TEACHER OF THE WEEK: Maria Monsalve
Name: Maria Monsalve
School: Broadway Elementary
Grades/subjects you teach: English as a Second Language, E.S.L. grades K-5.
Place of birth: Colombia, South America.
Education (high school & college attended, degrees): East Lyme High School in Niantic, Conn; Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, (U.P.B.), in Medellin, Colombia, B.A. in Education and Languages: English with a minor in French. Graduate degrees of Administration and Teaching English as a Foreign/ Second Language from U.P.B.
Work history: During my undergraduate school, I was an English monitor at the university for all the B.A. programs. After graduation I worked as a k-12 English teacher in private schools in my home country and then I started teaching English to university professors. I became a professor at U.P.B. for graduate and undergraduate programs. After I graduated in administration, I was named English Coordinator of the Languages Department where I developed research on co-teaching strategies at university level with engineering professors. Then I was promoted to be the Head of the School of Education, a position that I fulfilled for six years. I decided then that it was time to go back to my passion: teaching children. I came to work as an E.S.L. teacher at Broadway Elementary School, where I have been since 2005.
Teaching honors/awards: Fulbright scholar. Associate Professor at U.P.B. Leader of Adult Staff Development on Pedagogy for Private and Public Schools. Member and Evaluator of the National Accreditation Association of Education Programs in Colombia. VIF Teacher 2005-2008.
Hobbies/interests outside teaching: Spending time with my family is without any doubt my favorite thing to do. Likewise, reading, watching movies and traveling are very important to me. These have been ways to broaden my knowledge about places, people and cultures around the world.
Family: My husband, who is also an E.S.L. teacher at J. Glenn Edwards. Two daughters: Natasha will graduate in a few weeks from the university with a major in Political Science and a minor in International Relationships, and Manuela, who is a successful seventh grader at SanLee Middle School, and loves practicing gymnastics and playing the flute.
What led you to a career as a teacher?
I became a teacher because there is a teaching tradition in my family. My mom and cousins have been devoted to teaching for many years. My dad and uncles had been university professors. Seeing them perform was and has been a great asset to my own experience.
Who were your favorite teachers as you went through school, and what did you learn from them?
In high school, my favorite teacher was Ms. Perez. She had a special way to relate with students. She set high expectations for them and, at the same time, was able to show a special interest and lend a hand when needed. I learned from her that if we want our students to succeed, we have to be aware of their needs as persons first and help them in any possible way to improve the particular circumstances that can prevent them from learning.
Has becoming a teacher been all you expected it would be?
Yes, and quite frankly, even more. Generally speaking, being a teacher is a very challenging task. It is an everyday amazing marathon to run. I love teaching because I feel when I work with a child, I am not only doing something for him/her, but also for a family, a school and a community. In addition, as I work with my children at school, they help me become a better teacher and a better human being. In particular, being an English — as a foreign language — teacher requires knowledge and good strategy management. But when you are an English as a second language teacher, your job is not only teaching, it is also about closing the gap between two cultures in the school setting. That is, helping English learners with reading, writing, math, science and social studies, but at the same time assisting mainstream teachers with possibilities to better deal with them, and showing parents how to best support their children to thrive at school.
How has teaching changed since you were a student?
Technology has been the main difference. The teachers I had were very prepared and willing to help their students as much as possible, but the resources were limited. Research is another different issue. Nowadays, teachers have to be updated with the latest approaches, methods and studies done to improve students’ performance.
What “makes your day” as a teacher?
Receiving that authentic and proud smile from one of my students who just read a new word or sentence or who could understand a reading passage after he/she has been struggling with it and having the chance to see the mainstream teacher proud of him/ her!
What’s working in schools today?
Teachers are more aware of students’ individual needs and learning styles. Differentiated instruction is applied more by teachers in terms of content and process. Classes are more students-centered; flexible grouping and ongoing assessment are becoming more predominant in the classrooms.
What’s not working?
Too much time is being devoted to testing during the school year. Emphasis on standardized tests, which may not reflect the real academic growth a student has made in a quarter or in the whole year.
What’s your favorite memory of your first year as a teacher?
I was teaching in high school and three students who were at risk of not graduating and had behavior problems were assigned to me. They were a big challenge and with a lot of dedication, love and also firm effort, they changed the way they saw school, became interested in learning and graduated. The three of them are now professionals in different fields. It was wonderful to see how you, as a teacher, can inspire young people to become better human beings.
How would your “teacher” persona handle you as a student?
I think I would do to
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myself what I always say is important for my children: I would keep in mind that we are the product of our dreams and responsible for what we achieve.
Best piece of advice for other teachers?
I would encourage teachers to always think of their students as individuals with the potential to succeed.
I always remind my students they need to be good persons first, be grateful for what they have and love and respect themselves as well as everybody around them. I am a believer and always tell them they will be the doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc., of the future.
My piece of advice to parents would be to love their children, be patient and stay beside them, even when they become challenging or are struggling in any way. I would remind them that commitment is the key to their children’s future; that every minute they dedicate to them is a minute that will only count toward their success. Remind them they are teachers’ best partners because educating a child requires teamwork.
If you were superintendent for a day, you’d:
I would set up meetings with teachers from the elementary, middle and high schools to hear, share and discuss their major concerns and my major concerns.
What about your job would surprise your non-teaching friends the most?
Being known as a structured person, how multi-faceted I have to be while doing my job and how I can rapidly change the course of things when needed. Having students who speak different languages in a classroom and still finding a way to communicate, teach them and, also, learn from them! The many challenges some of the students face on daily basis. The many technological resources our students have available in the classrooms.
If you could somehow magically instill one truth into the heads of your students, what would it be?
It is possible to reach your dreams only through hard work, by being responsible citizens, respectful of the law and studying hard to become excellent professionals.
Favorite movie about school or teaching:
Stand and Deliver. It is a real life story of teacher Jaime Escalante.
How would you summarize your teaching philosophy?
I can relate to the quote that states: “If our students do not learn the way we teach them, we have to teach them the way they learn.”
What’s special about your classroom?
It is a place where children feel they belong to and where they want to stay. It is a place where they know what is expected from them and where they can become responsible for their own learning. It is also a place where cultural diversity is evident.
What’s special about your school?
It is a place full of wonderful people who are willing to go the extra mile to help students achieve their potential and where the staff, teachers and administrators are kind, qualified and supportive. I take pride of having been part of Broadway Elementary School for the last eight years and, as I am getting ready to leave, I know I will miss each and every one of them!
Most unusual question you’ve ever gotten from a student?
I have enjoyed many things coming from my students, especially the many ways of pronouncing my last name because I have counted at least five different ways to say it. One of the questions I liked most was: If you don’t come to school, will you get a ticket like when you drive a car?