Graduate teaching assistant aspires to work with Hispanic communities

Isaac Fisher, graduate teaching assistant for the Department of Modern Languages, is conducting his graduate research in sociophonetic variation, which he describes as "researching when someone sounds gay." (Photo Courtesy of Logan Marconette)

Isaac Fisher, graduate teaching assistant in Spanish, is in his fourth semester of graduate school and has been teaching Spanish 1 and 2 classes since he arrived at K-State in the fall of 2014. He is a Topeka, Kansas, native, Washburn University alum with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and deportee.

Fisher said after finishing his undergraduate studies at Washburn, he moved to Mexico to pursue his master’s degree.

“I’d been there for seven months, then the secretary of Public Education came and said ‘Hey sorry, your bachelor’s isn’t valid, so you can’t get your master’s. You have nine days to leave the country,’” Fisher said. “And I got deported from Mexico.”

Fisher said he wishes there was more to the story, but that was all there was to it.

Tanner Lewis, senior in social sciences, friend and former student of Fisher’s, said he often jokes with Fisher about his deportation.

“He’s probably one of the few white people to ever get deported from Mexico,” Lewis said. “We always give him a hard time for that.”

Lewis took a Spanish 2 class that Fisher instructed during spring 2015. Lewis said he enjoyed Fisher’s teaching method, and it even helped him enjoy learning Spanish.

“He was great,” Lewis said. “Despite the fact that I was terrible at Spanish, he made it more interesting.”

Lewis said he was only required to take Spanish 1 and 2, but Fisher’s class motivated him to try out Spanish 3.

“He made the atmosphere more conducive to learning,” Lewis said. “It didn’t feel quite so difficult.”

Fisher said he likes teaching, and his daily goal is to make lessons easier for his students.

“Even if it’s a more advanced concept,” Fisher said. “My goal is, ‘How can I teach this in a way that makes it easier for them to understand?’”

Fisher said accomplishing that goal is satisfying.

“You have those moments where you’re like, ‘I nailed it today,’” Fisher said.

He said it is not required for GTAs in his program to teach, but there is a financial benefit that makes it worthwhile.

“The motivation of being a GTA is, depending on the program, most of them pay for your tuition and they pay you for teaching,” Fisher said. “It’s like a job that goes along with your master’s.”

Fisher said for most of the GTAs in his program, teaching is the end goal anyway. He said the experience is like teaching practice before getting to advanced courses.

Fisher said GTAs teach most of the courses from Spanish 1-4. Fisher is currently instructing a Spanish 2 class and taking two other graduate courses: advanced Spanish grammar and advanced peninsular literature. He said this semester is much easier for him than past semesters because he would normally be taking or teaching an additional class.

He is pursuing his master’s degree in second language acquisition in Spanish, which is the study of how the brain acquires another language.

Fisher is also doing his graduate research in sociophonetic variation, focusing on sexuality. Fisher said he is researching when people sound “gay” in their first or second languages and what about their speech makes another person make that assumption.

Fisher said he analyzes different variables that people listen to in speech. He said he spent a month in Mexico last summer conducting interviews and analyzing them.

“I really like linguistics,” he said. “It’s a mixture of the humanities and sciences.”

Fisher said he must present his conclusion on April 1, and will be taking composition exams the following week. Fisher said he will be given three questions and three hours to answer them. A week later, he will have to present them to the Spanish committee, where he must defend his answers.

Mary Copple, associate professor of Spanish and Spanish Language Program coordinator, supervises the Spanish 1 through 4 sequence and is the professor of one of Fisher’s classes.

“I have an awesome group of TAs,” Copple said. “It’s not an easy job.”

Copple said she does not think students know how hard it can be for GTAs because most GTAs have no teaching experience.

“I think a lot of times students think GTAs possibly have more teaching experience than they do,” Copple said. “It is just as big of a learning curve for them, as it is for anyone who’s learning to teach.”

Copple teaches graduate courses to help GTAs with their teaching plan and delivery. She said a teacher cannot go into a classroom and improvise a Spanish lesson because the students will notice.

Copple said most people who only know Fisher as a friend or instructor do not get to see the student side of him that she does.

“Isaac is really relaxed, really easygoing,” Copple said. “He’s funny. I think they would be amazed how seriously he takes his work.”

Copple said Fisher always comes to class prepared and with thoughtful questions about the readings. She said people who’ve just met him might not think he is that way.

“He has a really good balance between life and work,” she said. “Which is healthy.”

Fisher said one of the biggest challenges of teaching is maintaining two identities with his students.

“I’m still a student, so I understand we’re all the same,” Fisher said. “But I’m also their professor.”

Fisher said when his education is completed, he wants to teach. He said he would like to continue working with Hispanic communities, partly because there is a lot of marginalization that is being ignored.

“What makes America America is inclusivity of ‘Welcome to our country,’ and ‘Let’s celebrate your heritage but let’s celebrate my heritage, too, and let’s celebrate all together,’” Fisher said.

He said his dream job is to be a university professor.

“Location (would) probably (be) Austin, Texas,” Fisher said. “I like the multicultural aspect of it.”

He said Texas would be ideal because it is close to Mexico, where he likes to visit. Fisher said he would also be open to working in a university in Latin America.