Passion is contagious! It radiates out to all around and if they are willing, invites them to share the wonder of discovery and growth. Educators who are passionate about their work and the students that they affect are some of my favorite people in the world. They bubble over with excitement when they discover a new way to improve the learning that happens in the classroom. They are generous with their successes and honest about their mistakes. The goal is about the students, not about them. They work harder than almost anyone I know, hours after school and on weekends, over breaks and through the summer. They are constantly seeking to learn and grow more in order to improve their practice. It is their passion that drives them, passion to reach every child.
I spent yesterday downtown at the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) conference, and I had the privilege of having lunch with the two people who were given ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educator Award this year.They are both inspiring and engaging people, deeply committed to meeting the needs and aspirations of the students under their care. One is an elementary school teacher, and the other is a superintendent in Arkansas.
Liliana Aguas is a 2nd grade teacher from Berkeley, California. Her love of the work that she does is infectious. Her eyes sparkled as she told us about how her class is organized and the projects that she does with her students. She teaches in a dual-language immersion program, where 50% of her students are native English speakers and 50% are native Spanish. She teaches in Spanish approximately 80% of the time.
Liliana never intended to be a teacher; she was training to be a scientist and assumed that her life would be spent in a lab, investigating insects. She loved Science since she was a girl. One year in school, her teacher taught the class how to start a bug collection, which she loved and added to up until the time when she went to college. She assumed that that early passion would be the one that directed the focus of her career. So she mainly studied Science while at Berkeley.
All of that changed her senior year in college when she unsuspectedly took a class from Professor John Hurst. It was an Education class, and she was challenged to create and then teach a Science unit for 4th graders. Clearly the class itself opened her eyes to the challenges and rewards of teaching. In the process of learning about teaching and in developing her unit, Liliana discovered an even deeper passion than her love of science, one that changed her path completely. She looked for teaching positions and was hired by the school where she had taught her science unit. Then after two years in the classroom, Professor Hurst encouraged her to return and get her Masters, which she did.
Liliana’s passion grows out of her understanding that scientists are born in elementary school. She said that when adult scientists are asked what made them choose their field, the vast majority point to a teacher that they had, not in high school or middle school, but to one in elementary school. However, most elementary school teachers are not trained in Science and often want to avoid it, not feeling comfortable with their own understanding.
Liliana decided that the classroom was her path, that she wanted to be the one who made science come alive for young learners. She wanted to create lessons that allowed them to investigate and explore, make hypotheses and test them. She calls it a “hands 0n, minds on learning environment,” a phrase I love. It is often called “hands on,” but to add the “minds on” makes it that much more powerful. The students are being challenged to be fully involved. It is not just accomplishing the task, but about thinking while it is being done. So in the midst of bugs to watch and plants to smell, students are tackling new investigations daily.
ASCD chose a wonderful educator to honor in Liliana! Listening to her speak, her eyes bright with excitement and pride in her work, was inspirational indeed!