My name is Mariangela Vergara Ruiz and I am a second grade teacher. I´ve accomplished one of my most desired dreams: to be a teacher of children between 7 and 8 years of age. With the full conviction that it would be a challenge for me but with the full confidence that I would achieve it with a lot of passion and commitment. I consider myself passionate about the educational world, anxious to know and learn from everything that is directly and indirectly related to my practice. I started my studies at the Universidad de la Sabana in Bogotá, Colombia. Then I decided to continue growing and facing new challenges, surround myself with new people and environments that will help me grow more and more; reason why I went to the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. A few months before I graduated I made the decision to learn from the eastern culture and it was there when I lived six months of my life in a very recognized and prestigious university in education in Hong Kong, China. Confident in my studies, abilities and talents, I finally made the decision of becoming an English & Spanish teacher at the Altamira School in 2018 in Barranquilla, Colombia. I must confess that since the beginning till now I´ve always felt a great responsibility to provide a quality and integral education to children that reassures the confidence that parents have bestowed upon me. I want to share with you the secrets, experiences and challenges of my first year as a teacher of 28 beautiful souls.
When I felt great commitment and responsibility with my profession, I channeled all my energy to give the best of myself every day, to be very present, living each of the experiences to the fullest. This allowed me to awaken my senses, above all, to listen and to let myself be guided by coaches, mentors and other teachers with long years of experience. We tried to apply what we know as “trial and error”, taking risks, reflecting on the process, making the necessary adjustments to improve, trusting my instinct, analyzing the results, etc. Some time ago I heard from a great friend and life partner a very true phrase and is the following: “Fake it till you make it” and said otherwise is “Dare to do what frightens you, cheating your brain that it is possible and without much listening or obeying your thoughts, you manage to make it a habit and a reality in your life “. I can tell you that this is how I managed to get through the first months with great success. I can also tell you that when you are present, each day brings as many of your desires as teachings. The best lessons, after all, come from the same children that you have in front of you in a classroom. They are the ones who teach you what to do and how to do it. Children are always communicating their wishes, disagreements, dreams, learnings and emotions through their languages. Also from a great friend once told me: “There is no better teacher than a child”, because it is they who will receive the most powerful feedbacks or feedback to grow as a teacher.
In the same way, the school has become a learning space for both the student and the teacher. It is important to be part of an environment that gives you the possibility to be heard, to add value, to have the freedom to make decisions, to share and learn with other professionals, among others. This has awakened in me, a great concern and curiosity to learn and put into practice what I continue to learn every day. Also, it is important to highlight the importance of a teacher as a being in constant research. The teacher should not be satisfied with what he has been doing recurrently throughout the years. Since education is a process of constant change and transformation, it is the teacher’s duty and responsibility to take online and offline courses, participate in events inside and outside the educational institution, travel and learn about success experiences in other schools around the world, read books that inspire and leave great teachings that can be applied right away. Personally, I had the opportunity to take courses outside the country and I take advantage of the summers to train and grow. Two summers ago I participated in courses in London and Miami respectively and next summer 2019 I will be taking a course in Personalization and Differentiation in student learning.
Education has allowed me to recognize my potential and share my personal and professional talents with my students. I perceive and feel that my way of being shapes my role as a teacher to a large extent. I stand out for being quite reflective in what I do every day. Personally, I like to conclude my classes with a metacognition process where we reflect on the learning obtained, the insights generated, the connections made and the possible ways of applying knowledge to other real contexts and making it transferable. I always ask myself at the end of my classes, what could I do better tomorrow? How could I adjust my teaching method to respond to the needs and interests of the children? What kind of activities can be more meaningful for the student? In short, I must add or remove to make learning an enriching, fun and lasting experience able to permeate into the lives and hearts of my students.
What d children come to school for during 8 hours each day (to do, to be)? If children come to school to comply with a series of pre-established contents according to a traditional curriculum and to work to get a grade … I would have to tell them that it is very sad and regrettable. Throughout the months I heard a coach tell me several times:“remember that, the contents are simply the perfect excuse to teach children the necessary skills and abilities of the 21st century”. It was there when I understood ONE OF the many reasons why children attend school. Personally I feel identified and I find it quite complete and rich in nuances while highly demanding the school leadership wheel (contains all the Values, Mindsets, and Strengths necessary to be successful in today’s world). Basically it is about raising the child in a comprehensive educational system that allows to awaken and develop each and every one of the skills mentioned there since he arrives at school at 7 in the morning and leaves at 3:30 in the afternoon. It would not hurt to clarify that, it is about helping the child to forge a personality leader and empowerment that can also be reflected outside of their time and school. To conclude this reflection, is it worthwhile to question itself if, as a teacher, I am preparing my students for real life and jobs that do not yet exist? Does my student have the necessary skills that will allow him to face an increasingly competitive, demanding and challenging world?
On the other hand, I would like to share with you the great power that teacher-student relations have in the student’s academic success. Personally I consider myself a noble, sensitive and loving being with each one of my students. There is not a day when I do not greet you with a kiss, a hug, a smile and a few words of encouragement and admiration. It is important to develop empathy, to be in children’s shoes, not to forget that they are still children, to take the time to listen to their ideas and proposals, to empower them, to celebrate their little successes, to encourage them to give their best effort and commitment, to teach them with the example, etc. Through the course I took in Bogotá a few months ago in Positive Discipline, I was able to learn and demonstrate in my classes the importance of a firm but friendly treatment at the same time. Children need to be treated with affection but at the same time be very firm with them in the establishment of routines, habits and logical consequences. I like to get to know my students in greater depth in order to make them see their potential and their talents. Sometimes they are children who have not had the opportunity to be heard and discover themselves breaking paradigms of the expected or demanded by others. I feel that my way of being and acting has influenced many of my students, filling them with energy, passion and motivation to live their lives to the fullest.
According to the previous reflection, I would like to add the importance of knowing children outside the classroom spaces. It is important to dedicate time in recess schedules because this are ideal spaces to meet their other talents. It is necessary to have conversations with children that have nothing to do with the strictly academic. Children need to be heard urgently. It is not possible for us to turn off their voices and cut off their wings, creativity and imagination. Ask, how does the school include and complement learning according to the interests and needs of the child? According to all that has been said, we cannot allow children to remain in their comfort zones. As teachers, it is our responsibility to allow them safe spaces where they can take risks in their learning by trying and carrying out new things. The teacher must be creative enough to help children awaken their sleeping talents and discover hidden talents.
Completing what has been said briefly, it is important that schools become spaces that allow the child to experience and participate in activities never before thought and imagined, thus breaking with the standards and paradigms of the children themselves. Likewise, children should have spaces of personalized interaction with their teacher, moments to work in a team with different colleagues, moments to work alone, moments to interact with students of other grades and educational levels, face situations and realities of the world outside the four walls of the classroom and their homes, etc. In other words, present the child with rich experiences in learning where they can apply and put into practice what they have learned in school. This is what I mean by preparing children for the present and the future of their lives as well as exposing them to different spaces and people. Very hand in hand with this, it is about making the child aware and awakening in him a sensitivity and a desire to serve the other (especially one whose reality is less favored than his). One of the values of the Altamira that predominates with great strength is the value of the Service (serve with passion). In these last months we have allied and linked with social service projects that generate value both to the lives of my students and to the lives of those to whom we help. We are currently organizing a bake sale for children to apply mathematical concepts by selling food in a park in our city in order to raise funds to help a foundation called “Hand in hand for a dream.” Likewise, inside the classroom we have a piggy bank where children (without obligation and without asking their parents for money) must fill our piggy bank with the aim of helping a foundation of children with Cancer called: Casa Hogar Andrea . Similarly, we are about to organize a flea market organized and led by the same children to collect clothes, toys and shoes in good condition in order to make a sale and collect income to help this foundation. Finally, for the end of the school year we want to make a field trip in which we will visit El Solar de Mao accompanied by children suffering from child malnutrition and reach the dream of getting to know this animal farm. We as a school want to make this dream possible for them!
Before finishing, I would like to share with you a very true phrase that my mother reminds me often: “We want to create a school where students, staff and parents are beating down the doors TO GET IN … not out”. That is what the innovative school we want to have in the Altamira in a few years according to our mission, vision and strategic plan. It is about creating the need, the desire and the sufficient motivation to want to go to school and give the best instead of waiting anxiously for the time of departure to be able to run out of there. The teaching profession, although it is not remunerated as it should be, is one of the professions that require greater passion, commitment, dedication and sacrifice. If the teacher, parent and student is not willing to leave their comfort zone, to learn and re-learn, to take risks, to fail and keep trying let me tell you that we are wasting precious time in our lives.
Finally I would like to leave you with a reflection that often turns out to be a topic of discussion in the social networks of our city. The big question of many parents is: What is the school they recommend in Barranquilla? There are many people (alumni, parents, among others) who affirm with great security and naturalness that the most suitable school for their children is the Altamira. But what worries me most is the “image or reference” that has been created and reaffirmed more and more between the voice and the voice of the people and is: I have heard that the Altamira is a highly demanding academic school that cares (above all) occupies, I would say) to achieve high scores on standardized tests nationally and globally. Reflecting now, I wonder: is this Altamira reference true or not? That reference of the Altamira is of positive connotation or not? We will all have different ways of perceiving and responding to this question but I finish my article by reminding you something: we were born in a changing world in constant transformation. We are free, autonomous and responsible beings to always choose the best. Do we want to make a difference and leave a mark in this world as leaders? Or were we born to follow the ideas and proposals of others without stopping to think and take advantage of the gift of life to undertake our life project with total autonomy and leadership?
Thank you all for taking the time to read this article. I ask you, are you directly and indirectly linked to the education of this country, what are you doing every day to make a difference and generate change? The change begins with you.