Citlaly Fernandez, a passionate bilingual educator


West Liberty School District commemorated the 25th anniversary of its Dual Language program this year. Recently, I sat down with Citlaly Fernandez, a Dual Language teacher at the middle school. She reflected on her journey, the program's impact, and her aspirations for the future.  

Fernandez's path is filled with purpose, drive, and commitment. Citlaly is a chicana. She is first-generation Mexican-American. Her parents are from Durango, México.

She initially aspired to pursue a career in nursing. However, a twist of fate led her to discover her passion for education. While she was a student at Muscatine Community College, she was taking a paraprofessional certification and it was then when she realized that she wanted to become a teacher.

She transferred to the University of Northern Iowa, the original Iowa State Normal School. She chose to attend UNI because she wanted to have the best elementary education training.

UNI is known to prepare future teachers well and offers over 725 hours of field experience. During her time at UNI, Citlaly was encouraged to take Spanish classes and it was then where she realized that she wanted to teach Spanish.

"I fell in love with everything about the Spanish language. From the history, the culture". 

During her time in the College of Education, she would reflect a lot on her own experience as a student. Citlaly only had one Hispanic teacher during her time as a K-12 student and it wasn't until she was in high school.

This introspection led her to a profound realization: the importance of representation in the classroom. Fernandez became determined to be that inspiration for students, particularly those of Hispanic heritage. 

She embarked on the mission to make this a career, not just a job. "Teaching Spanish isn't just about language; it's about connecting culture, background, and history," Fernandez emphasizes that it's about fostering connections so students can communicate and form a wider perspective. 

Ms. Fernandez joined the West Liberty Community School District four years ago. Although she began her career with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fernandez embraced her role with enthusiasm.

She teaches Spanish Literacy and Spanish World Cultures. She embraces the program not just as a teacher but as a parent invested in her children's bilingual development and cultural understanding.

Her daughter Jaheli will be in fourth grade next year and is in the dual language program- which has helped her expand her bilingual skills. Citlaly hopes her son Luis Jaziah follows into her footsteps when he begins school in a couple of years. 

Reflecting on the program's impact, Fernandez highlights its role in instilling a love for language and culture among students.

"We are preparing them for future success, whether it's ordering food, helping a stranger, or pursuing a career where they'll use the language," she notes.

Fernandez feels like she won the lottery when she was placed at West Liberty for her student teaching and practicum experiences. She learned from great educators like Mark Plum and Nadia Olsen.

They left a positive impact in her teacher preparation. Although there are many successes, the Dual Language program faces challenges, including students who do not want to continue in the program due to perceived difficulty.

Fernandez's approach is both pragmatic and inspiring. "I use myself as an example and encourage them to persevere," she says, highlights the long-term benefits of bilingualism.

 This passionate educator strives to make language learning engaging and gratifying. From journal entries, presentations, to cultural projects, her goal is to foster a supportive environment where students feel empowered to embrace their linguistic and cultural knowledge.

"Every single student has something to bring to the table. It is such a joy to see them expand their reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in two languages. It is incredibly fulfilling," she adds with a sparkle in her eyes.

Citlaly works to find a balance between challenge and support. It takes around 2,000 hours of practice to become fluent in a language.

Fernandez doesn’t want to make the process extremely difficult to the point where they want to leave the program, and boring to where all they are doing is reading from a textbook.

In her own words, "I want to help them as much as I can so they understand, and still find it fun and enjoyable. Learning a new language doesn't have to painful". 

Apart from teaching, Citlaly has been offered professional development opportunities and is forever thankful to the district for them.

She was given the opportunity to obtain her ESL certification, as well as receive a Masters in Education from Grand View University.

"Teaching full time, raising two children, and pursuing a Masters has not been easy, but continuing my education to better myself and become a better teacher for my students is the most rewarding accomplishment to date" expressed Citlaly with complete gratitude.

She feels so lucky that she ended up in West Liberty. 

As she continues with her call to teaching, Fernandez remains deeply grateful for the opportunity to shape young minds and contribute to the legacy of the Dual Language program.

"I hope to have left a small imprint in my student's lives during their time in middle school," she reflects, with a commitment to continue being a part of the program's future.