“She goes above and beyond to reach each of her students. She is always willing to try new things and perfect her craft. She helps other teachers at Gomez as well as staff at other schools, the Dual Language Program and the community and she does it all with a smile!”- Melissa Wolken (Gomez Heritage Dual Language Team Leader)
Maira Guzman came to our attention when she was nominated by one of her colleagues. We were thrilled to name her as our Dual Language teacher of the month because of her tenacity, drive, and motivation towards Dual Language education. Not only that, but Maira understands the benefits of dual language education more than most people. Largely because, she was a dual language student herself, and the parent of a dual language student! The popularity of dual language education is constantly increasing, and with that, we need successful teachers to support the ever-growing movement. Teachers like Maira are an example of the ones we need to educate future generations. In this article, we will honor Maira’s craft, and discuss how she can be an example for educating future Dual Language teachers!
Maira has been involved in education for almost 10 years. After being a dual language student herself and putting her child in dual language education, she first started working as a 1st grade paraprofessional in May 2008. She then worked as a Bilingual Liaison for Spanish speaking families at a high school for six and a half years while attending school part-time to become a teacher. During her time as a bilingual liaison, she was given the opportunity to tutor some of the ELL students after school. She facilitated a reading program (Reading Together) during migrant summer school and Saturday school during the school year at various sites where it’s offered. She has had the opportunity to work with diverse migrant and refugee students from across the district and the pleasure to learn a lot about them and their cultures. After earning her degree in education, in 2016, she began her teaching career at Gomez Heritage, Omaha Public Schools District in Omaha, Nebraska, and continues to assist with migrant Saturday and summer school as needed.
“Dear Sra. Guzmán, I like how you always help me understand things and achieve all my goals! I like how you are always there for me on my hardest time I do not know what I would be without you! I am glad you are my teacher! Having you is the best present I can have in the whole world!” -Elizabeth H.(student)
While working as a bilingual liaison, Maira recruited students and participated in various volunteer opportunities with some of the high school students. One of her best friends was a part of the PTO at Gomez Heritage. For the previous years, she helped organize the annual carnival and recruit volunteers. Maira, along with the high school students volunteered at the carnival, and it was then when she first became familiar with the school. While volunteering, Maira was immediately immersed with how welcoming and friendly everyone was, from the students, their families and the staff. She then got an insider perspective of the school when she was assigned to Gomez Heritage for her practicum and student teaching placement.
Maira with her 4th Grade Dual Language team: I love how we all work closely together and always share ideas that will benefit the students in our dual language classrooms.
“Having been a dual language student in high school myself and for the past few years a parent of a student in the dual language program, I have always been intrigued to be a part of the program as a teacher. I was very excited to be assigned to Gomez. After completion of my practicums, I knew that Gomez Heritage was the school I wanted to teach at.”
Continue reading to find out more about how Maira inspires her students everyday…
Although Maira felt passionate about the school, she didn’t get her hopes up to achieve a job there because positions usually didn’t become available unless someone retired. This was understandable, because of the positive and inclusive environment in the school. Fortunately, during her student teaching experience, one of the 4th grade teachers announced she would be moving out of state at the end of that school year which meant her position would be vacant. After interviewing, Maira was offered the position as a 4th grade Dual Language-Spanish teacher. Now, she is wrapping up her second year of teaching.
Students participated in Spanish Club on Saturdays where they learned the importance of maintaining their language and the benefits of being bilingual. Each student made a PowerPoint to present in front of their parents on the last day.
Maira’s biggest influence in becoming an educator is something near and dear to her heart. Maira was inspired to become an educator when she helped her father study for his U.S. citizenship exam. Her dad had little-to-no education and limited English speaking skills. She was only 11-years old, but remembers her dad telling her mom how difficult it would be to study because there were so many questions, and all in English. Her parents suggested that she and her siblings could help her dad study each night after he would get home from work. Since her dad worked long hours at a meat packing plant, there were many evenings where he would want to come home, shower, eat dinner and watch TV. Maira learned to turn the TV off and tell her dad that they had to study first, and then he would be able to watch TV. Although Maira was a little nervous doing that, surprisingly he would listen. After weeks of studying, the hard work paid off. Her father passed his citizenship exam and became a U.S. citizen. He was very proud and Maira was even more proud of him. It was that experience that showed her how helping others accomplish a goal could be so rewarding and that she wanted to continue to do that as a teacher.
I think my favorite part of being a teacher is being able to watch my students grow personally and academically and having the opportunity to make a difference in their lives throughout the school year.
Among Maira’s many accomplishments, she is completing courses to earn a Bilingual Education endorsement paid by the district at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Throughout these courses she has completed, she has been able to incorporate strategies to effectively teach her students as they are continually developing their Spanish language through the content they are learning.
Maira sets an example for other teachers by always challenging her students to connect what they’ve learned in the classroom to their day to day experiences. She does this so her students can see the purpose of what they learn and how these skills are used in the real world. Examples: while teaching figurative language she encouraged her students to go home and as a family listen to their favorite song, to identify the different types of figurative language in the lyrics. For their “verbo de la semana”, her students are challenged to correctly use the various conjugations of the verb discussed in class, while at home with their family to practice. They’re also challenged to use math concepts learned in class during an activity they do outside of school like estimating, rounding, and/or making change while grocery shopping, practicing elapsed time while they go to soccer practice or a different activity, dividing when they are having to share or buy snacks for the class, etc.
“Another of my favorite parts of being a teacher is seeing my students and their families in the community. Each year, staff members, students and families from Gomez Heritage participate in the Cinco de Mayo Parade festivities in South Omaha.”
Maira describes her school leadership as “Positive, Empowering, Inclusive” and her students as “Unique, Talented, and Inspired.”
Continue reading to find out more about how Maira inspires her students everyday…
“Señora Guzmán, I want to tell you that when I first arrived I was very shy, but little by little I started feeling comfortable with you. I also didn’t know a lot of math. I remember on the first day you said this was your 2nd year teaching but even if you had been teaching your 1st, 2nd or 3rd year you do your job very well. Thank you for being my teacher. (translated from Spanish) -Cristopher T. (student)
Students work as a group on their U.S. region project that they presented to the rest of the class. Students are able to use the “pared de cognados” (cognate wall pictured on the door next to classroom mailboxes) to make a connection between the english and spanish language with the academic vocabulary learned and other words they’ve identified throughout the year. This has helped students build their vocabulary and has served as a visual aid during writing activities.
According to Maira, biliteracy is the ability of being able to read fluently and comprehend in two languages. She also defines it as continually finding the connections between words and their meanings, in both languages, which helps deepen understanding and think about why we think and express ourselves the way we do. Maira has helped her students understand the value of biliteracy by using a “pared de cognados” (cognates) which constantly challenges students to find connections between words and their meanings in both languages. This helps them not only comprehend better but also acquire more vocabulary.
Students can add to the pared de cognados throughout the year and use it as a resource during writing if needed. Both her native Spanish speakers and English speakers can make these connections as they learn multiple contents in both languages throughout the day. She has shared with her students that these skills will not only prepare them to be successful bilinguals, but also provide a plethora of opportunities in the future as they are working towards their goals.
Maira sees her students impacting the world by continuing their dedication to dual language education throughout high school, and by seeing the value in their ability of being bilingual. With this belief, it will help them thrive throughout college and in the workforce. She hopes that her students push themselves to always do better even when they already feel it is enough. Whether it is in a specific content area or a different activity they struggle in, the use of their native language or second language they are acquiring, or being a better person in the community, she wants them to remember to appreciate and not undervalue their culture and language. She hopes they take away the privilege of being a part of such a great program. Most importantly, she wants them to know that there is no limit on doing their best and that the next day will always be a new opportunity to try again.
One thing that I think makes my classroom stand out from the rest is the respect that is shown among my students. Since the beginning of the school year, it has been our goal to provide a welcoming, safe and respectful learning environment for everyone. Every student in my classroom forms part of our family, which means we all help each other and encourage each other to do our best always.
Field trip to watch the Nutcracker