Author: Silvia Miranda, 4th Grade Teacher, Mesa Elementary School, Clovis Municipal Schools

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Silvia Miranda

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Silvia Miranda

A great teacher touches the life of a child forever.  Be that teacher. Every day.

This marks my 10th year teaching, and I have never been more invigorated and passionate about my career!  I pursued my bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Bilingual Education in 2004, and I received my Masters in Education specializing in Literacy in 2013.  My first teaching job was as a kindergarten teacher in a rural Title I School in Clovis.  Being a military wife, I moved to a different school every year for the first five years of my career.   While not teaching consecutively in one district or grade level had its drawbacks, it provided me with the opportunity to teach diverse populations and learn from colleagues from around the country.  I taught grades K-3 in different schools in NM and OK, including bilingual programs at dual language schools. I finally settled back home (Clovis, NM), where I have taught 4th grade at Mesa Elementary School for the past five years.  I serve as a member of the NMDASH team at my school, and as the Literacy Leader for my building.  I am a mentor to first year/beginning teachers, and work as a Peer Coach to teachers around my district.  One of the highlights of my career has been traveling to Washington D.C. in representation of my school to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award.  I work hard to provide my students the best education possible.  This year I wrote and won a grant to provide STEM resources and experiences to my students, and I put together the Spanish Spelling Bee and a BananaGram Tournament to reach my out of the box thinkers.   

As an educator, I am committed to being a life-long learner.  Two years ago, I became an Ambassador of the NM Teacher Leader Network.  This coming year, I will participate as a Teacher Leader in my district’s own Teacher Leader Network!  

If you walk into my classroom, you will witness students actively engaged and leading their own learning.  I have implemented whole brain teaching mixed in with growth mindset strategies, resulting in a classroom full of productivity, positivity, and possibility! I love my job, and nothing makes me happier than a classroom full of eager minds! 

Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Every morning my Chaparral, NM, students stand and wait for their school bus on unpaved dusty road sides that border the narrow fractured streets; careful to avoid street cars, getting pinched by looming cactus, or running into unleashed aggressive dogs. The earliest school bus arrives at Desert Trail Elementary by 7:30 am.  “Will we have schedule X?” students immediately ask as they step off the bus and see that the winds begin to pick up and a gray curtain of dust is seen on the horizon.  My 5th graders walk through the main building to the side doors, once again stepping outside to walk towards their classroom portable.

As soon as students step into the portable, they drop off their backpacks on their desks. Each group of tables is aligned using the 2 inch wide worn out tears that run across the brown Berber carpet.  Students quickly set up the 3 classroom computers. Until recently, we had four before one of them became a permanent freeze frame.  “It’s too windy, we probably will not be able to use the internet today,” the students remind me as I keep clicking on the district website and receive the notice to check my network connection.

Another group of students take the plastic colored baskets to begin handing out their composition notebooks that are essential in our Balanced Literacy classroom. These notebooks help us with crucial organization because as a true, self contained Dual Language setting, students do all their work in both English and Spanish.  The mismatched donated metal shelves, refurbished wood stand, and black plastic containers hold our partial classroom materials.  We might not have new furniture or complete resources; however we have a positive learning environment and strong initiative to improve.

From day one, I inform my students that they will grow both academically and as individuals, despite the dismal setting. They’re smiles turned into squinting eyes of concern when I mentioned they would need to work to the best of their abilities and that they would be required to present in front of small and large crowds. “I have volunteered you to present at the first district board meeting taking place in a couple of weeks,” I enthusiastically mentioned to my students on the first day of their 5th grade school year. They immediately knew that I was going to set high-expectations for them, every day, all year long.

As soon as I receive students’ data, even before I meet them, I see the possibilities within. My students’ academic levels are diverse; on top of learning a second language they face many hurdles. For this reason, it is my goal to show my students that their education represents much more that just academics; it represents self worth and advocacy.  By being active participants in our education, collecting, documenting, and analyzing our own data we learn to self reflect and create goals that can support overall growth.

My students, colleagues, and I work hard to see positive outcomes, and we know that collaboration is an important part of success. As a partner teacher of the Game Plan for Success Aim High Fellowship Educators for High Standards, I received additional support to help my students aim high, coach them to listen and practice, and teach them the value of testing themselves.

“You are not a number, but we need to use these numbers to monitor our growth. We need to use data to study what we are doing and what we can do to improve as learners,” I make sure to reinforce to my students.  During our first Student/Parent/Teacher Conference, as parents and students walked into our classroom to have a conversation about academic gains and needs, the importance to set educational goals and for students to know and reflect on their own learning is reinforced. Only a small percentage of students’ parents may be able to understand and analyze their child’s data. “Usted sabe maestra, yo nunca fui buena estudiante, así que yo quiero que ella sea mejor,” the majority of the parents comment on how they were never good students and want their child to be better. Parents place this desire of their children improving in the hands of the teachers. Parents need to be students’ best educational advocates, but with limited understanding this advocacy can be diminished. My plan as part of the Aim High Teacher Fellowship is to instill the importance of setting high standard goals and prepare ourselves to accomplish them.

Teaching students to be self advocates takes time and perseverance, to help your students reach their highest potential. For me, as well as for many teachers, time is an obstacle, for this reason I create a schedule that helps smooth transitions and allows for effective student learning, collaboration, and time for self reflection. When my students are given the initiative to provide feedback on classroom management and instruction, it promotes self awareness and ownership. “My behavior during class time is getting  better, because I don’t talk loud like if I have a microphone,” Leslie explains in her data folder after acknowledging that when she speaks loudly it can affect the learning of others.  Providing students with tools to be responsible for their own data and learn how analyze it, will create self advocates.

Watching my students explain their own learning process and goals to their parents, I could see how impressed and proud their parents felt knowing their children could read their own information.   My own mother only had a second grade education in Mexico.    I relate to how parents may not understand the data being presented to them concerning their child because this was my own experience.

“Mrs. Rios did you already check on my reading test. Did I complete the next level?” asked Keera during our conference. Mom quickly looked at her with a slight tilt of her head and low tone reprimanded, “Keera…”  “It’s okay. I teach my students to ask questions and check with me on grades, assignments, assessments…after all they are the ones who do the work,” I quickly replied.  I need for my students to know that I will do the best I can to support them, but they too need to apply themselves and work to make our efforts worthwhile.

To make sure my students’ academic efforts demonstrate results, I consider all aspects of their learning. I have to keep in mind their proficiency level as English Language Learners and consider that assessments are becoming more rigorous.  My students and I use data and relevant information to redirect instruction if needed, allowing for an opportunity to modify problem-solving strategies.  As teachers, the availability of data prompts us to reflect on our instruction and should do the same for our students.  Reflection can promote and help develop higher level thinking.

Throughout the school year, proficiency levels need to be reviewed, recorded, analyzed, and reflected upon. In order for students to properly reflect on their own data, I guide them through the process of purposeful reflection. It is crucial to promote a supportive, safe, and encouraging classroom environment.  “I went up another level on my Reading test.  This time I made sure to not get distracted,” Mari proudly commented as her classmates gave her a round of applause.   This year I intentionally provide time for students to reflect and form inquiries regarding their learning style, instruction and/or learning needs, instruction and/or learning strengths, and reasons or evidence of results.

Student reflection can be challenging due to time, availability of data (limited or overload), different academic levels, different learning styles, and limited parent availability and/or understanding of educational standards. In order to accomplish the challenge of generating a reflective student environment I had to:

  • Identify data sets for students to analyze.
  • Become flexible with time or schedule time for student data self analysis. (Use district Scope and Sequence dates.)
  • Differentiate for students to understand how data can support their academic gains.
  • Promote an environment of inquiry and peer support.
  • Create reflective journal, data collection sheets, and provide guiding questions to ensure students’ self-reflections stay focused on achieving educational gains.
  • Students set goals that encourage high standards.
  • Provide opportunities and options for parents to participate in data analysis and learn how to support their child.

 AIMING HIGH TOGETHER

The Aim High Fellowship challenged me to use data intentionally and teach my students how to use it to set goals and also made it possible to partner with a professional athlete who knows how important it is to set and achieve goals. My students could not believe their mentor for their 5th grade school year would be former NFL record breaking wide receiver Rocket Ismail who played for the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.  Being a part of the Aim High Fellowship helped me as I created a game plan for success that gave us that extra push that many of my students needed.

The partnership with an NFL player was a motivating factor for my students, but the personal connection I developed with my students through the goal setting and practice was even more of a catalyst for academic momentum. “I feel better knowing you are her teacher,” were the words Maria’s mother gave me on the first day of school.  Maria came into my 5th grade Dual Language classroom reading at a beginning 3rd grade level in English and beginning 4th grade level in Spanish.  Figuring out what was the piece missing in order to make academic gains was a challenging task. I quickly learned that Maria does best when working at her own pace and is open to new strategies, and resources. .  Her motivation and sense of responsibility helps her keep track of her work and pace how far she can go.  I also make sure I am ready to go to the next level when she feels she is ready. Being in a Dual Language classroom means that there is double assessments and this can be overwhelming for a child.  Knowing how to monitor this is essential to have the best outcomes.  Maria’s willingness to work has become her signature move.  I am proud to say Maria’s online assessment states she is “Performing as an average 6th grade student who took this test in July.”  She is also demonstrating 5th grade level competency in math.  In our classroom book, Maria included a dedication to our Aim High partner athlete Rocket Ismail: “I want to dedicate this story to Rocket Ismail who inspired me to not give up on the hardest moments or to not get nervous when something happens.”

Maria’s note to Mr. Ismail: “Mr. Rocket, remember the first time some of our classmates asked you questions? I was one of the students that asked you a question.  I asked how I could not be nervous and shy because I was shy.  Our class was planning to compete in a Literacy Festival and I was so shy that I said ‘NO’ on the permission paper, but Mrs. Rios told me to take the paper back home and think about it.  I thought about it and finally said ‘YES’.  The days passed, and finally it was time to compete.  Three of my classmates and I presented Spanish Choral Reading.  We all came out with first place medals.  I want to thank you Mrs. Rocket and Mrs. Rios for inspiring me and helping me.  I want to thank you both for that.”

“I am the light, I am the answer, I am the solution, and I am the remedy!” Students chanted in unison as Rocket Ismail delivered his motivational speech to a cafeteria full of wide-eyed elementary students during his visit to our school. This statement empowers students to reflect on their potential.  It embodies our classroom challenge to develop self reflection skills that enhance our listening, planning and implementation of strategies that can help us see that academic struggles can aid us in measuring and supporting our growth as learners. “I felt myself trembling and holding back tears. I wanted to cry because I felt so happy”, students nodded in agreement as Javier shared his experience from listening to the speech.

As I looked out during this assembly, I saw my future, past, and current students mesmerized by the strong reassuring voice that delivered a message of optimism and strength. My mind went back to my childhood years where just like many of my students I was an English Language Learner that came from a struggling, single-parent family and had overwhelming responsibilities for a child. I know firsthand that education is a way out of economic and/or home life insufficiencies. So, as we begin to experience accomplishments, we don’t remember the decrepit computers and the brown carpet, but we rejoice in the students’ success.

In a teacher’s life there are many stories of success as well as scenarios where weakness can become part of our thoughts. The feeling of weakness can come when the curriculum we need to follow is not well understood, or it does not provide the sufficient resources we need to search, create, and/or purchase. Weakness creeps in when our students’ home life is a struggle, and we feel we have not done enough when our students do not perform to the standards they are required. This feeling takes hold when students’ parents are not well-informed or involved in their child’s life. The feeling of weakness can come when our colleagues lose motivation in our profession, and we do not find the words and/or actions to improve these feelings.  Many things throughout our lives can be a challenge, but striving to improve is the driving force to create life-changing goals and outcomes.  We have to AIM HIGH!

 

Register NOW for the 2018 NM Teacher Summit!

Register NOW for the 2018 NM Teacher Summit!

Teachers,

This is a special invitation to attend our third annual New Mexico Teacher Summit. In its initial conception in 2016, the NM Teacher Summit had 300 attendees. Last year’s NM Teacher Summit drew in 1,000 teachers who filled the registration capacity in just under 96 hours. At the demand of NM teachers, this year we are expanding to 1,350 teachers!

About the Summit

The Summit is a two-day event that is being held on Monday June 18th and Tuesday 19th at the Albuquerque Convention Center. This year’s theme is “Teaching with Purpose.” What is especially unique and exciting about the 2018 NM Teacher Summit, is that each session will be led, or co-led, by a teacher. New Mexico teachers have long been clamoring for teacher-led professional development training around areas of focus that interest them the most and we have listened.

Attendees will enjoy inspiring keynote speakers while also gaining access to useful information, presented by fellow teachers, through breakout sessions. The sessions will be focused on providing teachers with new information and opportunities to enhance their classroom practice and improve student outcomes. The program will also allow for ample time to network with colleagues, as well as, at the end of day 1, enjoy a celebratory dinner.

We look forward to embarking on this learning journey with our amazing NM teachers and hope that you will join us! – Your Teacher Liaisons, Alicia and Isaac

Learn More about the Summit

Click Know Before You Go 2018 to get more information about the event.

Register Now

Click HERE to sign-up for the Summit.

 

More About the Registration and Sign-Up Process

EventBrite
This is where you register for the Summit.

SCHED 
This is where you register for the sessions you want to attend at the Summit. Once you complete registration in Eventbrite, you will be connected to Sched. Your pre-registration will secure your space in the sessions you sign-up for.

GREEN= LEARNING LOUNGE TABLES

The Learning Lounge takes place on Day 1 of the Summit from 8:30-11:30am. You may choose as many of these sessions as you would like, keeping in mind that content at the Learning Lounge will repeat every 30-minutes: 8:30am-9am, 9am-9:30am, etc.

ORANGE and BLUE= BREAKOUT SESSIONS

Breakout Sessions will take place on Day 1 and Day 2 of the Summit. DO NOT CHOOSE MORE THAN ONE PER TIME BLOCK. If you double book yourself for more than one breakout session per time block, you will get kicked out of both by SCHED as we get closer to the Summit.

RED= GENERAL SESSIONS

General Sessions will bring all 1,350 teachers together for inspiring keynote speakers, information sharing, and networking opportunities. Register for all General Sessions.

 

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Steven Lamb

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Steven Lamb

Innovation. Watching how students take risks, learn from failure, collaborate, and transform into empathetic learners is why I teach.

Steven Lamb began his career as a local business owner in Albuquerque, NM.  Feeling that he could make a greater difference in his community, Mr. Lamb felt compelled to educate the future leaders and professionals around him.  As a result, Mr. Lamb immediately pursued his Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and went further to obtain his Master of Arts Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Reading.

Since his participation in the elementary world, Mr. Lamb has been invited to speak at the APS Administrators Conference on Education, APS Digital Learning Conference, and two TEDxABQ Education Events.  More notably, Mr. Lamb was named the 2017 NM PBS Digital Innovator, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and bestowed the title of the Henry Ford Innovator.  He has pioneered the use of instructional technology in the classroom by co-creating a curriculum to digitally team-teach with another educator located eighteen miles away at a different school.

In his classroom, 21st century preparation occurs through meaningful collaboration.  Through the employment of Virtual Team Teaching, students are engaging in preparation far beyond their elementary years.  Unlike distance education, one time projects, and traditional classroom teaching, continuous use of Virtual Team Teaching uses digital and web-based tools to enhance the collaborative nature of effective learning.  He believes that technology should not be a separate and apart entity, but a tool to redefine classroom instruction.  By walking into his room you will often hear conversation, not meaningless chatter, but rather two classrooms engaging in discourse across eighteen miles.  You may also hear introductions as students begin teaching and learning with microbiology college students in Malaysia, or discussion of marine and desert habitats with high school students from Jamaica. You will see children building connections, refining professional skills, and making a virtual world personal. 

Your 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, Ivonne Orozco

Your 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, Ivonne Orozco

From The 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year: The Year of Educators’ Voices Rising

As your 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, I am honored to be one of your teacher-leader voices. The diversity amongst us in New Mexico is an asset. My family immigrated here from Mexico when I was 12-years-old. I was an English language learner in middle school and later took honors courses in high school, I ran cross country and track, and I graduated in the top 10% of my class. I am a proud UNM graduate. Go Lobos! But I did not get here alone: I had teachers and family that set core foundations along my journey that contributed to my success. These included: high expectations, staying the course, building a strong voice, and valuing teachers and education.

Every day in my classroom, I keep in mind that all students can be successful no matter where they traveled from to get here in the morning, or how much money their parents have, or how much they still have to learn. I keep my expectations high. It’s unclear why there’s still a misconception out there that students facing challenges at home can’t succeed at school. That is false. Lowering standards for any of our kids is a disservice. They deserve high-quality standards, options, and teachers. My mission for my students at Public Academy for Performing Arts (PAPA) in Albuquerque is to make sure they achieve high academic standards while pursuing artistic excellence.

Staying the course is critical to long-term success in life and in our public education system. As a young teacher, I have witnessed the distress caused by constantly changing systems. Every few years things change with exams, evaluations, and leadership just as we start to adjust. I won’t be complacent when provided the opportunity to sit at the table with policymakers on this issue. I do not have all the answers, but I know that teachers in our state,

who work hard and are passionate about their students, do have collective answers. In my role representing the state’s teachers, I will be a conduit of teacher voices in those conversations.

One way I have decided to take a stance on my beliefs is by using my voice. For far too long, teachers’ voices have not been properly represented. But in recent years, the New Mexico Public Education Department has created opportunities with a Teacher-Leader Network which includes the School Liaison Program, the NM Dream Team, and the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory. I have taken part in these programs and they are creating a network for passionate teachers to advance student learning, learn more about policy, and express concerns. We are leading the nation with this work and we must sustain it.

We must also focus on recruiting the next generation of teachers. Many teachers work within 20 miles of where they attended high school, which means tomorrow’s teachers are sitting right in front of us today. We must show our students the rewards and gratification of being a teacher. Many of my students see themselves in me and I take that very seriously as I continue to be an advocate for my profession and for them. They deserve hope.

As a Dreamer, I know how important it is to know that someone is fighting in your corner. I will continue to stand up for my community and future generations in the fight for a permanent solution for DACA recipients. I want to thank Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski and the PED for giving me this role and platform and for recognizing my work in cultivating student achievement growth.

I hope I am a reflection of the beautiful diversity of our state. I hope that students and teachers can see themselves in me. I have and will continue to give you my all for the remainder of 2018, demonstrating that educator voices like mine are truly on the rise in New Mexico. I will see you throughout 2018!

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight-John McElhinney

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight-John McElhinney

The most meaningful part of teaching is setting high expectations for my students while encouraging and inspiring them to set goals for themselves as they grow from being a unique participant  in a community of learners into an active contributor in our society.

John McElhinney was born and raised in New Jersey. After graduating from high school in 1987, he joined the United State Marine Corps. He spent the majority of his service in Irving, California,(Marine Aviation Logistic Squadron). 

After the Marines, John moved back to the East Coast and matriculated at the University of Delaware. At Delaware, John majored in history, and also took anthropology and archeology courses. It was during one of these courses, that he became interested in the culture and people of New Mexico. He spent two weeks in New Mexico camping and hiking in the summer of 94. But it would be another thirteen years before he returned to visit his sister in Albuquerque, and six more until it became his permanent home.

After graduating from Delaware in 1995, John worked for two corporations, but did not feel fulfilled from his work. In the summer of 1997, John started his master’s degree in education at Monmouth University, and quickly realized this was his passion. It was at this time John combined another passion of his with teaching. Traveling! John completed his student teaching in Nacka, Sweden, and thus began years teaching abroad in such places as Italy, Korea, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

 Since returning to the United States in 2013, he spent one year teaching in Albuquerque, and is currently completing his third year teaching in Raton, New Mexico, as a third grade teacher.

 Utilizing his many experiences abroad and lessons learned from his parents, John also brings compassion, energy, enthusiasm, and the desire to be  a lifelong learner to the classroom.

 

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

By Elizabeth Long, English Language Arts Teacher, Gallup Middle School

Teacher quality is fundamental to improving public education.  If not one of the most important factors to school success, then what is?  There is a lot of talk about how to improve schools—and improving instruction should be at the top of the list.

And the effect of quality teachers is greatest among students with the most educational disadvantages (Goldhaber, 2016, p. 58). It is no secret that quality teachers matter and can change the course of our students’ lives. Still, for far too many teachers, those that can change lives, leave the profession after just a first few years of teaching.

I wanted to be a teacher since I was in first grade, and while that may sound cliché’, it often takes an entire lifetime to prepare a person to be an effective teacher. Even the best teacher prep programs cannot adequately prepare a teacher for everything that they will experience in the classroom. Still, teachers need to come to the classroom “Day One Ready”, and that goes beyond just knowing how to lesson plan or memorize learning theories.

Teacher preparation programs have a solemn responsibility to produce quality teachers.

After my first year of teaching, I was ready to give up on the dream I had since I was a little girl. It was devastating. I was not adequately prepared for my first year of teaching, and while I am sure many factors can be taken into account when it comes to my lack of preparedness that first year in the classroom, I was not prepared well through my college teacher prep program.

Luckily, I chose to stay in the classroom and use resources within my school to push myself to my full potential (I earned an Exemplary rating this year as a teacher in Gallup, New Mexico). Unfortunately, not every teacher has access to the resources I had or the resolve to keep pushing internally.  And that is how we lose potentially life-changing teachers.

However, if teacher preparation programs dramatically improve in New Mexico, then the quality of teaching, and thus education, across the state will improve.

The purpose of my writing this is not to demonize or condemn any specific college or university. As a teacher, I believe a large part of learning is in our own hands.  We must accept personal responsibility for our craft, and for our students’ learning.  In fact, the summer after my first (rough) year of teaching, I went back to the basics. I ordered Harry Wong’s classic books about classroom management, and I read his words as if they were scripture.

One may ask, didn’t I do the same in my teacher prep program? The answer is sort of, yes – I read many of the famous teaching texts and theories, but what was often missing was the application of those theories. Without a classroom of my own, or a classroom to visualize myself in it was hard to imagine how to put these theories into action. For example, I took a special education course about foundational theories, but I never actually learned what special education would look like in a real school or a real classroom. What I was learning in my classes were the idealistic theories for teaching, and when it was time for my student teaching experience it seemed as though what I had learned had no basis in reality.

The best classes I had were with teachers who were passionate about the teaching practice and not completely disconnected from the classroom experience itself. It is not that I did not have some great courses or professors along the way, but the problem is often cohesion and consistency, and my classes were, to be honest, hit or miss.

I was also shocked by how inadequately I was prepared for the student diversity I would experience. Many universities give a “cookie-cutter” view on teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) and culturally relevant teaching. There was no connection to New Mexico and our students. According to Gist, “If teachers have limited knowledge of students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds, this can severely reduce the teacher’s ability to draw upon a student’s cultural and linguistic strengths and foster resilient student identities of achievement”. New Mexico and our students have unique needs, and these must be addressed in teacher prep programs, and we need to address diversity while never lowering he bar for any student, regardless of background.

Another frustrating experience is that I often felt like I was given misleading information about licensure, advisement, and what steps I needed to take to ensure I received my licensure after graduation with the proper credentials. Any preparation program requires quality advisement, and teachers need advisors who know their state’s expectations on testing and certification.

I have mentored many teachers over the years, and I have seen many come and go. I would say that, in my experience, teacher preparation program experiences directly correlate with whether teachers stay in the profession or quit after their first year.  As we all know, there are some tough issues in education today, and teaching is not a laid-back job in any way.

Still, if teachers come into the classroom “Day One Ready”, their entire outlook on teaching may change…but what does “Day One Ready” even mean?

“Day One Ready” means that a teacher is not surprised, but prepared for what they walk into that first day in the classroom. It is not about creating perfect teachers, but rather, teachers that will be prepared for the highlights and challenges of teaching our students, with proper support along the way. “Day One Ready” teachers are confident that the experiences in their teacher preparation program will realistically align with their true classroom experience. While nothing may prepare teachers for everything they will experience, quality programs prepare them to be more ready than I was.

Let us help prepare teachers realistically in high quality teacher preparation programs, which means that these programs should be held accountable, should increase their student teaching experiences, and should align their programs much more closely with state and district expectations. Then, we can help teachers reach their full potential and truly change the lives of students across the State. We know that, more than anything, teacher quality correlates with student success. So certainly teacher preparation is the foundation of that idea.

I am thankful I decided to keep teaching. Even with the most professionally challenging experiences, it is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.  And I have my students’ academic growth and their changed life trajectories to show for it!

However, if I could have been better trained and prepared to be more successful on Day One, then it should have happened. No excuses.

2018 National Title I Conference: Liberty to Learn

2018 National Title I Conference: Liberty to Learn


I had the distinct privilege to attend the recent National Title I conference in Philadelphia last month. Along with two colleagues and our school’s Director, I took three days away from my school and students to travel across the country to accept a 2018 Title I Distinguished School Award. This award was for closing the achievement gap between student groups, and was the result of the hard work of our entire staff. What an honor to be one of two schools in New Mexico to receive this award (shout out to the other honoree: Union Elementary School in Las Vegas, NM)! While the award was a surprise and something to celebrate, I quickly learned that the four days spent with educators from across the country was a meaningful opportunity for my own learning.

Let me back up to say that I hardly ever leave New Mexico for professional reasons. When I lived on the east coast, it was very easy to travel to conferences and events where I could collaborate and learn from other teachers. Given our geographic isolation, however, many of us in New Mexico rely on conversations with fellow teachers and on reading professional articles to further our own development and growth. This trip demonstrated to me that you cannot underestimate the importance of meaningful conversation and professional development with those from other communities and perspectives.

Although we had travelled a very long day to get to Philly and our first session was early the next morning, I was immediately engaged by National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee’s keynote address. Some of you may have heard Sydney speak at our New Mexico Teacher Summit last June. I enjoyed meeting her in Albuquerque, so I anticipated her address. She spoke at length about how education can be a tool for social justice, challenging us all to take risks on behalf of our students and give voice to issues affecting them (and us). She reminded us how important we are, and we agreed. I felt like I was a young teacher again, full of passion and purpose.

We ended the day with an armchair interview with former US Secretary of Education John King. I felt hopeful to know that such thoughtful and intelligent people are considering how to make education viable and equitable. This work is happening in so many ways, on so many levels. The thousands of educators in the room (teachers, principals, superintendents, and district level leaders) were clearly enthusiastic about the messages from the stage: all students deserve the opportunity to learn. And the Distinguished Schools celebration showed that, in fact, schools from all over the country are ensuring that they are.

While I attended break-out sessions on areas of interest to me (spelling instruction, brain-based instruction for phonics, student engagement, and the power of speech), my Director learned about social emotional awareness and how to use restorative practices to improve school culture. Over dinner each evening, the four of us from Taos Charter discussed how to bring back our new learning to New Mexico. We talked about how to look at grading, how to connect to students, and other over-arching ideas to improve our school. We felt energized by Salome Thomas-EL (Principal El) from Philadelphia and his keynote talk on how one person can make a difference. My teaching partner and I embraced his mantra: No excuses! So often those of us in Title I schools sink into that attitude that we cannot make a difference, that we cannot teach certain kids. This conference blasted us out of that mentality.

So why am I writing this blog post for New Mexico teachers? I feel impelled to share with you that you can, and must, fight to attend any regional or national conference you can. Consider writing a grant, requesting Title II funds from your school or district, or looking for scholarships. Talk to others, join a professional online community, take a class. Subscribe to articles or blog posts by those working on a national level to keep learning focused on students. Be inspired by the successes of other schools and teachers. Remember that it only takes one passionate teacher in the life of a child. Be that person for one child. No excuses.

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Edward Pena

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Edward Pena


The Best part of teaching is when you get to see the students after they graduate and find out what they are doing and especially when they say, “Thank you!”

I am a graduate of Cobre High School, Class of 1981 and a graduate of Western New Mexico University in 1986 with a BA in Zoology/Education and MA in Counseling in 2001. I have been teaching since 1987.  I first taught in Fabens, TX, Fabens Middle School Science, which taught me a great deal of my core foundational practices as a teacher. I returned to my community and have been Teaching/Counseling at Cobre High School since 1988.  I taught high school sciences, which included Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Physical Science and Earth Science, for 14 years.  While teaching I was a sponsor for the Math, Engineer, Science, Engineering Achievement, Inc. (MESA) organization, Department Chairperson and National Honor Society Sponsor.  I also coached tennis for 15 years.  Being able to work with students outside of the regular school day was a true gift.  For the past 16 years I have been the School Counselor.  I am always amazed to say that I have been in education for 31 years.  I still enjoy the challenge of learning and working with students and staff.  I am first and foremost a teacher, and continue that in my practice as the school counselor.  I strive to be active in the school, in the classroom, and work to help teach students other aspects to prepare them for their future.  I work to stay active within the school and continue to support students, staff and other district schools.

I wish I could say that I was unique in my field. There are many teachers within our state that work tirelessly, with little resources and little recognition and yet doing wonderful and inspiring things.  Those are our true gems in the field of education.  All teachers should be recognized, respected and valued for their knowledge and passion for teaching and what they do for our students.  True teaching goes beyond the books, the issues and rules. Schools and teachers get more and more responsibilities, duties, expectations, requirements and roles put upon them, and often with little resources, time, pay and incentive.  However, they still work and do their best, I admire these teachers!  All Teachers are the real New Mexico Spotlights!

Through my years I have had many opportunities afforded to me through my mentors, administrators and district. Their encouragement has always been vital in my growth and the growth of others.  I am fortunate, and I work to create and open up these same opportunities to others.

One of the best parts of teaching is when you see students get the idea or concept. When you see students work and strive for more, and especially when you see them succeed.  I always tell students success is different for everyone.  Some success is huge and some is day to day accomplishment, but no matter what it is success  creates and encourages opportunity.  One of the best parts of teaching for me, is when I see a student’s after they graduate and get to see their success and accomplishments.  It is especially uplifting when the students say, “I finally understand all those things everyone was trying to tell me, and now I understand and wish I could go back and say Thank you!” To me that is when I know I had an impact.

Still after 31 years, I plan to continue in education. I challenge myself to continue to LEARN and continue to TEACH!

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Arcelia Guillermo-Rios

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight: Arcelia Guillermo-Rios

The most meaningful part of teaching is having my students become self advocates; measuring success in my classroom is more than numbers.  Success needs to be seen, heard, and felt.  Seeing my students taking initiatives in their learning represents them taking ownership, responsibility, and the drive to aim high!

My name is Arcelia Elizabeth Guillermo-Rios, born in El Paso, Texas, from a hard working single-mother family. Due to several life difficulties, our family encountered many struggles.  School and innovative teachers became beacons of stability, encouragement, and reassurance.  These experiences developed into a persistent and positive impact in my life and generated my interest in becoming a teacher.

I graduated from New Mexico State University with Bachelors in Education and Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with endorsements in Bilingual Education. For twenty years I have taught a variety of grade levels, currently I teach 5th grade Self Contained Dual Language at Desert Trail Elementary.  As a bilingual teacher I strive to promote high academic standards integrating bilingualism, bi-literacy, multicultural development, and create opportunities of student/parent contribution, discovery, and empowerment.

In 2016, I was selected the National Association for Bilingual Education Teacher of the Year. The following year I became a New Mexico Teacher Leader State Ambassador where I continue to gain knowledge, resources, and support to enhance my profession.  Currently, I am also part of the Educators for High Standards and The Collaborative for Student Success: Aim High Fellowship. Through the Aim High Fellowship, my students and I have been developing skills in self reflection to promote listen and practice, learning the value of academic challenge, and measure growth as learners. To keep that optimistic spirit, we have been partnered with a professional athlete to encourage and inspire the students. The athlete is former NFL Dallas Cowboy Raghib Ismail better known as “Rocket”. It is a privilege to receive the support of so many caring people; this enhances my commitment and love for my profession.