South Rowan Spanish teacher transforms her teaching for digital conversion

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nancy Goodnight, the Rowan-Salisbury School System Teacher of the Year, has offered to highlight the good things happening in public education by sharing the story of one amazing teacher each month. This is the second story in that series


By Nancy Goodnight

Special to the Salisbury Post

Ann Rollins has a transformation story to tell, and what an amazing and beautiful story it is.

The seeds for this story were planted many years ago, when Rollins was taking Spanish classes in high school. After taking two years of Spanish, she applied and was accepted into a summer exchange program in Bolivia. Thanks to the gracious and patient family she was placed with, she developed a strong desire to teach Spanish.

“It opened doors for me, and I knew that I wanted to open that door to others. That was when the spark ignited,” she says.

She went on to college with the intent of becoming a Spanish teacher. She clearly remembers feeling intimidated in her Spanish classes by those with stronger language skills.

She recalls thinking at the time, “When I’m teaching, I will make sure students do not feel intimidated and, instead, I will focus on what they can do.” And, so she has … for 37 years!

Rollins spent 30 years teaching in Cabarrus County and Kannapolis. During her tenure, she taught Spanish at the elementary and high school levels, as well as teaching ESOL to elementary students and facilitating an ESOL summer program for middle school students.

Regardless of when or where she was, her teaching philosophy never changed: “Give students a tool that can open doors to the world around them.”

Up until the day she retired in 2009, Rollins remained committed to her students and, “Making the language relevant to their lives, so they can make connections.”

Her amazing transformation story began in earnest after her retirement from teaching, ironically a time when most look forward to taking it easy. Not Rollins.

“I missed the students, the interaction, the pulse of what was going on.”

Bottom line, she knew she still had something to give. So when an opportunity to teach Spanish part time at South Rowan High School came open in 2010, she couldn’t ignore the pull back to the classroom.

At the time, happy to be teaching Spanish again, she had no idea the impact technology integration would have on the school system and her personally. That is, until August 2014, when the Rowan-Salisbury School System was beginning its digital conversion and her position was being transitioned to full time to support the conversion.

It was only after considering all the implications of officially coming out of retirement, and making certain the new administration at South Rowan would consider her for the full-time position, that Rollins made up her mind to take the position and, in the process, dramatically changed her teaching experience.

I missed the train the first time through,

The technology train, you see.

But now it’s time, so all aboard

To the 21st century!

Rollins’ words above, part of a Seussical-type poem she wrote to accompany an iMovie trailer assignment highlighting her and the 21st century, couldn’t be a more fitting way to describe her subsequent experience teaching at South Rowan since the digital conversion. She has embraced the change wholeheartedly, although she honestly admits it hasn’t been easy.

“Early last year, I was not sure I had made the right decision to come out of retirement.”

Having not used Apple products prior to coming to RSSS, Ann was really struggling.

“I have a master’s degree and my National Board Certification, but this was a challenge like I’d never seen.”

But she didn’t give up, pushed forward and learned a lot about herself during the process.

“I made up my mind to do it. I said ‘I’m smart, this is a challenge and I can do a challenge.’”

Once she realized her success depended on changing her mindset, she never looked back. She has embraced the digital conversion in a bold and remarkable way. Her classroom is full of energy and fun. The MacBooks have added a new dimension to the teaching experience for her and her students.

“Access to the world of Spanish-speaking people is at your fingertips. The technology has opened the world to my students,” she says.

From electronic pen pals in Bolivia, to tracking the weather in Madrid, to practicing conversational Spanish using green-screen technology for added impact, Rollins has adapted her teaching to harness the power of the technology to benefit her students’ learning experience. She credits the school administration for providing the necessary training to help with her transition.

“The administration comes up with awesome professional development. They push us to be our best and require a lot, but that’s what’s needed and it’s awesome,” she says.

She also praises the efforts of her colleagues in creating an open, encouraging and collaborative environment where ideas are shared freely.

It doesn’t hurt that Rollins has a supportive family who understands her love of teaching. That includes four grandchildren, the eldest a sophomore at South Rowan. Although Rollins stays busy with the demands of full-time teaching, she still loves enjoying the simple things in life: swinging with the grandkids, tending her flowers, working puzzles and spending time at the beach. Those things provide a unique contrast to her commitment to embracing the digital age.

When asked what her plans are or a timeline for her second retirement, Rollins smiles and says noncommittally, “When I feel like I don’t have anything to offer, I’ll know it’s time.”

For now, Ann will continue to push herself to become even better with technology, and that’s great news to the students and staff at South Rowan High School.