Amy Perez ('07) | Secondary Education

Amy Perez

Teacher of the Year, Region 4,
Aldine School District, Texas
Excerpts from Amy Perez'  essay

 

How it all began

I was never supposed to be a teacher. My father envisioned a lawyer, and my mother prophesied that another preacher had been added to the family roster. Perhaps one of these could have been - after all, I had learned that it was better to nod than to argue about the subject. My life's course, however, was altered when modern reality struck, and my newly single mother found herself alone with four young children.

Suddenly, dinner conversation turned from graduation dates to electricity due dates, and I learned early on that reality can be very grim indeed. My anticipation of life twisted into guilt every time I stared at "Mom's McDonald's special" - a sack of leftover burgers that a kindly manager (against company policy) set by the dumpster for my mother to retrieve after her shift. I was akin to that paper bag in that I, too, was bejeweled with labels: minority, low income, broken home, latch-key kid, at-risk. It was humiliating. The guilt needled at me until it became a consuming anger at life, and I became a pain to live with.

Weekends were for cleaning other people's homes with Mom. After strategically circumventing all money on dressers and countertops ("Maybe it is a test to see if we are thieves, Mija, and we are no thieves.") and wiping windows, I would sit in Dr. Hargrove's library and pretend that the chair beneath me was my father's. It was purely a child's fantasy as Dad was still gone, and I was certain that there were no university degrees garnishing our walls. No, our home was different. My oldest sister had dropped out of school, happy in the life we tell students to avoid, and abuse visited the rest of us when parental supervision was at work. I chose to live in fantasy when I could, for life was something to escape not plan; however, when I was 8, my life fell into the hands of Aldine ISD - and that made all the difference.

Aldine became my nurturing safe haven while Mom worked as somebody's secretary, cook, pool lady.  

Of all the narratives that could have been, the story of my life is one that Aldine authored. I knew straightaway that after ACU, I would be coming home to Aldine to give to other kids the hope and promise that had been freely given to me. That is why I am a teacher. This is what I give to my kids every day. "I sat where you sit," I say at the beginning of every year. "So be prepared to receive a double portion of everything Aldine can give." That is my greatest contribution to education. 

Philosophy of teaching

“Changing the world, one child at a time.” These are the words that ignite my passion for teaching—the words that were rooted into me by my caring professors at ACU. Each morning, I take into my hands a purple lanyard which carries the key to my classroom. As I place it around my neck, I read these words silently and commit to do just as they say. One child at a time. It is the kindling of my career.

The duty of a teacher is not to inform and certainly not to baby-sit. No, our role is to take something ordinary—something others may disregard—and to transform it into an explosion of passion and creativity; to take a textbook or curriculum and convert it into a bold journey that commands vigorous attention; and to take an all too modern child and awaken in him a yearning for enlightenment. When this is done, one begins to change the world that surrounds us.

As a social studies teacher, I strive to open my kids’ minds to the world beyond their eyes. I want them to adventure, to hear, to feel, to taste, to understand and appreciate that which they never knew. I want them to step out and participate in rich experiences of diverse cultures, but most importantly, I want them to know that I care for and respect each one of them. Every student can learn—it is my job to provide the opportunity and motivation that will support them as they discover their full potential. 

All about the kids

In our room, learning is ‘kid-centered.’ My kids explore, design, and invent. From holding a Greek symposium with food to reenacting ancient wars, my students live the history they learn. When analyzing the Holocaust, they wear yellow stars for a week and keep diaries and with the help of other staff, it becomes an experience they never forget. For culture blasts, they dress up in native costumes, dance to music they’ve never heard before, and pen pal students in the Caribbean. In activities like painting Chinese calligraphy or creating physical maps out of salt dough, they learn about the world around them by using all five senses and all four corners of their brains. In keeping an interactive notebook, drawing Indian Mehandi hand designs, and building Shadow Box dioramas my kids invest themselves in their learning, and they never fail to impress with their enthusiasm and rigor. When a child is actively contributing and engaged in class they become empowered in their learning, and misconduct is minimized, replaced instead with cooperation, personal integrity, and responsibility, from which everyone benefits. Kids grow by doing, by moving, by discussing and debating, and by creating. In every moment, learning is interactive. It has to be. 

"Bring it to life!"

I always tell teachers who ask how I achieve success with 63 special needs students on my roster (yes, that’s 63 out of 196). “Let them hear it, see it, feel it, and achieve it themselves.” When teaching, I become like my students: I’m energetic and keep them wondering what I’m going to do next. I recall trying to teach basic geography. Words lost them. The book was no better. Plan B: I grabbed a plastic bag, spray water bottles, and a flashlight. My kids learned the effect of latitude by spraying their teacher with water as I twirled around and demonstrated rotation, revolution, axis, and orbit. Objective mastered. This approach is especially valuable to my special needs kids.  

There are other lessons which must be mastered as well - lessons of citizenship. When two of my boys almost got into a fight in the cafeteria, I contacted their parents with a plan, surprised when they actually, and eagerly, agreed. That Saturday, both boys attended an entirely different kind of class with me (Judo) where they began to learn teamwork and discipline at Team Tooke Mixed Martial Arts. Today, the boys are wonderful friends who support and look out for each other (even from me).

You see my parents’ visions did come true: I lawyer to wrestle for my kids’ future, and I preach to enrich their lives. I am a teacher, and every day, I’m changing the world.

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