For the Love of Teaching - One Miami Educator

For the Love of Teaching - One Miami Educator

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Ed. Note: As the last day of school approaches, around the nation, students are facing end-of-year testing. Here we bring you the story of one teacher who works day and night—with impressive results—to prepare her students academically and mentally.

MIAMI, Fla.—The first time Lorys Rodriguez stood in front of a classroom to teach, she was scared.The kids didn’t want her there. Some were even plain rude, she was their peer after all.

At age 12, Rodriguez began her teaching career when her Language Arts teacher in Cuba, following a car accident, had to take a temporary leave of absence.

“I used to go to her house at 8 am to receive the lesson and then every afternoon I stood in front of my class and taught what I had learned,” she said.

The seventh grade class she took on, while her teacher healed at home, had around 30 students.

Teaching is in Rodriguez’ blood. Her mother and grandmother both taught in Cuba. The latter ran an underground school during the years just before the revolution—when teaching could mean arrests, torture and imprisonment.

For Rodriguez, there is no other way. Teaching is how she spends most of her waking hours.

“I love it, I love my work. I do this every day. Monday thru Friday from school and Saturday and Sunday from home,” she said.

Today, Rodriguez works as a 5th grade teacher at South Miami K-8 Center, an arts magnet school that draws students from around the district. The K-8 Center regularly performs better than the district and state on assessment tests. Roughly 60 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch and 68 percent are Hispanic. Many students don’t have computers or internet at home.

The passion to make it work

Dressed in rolled up shirt sleeves and Khaki pants, with her hair in a neat pony tail, Rodriguez emanates warmth and controlled focus. She is meticulous and, she keeps a calm demeanor.

Every day she arrives early in order to prepare for class. Sometimes this entails setting up all of the computers in the computer lab for an online program of her choosing–she has a list of top programs that work. In between classes, she tutors students who need a little extra attention and helps other teachers prepare their math lessons. Once a day she works with ESL students who come to her for reading intervention. And after school, she drives to an off-school site where she holds drop in tutoring sessions until 7:30pm.

Peppered as she may be by students and parents at her tutoring sessions, she keeps on.

“She is a strict teacher who simultaneously provides a lot of love. She raises [students’] self esteem so that they can do it,” said Anamarie Moreiras, Principal at South Miami K-8 Center. “Many of her students are coming in with tough socio-economic issues and from tough neighborhoods, and she is able to teach those students, and they improve.”

Nearly all of the students in Rodriguez’ classes this year speak Spanish at home. And while she teaches all of her curriculum in English, sometimes she stops and helps those kids that need lesson reinforcement in Spanish. She also translates much of her curriculum into Spanish and seeks out top educational software that has both English and Spanish content, such as GoMath.

Last year nine of Rodriguez’s students began the school year performing below grade level. They had not passed their FCAT, the annual reading and math focused Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. After nearly a year with her, all nine passed a related winter assessment. That groups average score was 85 percent.

The Common Core

“She is great. And she is so patient, she really explains everything until they get it,” said Chandra Gonzalez whose daughter is in Rodriguez’s class.

Gonzalez is one of several parents who attends Rodriguez’s after school and weekend tutoring sessions. Since Florida joined 45 other states when it adopted the Common Core education standards in 2010 Rodriguez has spent time during these after school sessions to help students and parents alike make sense of the shift.

On this night Gonzalez was working with her daughter on a series of math problems. Every so often she’d make her way to Rodriguez for help.

“I have always liked to teach. I have the passion to explain,” says Rodriguez who stops for a moment before adding: “I was not that good at math. I wanted a teacher who would teach math better and make it easier.”

This was the last year that Rodriguez and other Florida teachers bridged Common Core math standards with the state’s older Sunshine State standards, to come out with an interim set of standards. To do this, Rodriguez created a booklet that she and other South Miami K-8 5th grader teachers used. In it, teachers found two complementary curriculums abridged in such a way that they could teach both standards without spending too much prep time.

Rodriguez said the results of combining the standards were worth the challenge “When I introduced a chapter, I saw a higher level of learning and potential.”

But, she won’t forget the work it involved. And the many chapters she had to pull from various books and merge together. “This year was challenging. I had to make copies with my own money. I had to ask parents for money. You have no idea how much paper I had to buy this year,” she said.

It helped that she attended Common Core workshops and that she knew what training and documents she would receive and what she had to create in order for her students to meet the related achievement benchmarks.

Her Philosophy

Ultimately, Rodriguez says everything comes down to priorities and for her, education is a priority.

“I am flexible. If they need extra days, I give them extra days. And, I expect them to work hard. I think that’s why I’ve been successful in my career,” she says. “I don't mind teaching something 3,000 times in 4,000 ways.”

“Her personal mission is to ensure that they learn what they need. And, then she celebrates,” said Moreiras. “If they reach a goal like making a number of math problems, she buys things, writes to the parents, tells us so that we put it on the TV system across the school, asks me to come celebrate... reinforces and gives motivation to push them. ‘si puedes, tu puedes, eres tu, si puedes’. With gifted students she is always looking for additional materials so that they keep on reaching. She doesn’t give up, she is always pushing.”

Rodriguez emigrated alone in 1998, leaving all of her family behind in Cuba. Her mother Ildelisa Gonzalez still lives in Cuba. Rodriguez began her US teaching career by teaching kindergarten. Her list of favorite educational software includes Reading Plus, I Ready, Success Maker, FCAT Explorer, Think Central, Study Jams, IXL and GO Math!.