Most students are fortunate to sit in the classroom of at least one exceptional teacher — a teacher who can motivate a student frustrated with fractions or illustrate to an overwhelmed student the progress he or she has made.
Joan Juarez is one of those teachers who can make that light turn on for kids, according to South/West Park Elementary School parents and faculty and a Sacramento television station. Juarez was honored this month as News10’s Teacher of December for her positive efforts in the classroom.
Many students at the school on Mt. Oso Road come from migrant families, which Juarez said raises challenges but also creates a tight-knit community.
She sees her classroom as an extended family, and she helps provide her students with school supplies, clothing and even shelter when they need it.
“I do my best to meet these challenges,” Juarez said. “We’re truly a family.”
OT: When did you first know you wanted to be a teacher Who pushed you to pursue that dream
Juarez: I have wanted to be a teacher since I was about 11 or 12, when I first walked my brother to kindergarten and saw all the kids standing in their straight lines looking so cute. I think I have always had a knack for working with children. I babysat, tutored, etc., so teaching just seemed natural. I truly get to do what I love to do every workday.
OT: You’ve said that several of your students’ parents volunteer in the classroom. How does parent support benefit teachers and students
Juarez: It is practically impossible to count the benefits of parent support, whether it’s in the classroom or at home. I am able to do so much more for my students because of my parents’ help — everything from prepping to grading to putting together projects to one-on-one tutoring.
Everything that a parent does for a teacher, no matter how small, frees up a teacher’s time to do one more task or helps get projects done faster so that activities can be implemented into the classroom as soon as possible.
If parents are putting in just a little bit of extra time, to drill their children on math facts or time their reading fluency, for example, that makes a huge positive impact in the classroom.
OT: How do you motivate a student who’s overwhelmed by a particular subject
Juarez: I believe in setting expectations high for all of my students, whether it’s easy or difficult for them. I show them where they need to go, but I also remind them that I will help them to get there if they just put forth their best effort. I am constantly showing my students their progress.
For example, I’ll show them how many more words they can read now compared with the very beginning of the year. Or they can see their progression through math facts on a chart in the room. I also make them aware of when their light comes on during a particular concept or lesson so they know the feeling of being successful. I support and praise my student, but I think it’s important that they know it’s sincere.
OT: What’s kept you at West Park for nearly six years
Juarez: I am getting to work with the demographic of children that I have always wanted to work with. This is where I have always felt the need the most.
I also love the teachers I work with. I have worked at almost a dozen schools in the last 10 years, and this is the only school of its kind. The staff is collaborative and supportive and there is a wonderful social environment, as well. So many teachers, and my principal even, made the trip all the way to San Diego for my wedding. I love them just like family.
OT: Many of your students come from migrant families. What are the challenges of teaching them
Juarez: Some challenges are that, despite how much they care, many families don’t have the resources or the ability to support their children’s education. There are so many needs that range from financial to nutritional to emotional.
The major benefit to working at South/West Park Elementary is the staff, families and community and how much they all care about other. I feel that we truly are a family and that everyone feels welcomed here. Maybe it is because of the huge need, but throughout the year, the staff and families are driven to meet all the needs of our students, whether they need academic interventions, counseling or just a snack.
OT: Who would you nominate for News10 teacher of the month
Juarez: Gosh, any of the teachers and staff that I work with — and any teachers who still has the passion for doing what they do, because if they have that, than it’s a given they’ll do what I do for my kids, and maybe much more.
Our Town: What brought you to Tracy nearly six years ago, and what keeps you here
Juarez: I came to Northern California to be with my husband and fell in love with his family and the friends that I have met, who are really like my family.
OT: Does your family hold to any Christmas traditions
Juarez: I think the fact that we celebrate with a mix of family and friends every year is a tradition. You never know exactly who is going to show up, but we always laugh and are just happy together. One of my favorite things to do is to drive around and look at Christmas lights with my mother.
OT: What are your plans for winter break
In the Spotlight is a weekly profile in Our Town. This week’s interviewer was reporter Danielle MacMurchy. To nominate someone to be In the Spotlight or to comment on this week’s column, call 830-4275, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.