First I want to say what a treat and pleasure it is to guest blog on ¿Qué Means What?! I appreciate the invitation and I’m looking forward to contributing to this vibrant community!
When people ask me what I do, I tend to have several answers, but an occupation I usually answer with is “educator”.
Depending on the situation, I may say “teacher”, or that I’m an “instructor” or “faculty”. Sometimes it may feel too similar to when someone asks if I am “Latino, Hispanic, Mexican, or Chicano”…
But I don’t say all this to skirt the issue: I consider myself a “maestro and estudiante”, someone that enjoys teaching and learning.
In that regard, I’ve been blessed with opportunities. Fairly early on I fantasized a bit about being a “professor”. There was something about the profession that was alluring, or more specifically the idea that I could be a resource to someone and have the opportunity to share what knew and learned—even something about that jacket with elbow pads. I am still quite a ways from that being a fully realized dream but these past couple years I have had the opportunity to not only teach in a public classroom setting but also at the college level. Although I do not fantasize about all the grading and paperwork, the full experience to me has been fulfilling part of the dream.
In Spanish, to be called “maestro” is a sign of respect. When you translate that to “teacher” in English, the cultural translation is lost.
When I was teaching in middle school, at first I did not catch that my peers felt disrespected when students called them “teacher”. They would respond to the students, “It’s Ms. ____ or Mr. _____, not teacher”. I would hear that and tried to explain on both ends to my colleagues and to parents what I felt was the misunderstanding. That was especially the case when parents referred to teachers as “teacher”. I link that thinking that in Mexico, it is a norm to refer to someone by their profession or degree, such as licensiado, or doctor.
A similar issue was brought up when I started teaching at National Hispanic Universityl in San Jose, CA, and some of my students, adults of varying ages, asked if I minded being called “maestro”.
Not at all, I thought to myself—to me it was definitely a sign of respect. This was especially so because the comment came from some students whom I consider my elders—señoras who had been in the classroom for years as teacher aides but had never received a teaching credential.
It has been a challenging but fun and rewarding experience. I have taught several courses, each one different, ranging from technology in the classroom to science and math methods, as well as Latino culture and primary language development.
The students overall have been fabulous and it really has been a fun experience—in spite of my complaining when the paperwork and grading is due.
Part of the fun is thinking about the design of some of the assignments—especially because this is for public school classroom teaching. So I try to limit the amount of papers to write and turn in in favor for assignments that push hands-on and better understanding. For example, for some of the assignments I have cobbled up, the students have created incredible work apart from the standard essay and written report. I have seen wonderful children’s books created, teatro setups and fascinating science models (sea otter habitats!).
Yes, as I have mentioned, it is work; each class has been a bit of pain in terms of designing the assignments, preparing presentations, reviewing readings, and of course the grading. Though I cringe a bit when the stack is on my desk, at the end of it all I think about some of the difference I may be making—when I get letters such as this:
I still have some ways to go. I like to learn, I like to teach. I have an eye on that educational doctorate—who knows what may happen in a few years. I feel like I am still exploring other opportunities with conservation and environmental issues, and there is my hobby with illustration.
But I can admit that the past couple years I certainly could not have predicted in any way.
Nonetheless, it is good to fulfill a part of that dream. To be called a “maestro” is quite the honor and I try to do it justice. To be a “profesor”, that is an aspiration I am trying to fulfill. As I say at the end of a course to anyone who has ever considered her/himself a student of mine, “My hope is that I may have taught you some knowledge or skills that you can use to improve the lives of others. You’ve certainly taught me.”