By Judy Ly
Isela Mosqueira teaches Spanish at Summit Public School: Rainier. This is her first year teaching at Summit Rainier. She shared her twist and turns leading up to how she ended up in a project-based learning space.
1. Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in Hollister, California. It’s about an hour south of San Jose.”
2. What is your parental occupational background?
“My parents were both teachers, and then they also turned into administrators, so they were both principals of schools as well. My dad eventually stayed in education but got a job selling an educational computer program to schools because at his school he bought it and loved it and that’s where he ended his career. Both my parents were in education.”
3. What is your educational background?
“After high school, I went to UC Santa Cruz for my bachelor’s degree. I majored in Language Studies, which is basically linguistics with a concentration in Spanish. I was very determined to keep Spanish a part of my studies. And so [in] my junior year, I studied abroad at the University of Barcelona for one year. And then, after graduating UC Santa Cruz and living in Spain a little bit more, I came back, started working as a teacher for foreign adults, teaching them English, and then decided to get my credentials. So to get my teaching credential I went to CSU Monterey Bay. I went through them through an online program. And to get my Spanish teaching credential I went online through National University.”
4. What kind of a student were you in school?
“OK- elementary, I think in general I was a pretty average to an above average student. I was never an extremely high-achieving student. I think in middle and high school especially, I was a B student. Every once in awhile getting a C, and really having to work hard to get A’s in my classes. At the same time, I was very driven to eventually go to college. I had goals that I knew I wanted for myself and, because I grew up with my parents in education and expecting that we went to college, that was always a part of my goals. So I took advanced and AP classes in high school even though it was a struggle for me. So I was definitely not a top student, but I was good enough.”
5. How was your high school experience regarding academics?
“It was hard in the beginning. My freshman year was a transition like it is for everybody. I was really focused on being social and having friends my first year. I was a cheerleader, which distracted me as well, and I slipped a bit in academics, especially in math. I got a D in my advanced math class I was taking that year, had to redo it over the summer, and when I started sophomore year I decided I shouldn’t load myself up with all these advanced classes. Instead, I took a regular science class [and] regular math. I got back on track I think because I was able to see how successful I could be in those classes and that motivated me to then take more advanced classes my junior and senior year and told me I could do it. So it was definitely a struggle my first year. And then by sophomore year I started to get back on track and definitely by junior and senior year. It was more of a focus for me to do very well.”
6. What was your favorite subject?
“This might come as a surprise as I definitely loved Spanish in high school, that’s for sure, but throughout my elementary, middle school and high school career my favorite subject was always English. I loved reading, and I loved writing, and it was also the subject I did the best in. [It was] the one [subject] that I didn’t really have a lot of challenges in, and so it came very naturally to me. I think probably because I read so much when I was younger and still do. I loved writing and then drama. I did theater a lot. So in high school, my drama classes were also part of my favorite.”
7. Who was your favorite teacher and why?
“You know, I think I’m going to have to say my last Spanish teacher. I was really fortunate to have amazing Spanish teachers. I know not everybody has had great experiences with that in their high school career. But my last Spanish teacher, I’m still friends with him today. I go and do things with his wife; I know his kids, and because he was just so passionate and enthusiastic and that showed every single day in his teaching. That got me so excited and confident in Spanish because he was a non-native speaker but speaks amazingly and married somebody who’s from Mexico. It’s funny ’cause my story is really similar now except I married someone from Peru. So I would have to say him, yeah, Señor Adams.”
8. How long have you been teaching for?
“This is my fourth year teaching in public schools here in California. Before that, I taught at private institutions. I mentioned teaching foreign adults here in San Jose at an academy to teach them English. Before that, I taught for three years in Spain as a private English tutor for adults and young kids in Spain who wanted to learn English and get better at English. So I think in total my teaching experience adds up to about seven or eight years but teaching in California schools, four years.”
9. Did you always want to be a teacher? If so, why? If not, what else did you consider?
“I did not always want to be a teacher. When I was growing up I told myself I would never become a teacher like my parents. I wanted to break that mold a little bit. When I was growing up I wanted to be a veterinarian until I was maybe a sophomore in high school. Part of the reason I changed paths was I realized I couldn’t be around sick animals. I really loved animals and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to be a vet, but being around sick animals and hurt animals was too much for me. Then I also realized that even though science was really interesting to me and I could keep up with the classes if I worked really, really hard, [however] it was also not a passion of mine. When I graduated high school, I was more geared towards a career in literature maybe like editing [or] book editing. I was interested also in writing and so when I applied to colleges that’s what I had thought I wanted to do. But once I really got down to my passions and realized they were in the language, I set my sights into linguistics, language and that led into language teaching.”
10. What were the causes and effects of being a teacher?
“The causes were my focus, like I mentioned earlier, in languages. My first teaching job was in Barcelona when I was studying abroad there, just for extra money. That was my first official teaching job. It became really natural to me, and I realized I did really enjoy it.” After moving back to the U.S., Mosqueira then got an offer from a school that her husband was attending at the time to be an English teacher. “One thing lead to another, and that’s how I got involved here in California with teaching and kind of gave in and said, ‘You know what, I don’t think I can fight it anymore. All the signs are pointed to teaching.’”
11. Did you teach English first and then Spanish?
“I taught English as a second language. So I was teaching English to foreign adults learning it as a second language or a foreign language.”
12. What are the effects of teaching?
“The effects of teaching so far – I’m still very early in my teaching career, but teaching has taught me so many lessons about perseverance.”
13. Has it taught you patience?
“Patience, sure, absolutely yes. It’s taught me a lot about myself that I didn’t realize I had certain qualities in myself and has shown me how patient I can be, how well I can work with others in order to get a job done. And it’s allowed me to broaden my perspective when it comes to relating with students because each student is so different and each student is coming from so many different experiences in their own lives, and it’s really humbling when I talk with any new student that I meet and remembering that this person’s experiences are very different from my own, and I need to honor that before I can attempt to build a relationship or teach them, really anything. So it’s really humbling and yeah, I learn something new every single day.”
14. How did you end up in a PBL field?
“My very first school that I taught here in California was a charter school that was also a project-based learning school, and I was attracted to that school because of their philosophy, because of their focus on process, not the product, and teaching learners of so many different backgrounds and really focusing on learning through discovery. Learning through the process and not just regurgitating facts and memorizing things for a test. Working there, like I say, kind of formed my own philosophy and it made me realize that all of these things are so valuable and important to have in a school culture. So when I was looking for another job it was very important to me to find a school just like my last school that was really well aligned with my own philosophy.”
15. How did you hear of the PBL field?
“So I heard of that school online when I was applying for jobs. It was a very different application process than any other school that I was applying for. And most of these type of PBL charter schools are like that. That school I just didn’t submit an online application, I had to write a separate series of essays in response to really aligned questions to their philosophy about situations that I would handle in a classroom or how my philosophies on academic pedagogy or ideas relate with theirs. So it was a lot of work and I remember filling out that application thinking, ‘This is so much work I’m just going to give up I can just submit all these online applications so much faster.’ But I did it because I was determined to apply for as many things as possible for my first year trying to get a job. So I was really focused on sending in that application anyway. It was a very different process and the interview was really intimidating and very different but, yeah, I’m glad I found them online because they help to shape my entire philosophy about teaching.”
16. When you were entering the project-based learning field, was there any concerns of, “Did I make the right decision?” or was it just great?
“Constantly. Every day. You’re always doubting yourself as a teacher. Every day you’re wondering if you did the right thing or taught this lesson in the way that a true project-based learning school would teach it. Since it was a transition, I was really fortunate to have a lot of support of colleagues who have been there and who have done it, guiding me and showing me through an example of things that I should be doing. But yeah, teaching is a constant world of doubt, you can’t take back things you’ve said, and you can’t take back lessons you taught, and so you’re always wondering, ‘Did I do this right, did I say this right?’”
17. There have been multiple mentions of your philosophies – can you go more in depth about them?
“My philosophy on teaching and on education is 100 percent student-centered. I don’t believe in teaching students in a way where the teacher is the focus. The student and the learner, the type of learner of that student is should always be the focused. So that means if the student has a specific way that they learn and the teacher is not teaching in that way, for example, if they are a very auditory learner but all the teachers doing is giving people things to read or things to look at, it’s very important for teachers to incorporate into their teaching whatever is going to work for that specific student. And that you should tailor all your planning and all of your classes to the specific groups of students you have, ’cause every group is different every year. So that’s the first thing, very student-centered. And the second thing is that the student, being student-centered, should have a say in their education. Part of the, I say traits, around student-centered learning is that students are able to be autonomous and make their own goals, and make their own decisions about what they want to learn, how they want to learn and then figure out the why, why they’re learning this. So student choice is really important. And I think that’s at the core – all the things I believe about teaching in a project-based learning style and about teaching in an area that believes in a different discipline approach like the graduate discipline plan that we have. Working with the student instead of punishing them, all of that stems from my philosophy of student-centered learning.”
18. Did you like teaching traditionally?
“You know, actually I did student teaching in a traditional style school, but my first job was not traditional at all. So I would say I don’t actually have a lot of experience teaching at a traditional style school, and a lot of the teacher even here got their career started in charter schools and have taught in a school like this since the time they started teaching, kind of like me. And so I think you’re able to find more and more young teachers who have not taught in a traditional school environment and who don’t even have that comparison. I can say that the main differences are taking student voice into account and treating students as people, almost like colleagues, and not as your submissives in your classroom. I think that’s one of biggest differences like I say discipline comes out of that and how you approach to discipline and how you structure your class.”
19. Were there any differences in your workplace?
“I would say that these schools, the couple of charter schools I’ve been at, really truly value collaboration amongst the employees, the teachers. And the teachers on average, at schools like this, in my mind, not to say that teachers at traditional style schools don’t work hard because all teachers work very hard, but the amount of participation and involvement that the teachers have at this school. On average a number of hours that they put in, every night and every weekend, it’s staggering compared to at a traditional style school. So yes, different work environment.”
20. Did your parents support your career choices? Although it was in the education field, it was still kind of different – what were their opinions on it?
“My parents, especially my mom, are very wary about charter schools and these different types of schools with different philosophies, just because their entire career was in those types of traditional schools. And so, I think it’s still kind of hard, for my mom especially, to accept some of the things that happen in my classroom and the ways I run my classroom versus how she was used to running her classroom. And she gets very surprised whenever she used to visit my classroom at my old school, she would always at the end of the day just talk to me about all the things that surprised her, ‘I would never let kids just come and go like that,’ you know because it was a different environment; it’s more relaxed and more on the student. So there are things that happen in the classroom where the teacher feels like they’re losing control but in this environment, it just means the students taking more charge of their learning. So yeah, I think it’s a little hard for them but at the same time especially now, they see how happy I am and they see how passionate I am. And there’s never been a doubt where they told me you know that they don’t think that it’s right for me, just that it’s different for them.”
21. Were there any memorable events that were influential in terms of your career pathway/journey?
“Yes, I would say that my very first year of teaching like any teacher would tell you has been the hardest year so far. Because you’re learning everything from nothing and you’re expected to take control of something when you constantly feel out of control and underprepared. I had specific challenges with one coworker that year that really brought me down all the time and overcoming that, and going into my second year of teaching with a lot more self-confidence because of the struggles I went through my first year, really helped to shape who I am as a person when I work with others. Because as a professional in any field, there’s always going to be people that you work really well with and people who are very challenging to work with and sometimes people who really bring you down. And you have to kind of start to grow this tough skin and I think my first year of teaching was really important for me growing that tough skin.
22. Do you plan on continuing this career pathway?
“I plan on continuing being in education and being a teacher for the rest of my professional career. Education is such a big umbrella, as people like to say, because aside from being a teacher there are so many things that you can aspire to be – like an administrator, a leader of a school, or a curriculum designer or an advocate for education. I don’t know if I’ll be a teacher for the rest of my career, but I know that education is where I want to be in because I developed a passion and now I really believe a skill for that.”
23. Anything else to add or say?
“I don’t think so, you were very thorough. You covered everything. You got my whole life story in there.”