me and the many students who sat in her class that learning is worth the struggle.
Ten years later, I still have trouble conjugating subjunctive verbs, but I’m holding on to the lessons Maria taught me about what it takes to learn. When Maria waited, prodded, and expected her students to stretch past their language limits, she taught us that there are no shortcuts in learning.
Now, as a colleague, I understand that Maria’s fierce caring is about much more than workbook verb tense exercises. As a first-generation American herself, she may be teaching Spanish vocabulary but each lesson is tied to the power of welcoming and changemaking that effective communication can provide. For Maria Day, each classroom act is a chance to create global ambassadors.
by Shelby Miller – Freshman
From the moment I stepped into her classroom on my prospective visit, I could never avoid building a close relationship with Maria. Her conversation with me after class that day was part of what convinced me to come to Hesston, even though I sat there terrified while talking to her in Spanish, worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand the next phrase or be able to respond quickly enough.
We talk about what is happening in our lives at the beginning of every class period and when she asks how I’m doing, “bien” is never an acceptable answer. She always expects more from her students in Spanish, but also wants them to share their joys and hardships of the week with her. I remember one specific day of class where I shared some possible summer plans including Spanish. Maria’s excitement was so evident that it made me even more excited to find more out about this opportunity.
Another of the many things I’ve appreciated during my time with Maria is the way she displays and gets excited about her faith. In class, this translates to reading the Bible stories we know well in Spanish, discussions on church issues such as the deportation of Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor in Iowa, and studies like the one we did on Valentine’s Day using verses about love.
We discuss issues of equality, discrimination, and how this relates to our faith in almost every class. Somehow, we still get through all of the grammar.
I’ve met few other people that put so much value on relationships and faith as Maria does. I’ve appreciated her greatly as my advisor, professor, and mentor, and I’m saddened that I won’t see her daily next year. Her ability to pair relationships and faith with her obvious passion to help students learn a language is unmistakable. Thank you Maria for your dedication to your students and Hesston College.
Editor’s note: Maria Day has served Hesston College for 20 years in the role of Spanish instructor, student success leader, as an advisor, study group leader and mentor to numerous students. She will retire at the end of the year.