Emily Chester Propst – Class of 2009
Spanish teacher, Assistant Softball Coach, Anchor Club Sponsor, Draughn High School
“I want to inspire my students to be more than they think they can be. I want them to see that they can do whatever they want if they are willing to work hard.” It is with this spirit and outlook that Emily Chester Propst begins each day at Draughn High School, where she teaches Spanish, helps coach softball, and sponsors the Anchor Club and the Spanish Club.
“As a student at East Burke,” Emily explains, “I was involved in classes and activities that shaped my life. For example, I was the leader of the saxophone section in the band and served as drum major. These roles helped me develop leadership skills that still serve me well today. I always wanted to be a teacher, and for a while I thought about teaching music.
“But I also studied Spanish for four years, and after reflecting, I realized that I had a real aptitude for it and discovered that teaching Spanish was my true calling. I saw how I could make a real difference in young people’s lives. I also played softball and now enjoy being the assistant softball coach. All of these high school pursuits played a major role in my life, and I want to show my own students how their own high school studies and activities can also lead them to success.
“I also owe a lot of my leadership skills to my church, River of Life, where, as a young person, I served on the youth leadership boards. I always encourage my students to take part in any activities or organizations where they can develop skills that will help them grow and develop.”
Emily earned a Bachelor of Science in Education in Spanish K-12 from Western Carolina University in 2013. She did her student teaching at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva, and she credits her supervising teacher, April DeBoard, for introducing her to the field of ESL (English as a Second Language). “I taught an ESL class while student teaching and really loved it. I am considering pursuing a master’s degree, perhaps in school leadership or by attaining certification in ESL, as I find that it not only helps me be a better Spanish teacher but also is a great service to the young native Spanish speakers who want so much to learn English.”
Emily has taught Spanish at Draughn High School for ten years and enjoys making learning fun. Studying a foreign language by itself can get tedious, but when it’s mixed with culture, music, and food, it can become a favorite subject for students. “We not only study grammar and word usage, but we also study Spanish dances, food, and lots of cool culture. For example, we learn about the true history of Cinco de Mayo (May 5) and turn it into a celebration. Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), celebrated November 1-2, is another important holiday in Latin culture, and we enjoy learning about the symbols, food, and rituals surrounding those dates. When we tie the language in with the culture, students can learn the words and structure in a more meaningful way and are able to retain their use of the language in a more productive manner.
“My East Burke Spanish teacher, Brandy Mills, made learning fun. I vividly recall one day when we were studying reflexive verbs, words that describe daily routines, motions, and emotions that are done to oneself – for example, ‘to wake oneself,’ or ‘to feed oneself.’ We students entered the classroom one morning to find the lights off and our teacher, dressed in pajamas, seemingly asleep on her desk and covered with a blanket. We didn’t understand what was happening until she began to ‘wake up,’ showing us the meaning and use of the reflexive verbs. Lessons like that not only were memorable visually, but they also helped us to learn how the language worked. I am fortunate that Brandy is now my colleague and works down the hall from me teaching ESL.
“One of our lessons at Christmas is to have each student do a project on a different Central American or South American country, reporting on special celebrations and preparing foods from each nation. Those types of activities really stick with them.
“Another learning tool that I have used frequently is the Senior Wooly series. The songs, workbooks, and videos are all in Spanish, and using these aids helps the students understand the words in an entertaining way. I have been amused because the students complain each time I bring up Senior Wooly, but I have heard them playing the music in the hallway and from the speakers in their cars. Some of them have even made playlists of the songs. One student said that he and a classmate who work together at Subway play the Senior Wooly songs in the store. They say listening helps them learn the language better.
“One said that while in a restaurant he was able to order his meal in Spanish, and the owners were so proud of him that they gave him free food! Others said when they visited restaurants or businesses, they were able to identify pictures of subjects we had studied. For example, they recognized works by artists such as Frida Kahlo or spotted symbols associated with holidays like the Day of the Dead. They even took photos to show me! When students are able to use the skills and knowledge that they learn in class to help them in real world situations, I feel very successful. They proudly say that the songs and lessons help them remember the language better, and that makes me feel gratified. I have found that when learning is fun, the content stays with the students. Plus, I have a lot of fun myself.
“One interesting aspect of studying Spanish in high school centered around my job with the City of Morganton Recreation Department. I worked at the concession stand at the soccer field, and when the city workers realized that I could speak Spanish, they paid me more to interpret for the Spanish speaking patrons. My students today were excited to hear that perhaps they, too, could be paid more because of their Spanish skills.
“Learning Spanish grammar also helps the students better understand English grammar, and that’s a real plus. Sometimes when we do preparation for the ACT, I work with the students preparing for the English grammar part of the test.
“It is so encouraging when former students tell me that what they have learned in my class has helped them. One student said that he wanted to pursue a career as a Spanish interpreter, and I was so pleased. He said, ‘Your passion made me want to do this.’ What better reward can a teacher have?”
Emily admits that there can be some challenges. For example, many of the students are native Spanish speakers and have learned their language at home from their families and friends. “Sometimes they struggle with learning the grammar and have some trouble reading because they have experienced the language a different way. Occasionally there is some resistance to learning the proper rules. There is hope, though, in that the state may begin a program where native speakers can place out of lower levels of the language by demonstrating mastery. Hopefully many of them will be encouraged to study in order to reach that goal.”
In addition to her classroom duties, Emily also serves as the sponsor for the Draughn High School chapter of the Anchor Club, an international service organization that is affiliated with the Pilot Club. The young women in the club dedicate themselves to service projects for the community. One of their favorite activities each year is the Powder Puff football game. “This year they were able to compete against chapters from all of the high schools in Burke County. And Draughn was the winner! The Powder Puff game raises money and takes donations for the Burke United Christian Ministries and the East Burke Christian Ministries. We were especially successful this year, raising nearly $2000 and collecting many barrels of canned food. Participation in Anchor Club helps these young women develop and grow an attitude of service and strengthens their ties to the community. We often partner with the local Pilot Club and other organizations. This year we are working on surprise gift baggies for the teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. Shhhh! Don’t tell.”
Coaching softball is another way that Emily encourages young women. “Competitive sports help young women develop strength and cooperation and to strive for success. One year I also coached women’s golf. I understood the physics part of golf but really didn’t know anything much about the game. But I was willing to try so the girls would have a chance to play. We relied on a lot of YouTube videos and the kind players at Orchard Hills Golf Club, where we would go to practice. They were gracious and more than willing to share their expertise. It was certainly an interesting experience.”
Last year, Emily faced another type of challenge when she was diagnosed with leukemia. “When the doctors told me I would have to take chemotherapy and lose my hair, I didn’t cry. I only became emotional when they told me I would not be able to work as a teacher while I was treated. I wanted so much to continue what I had started with my students and my Anchor Club girls. It was difficult being away from them.
“Now that I have returned to school, I continue to encourage my students to work hard, enjoy learning, and strive for success. I want my Anchor Club girls to become strong women with grit and determination. I want them to see that if I, as both a teacher and a wife and mother, can be willing to give of my time to help them develop, then they can do the same for others. They can be successful at doing whatever they want if they are willing to work for it. Service to the community and to others is a gift we must share, and I believe my calling is to inspire them to pursue their dreams.”
Published May 2023