Tracy Spies poses in front of flowers and bushes.

The Interview: Tracy Spies

Helping bilingual students — and the teachers who educate them — succeed is a top priority for this associate professor.

Tracy Spies finds the start of fall semester a time of both anticipation and excitement — with pre-service teachers beginning their field experiences and in-service teachers starting a new school year.

What drew you to UNLV in 2012?

The people! I was excited about coming to UNLV for many reasons. There were tremendous opportunities for research, teaching, and service and I enjoy being in places in the midst of growth and change. But the biggest draw for me was the opportunity to work with the people in my department. They are passionate about their work and its impact on the field, students, and families.

What inspired you to get into your field?

Kids! After several years as a kindergarten bilingual teacher, I had the unique experience of moving in the middle of the year to teach fourth grade. We were a small bilingual program. I taught the majority of the fourth graders when they were in kindergarten. I was able to witness firsthand the tremendous benefits of long-term bilingual programs for students.

It was fascinating to see how students utilized their multiple languages as a resource while learning and solving problems. This experience also left me with many questions, particularly related to the handful of students who were not excelling at similar rates as their monolingual peers or who had abandoned their native language due to it generally being undervalued and delegitimized in schools and in greater society. This opportunity propelled me into a Ph.D. program and served as foundational to my research agenda.

Biggest misconception about your field

That learning multiple languages confuses children or deters them from learning the language of instruction — English. However, there is evidence instead showing that bilingual education is fruitful for both monolingual English speakers and multilingual learners and is more effective than English-only programs.

A discovery you wish you had made

I wish I had been part of the early studies when we were beginning to understand the cognitive benefits of bilingualism.

A lesson you learned from a student

I learn from my students every day. I work primarily with in-service teachers. Their stories and experiences shape my research. My students play a critical role in helping to bridge the work of the university with K-12 schools. We work together to translate research to practice.

Someone on campus that you’d like to thank

The faculty within the College of Education and the department of early childhood, multilingual, and special education have been a tremendous support system. I have received and continue to receive excellent mentoring from the senior faculty in the department. However, if I have to narrow it down to one, it would be Dr. John Filler. Dr. Filler was traveling with me when I received the call that my brother had a stroke and was in a coma. The kindness he showed will never be forgotten.

Your last big project and how you decompressed afterward

I was recently invited to be a guest editor for a special issue of the Intervention in School and Clinic journal, centering around the delivery of high-quality instruction and services for English learners who have learning disabilities. It was published in September 2018. Because of the importance of and need for research involving bilingual learners, I typically always have work on my mind and do not decompress well …Maybe (I will) in December.

Biggest pet peeve

People watching movies/videos on planes without headphones.

What did you do last weekend?

Kayak the Colorado River.

Who’s going to win the next World Series?

As a former Houstonian, the Houston Astros, of course.

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