Maribel Ouielle-Silva received her M.A.T. in Spanish from Marquette University in 2000. Since that time, she has been involved in numerous educational initiatives benefiting both students and teachers in Chicago Public Schools.
Currently, she teaches English and French at Hancock High School in Chicago where she is both the Chair of the World Language Department and the Director for the After School Matters program. Maribel received her National Board Certification in Spanish last November.
Maribel will be returning to Marquette University on Friday, April 16th to share her thoughts on the benefits of Cura Personalis and her experiences as an educational leader in Chicago Public Schools. Her talk, which is sponsored by the Teaching Excellence Committee, is open to the public. It will be held at 4:00pm in the Lalumiere Language Hall, room 114LL. Refreshments will be served.
In anticipation of her home-coming to Marquette, Maribel agreed to an interview touching on the challenges and rewards of working with second language learners, her feelings about Chicago Public Schools, and the significance of cura personalis in her own life and work.
What do you see as the most important lesson you learned about education in your teacher preparation at Marquette?
One of the most important lessons I learned at MU was not only to care about teaching my subject area, but also to genuinely care for the student as a “whole person.”
Before attending MU, I attended the University of Veracruz, Mexico and pursued my bachelor’s degree. My professors would talk to us about the importance of being the best teachers we could ever be and to strive for success; but, they did not discuss the importance of caring for the students. At MU I learned that an effective teacher cares for his/her students and makes a difference in their lives and souls. Sometimes it’s as basic as providing a cookie, a snack, or a pencil to students in class who couldn’t afford them. I have learned that if I want my students to be engaged I often needed to feed them as well. I lespecially love “feeding them” with words of caring, food for their souls, and also letting them know that I truly appreciate them–that I genuinely care for their success.
Is there anything you’d change about the way you were trained as a teacher here?
I would not change a bit, but I would add a piece of advice letting new teachers or prospective teachers know that we amust be up-to-date in our education field. We need to read about how other educators are adapting new strategies to keep our students engage din class and interested in our subject areas. Students from K-12 change every year and the students we taught ten years ago are very different from those we are now teaching. Similarly, we need to find new and effective ways to meet their learning needs!
What do you see as the greatest challenges facing the students you teach?
Many of my students are immigrant and low-income high school students who would love to go to college, but who, because they do not hold a social security number (SSN), cannot obtain scholarships to help pay for school. Some of them are driven, dedicated, and have a strong work ethic. They dream of becoming professionals, but realize that they will have to walk a rough road to reach this dream. Some of them know that this may never come true for them and have to start thinking about joining the workforce now! How do you tell one of these outstanding students that their FAFSA did not got approved because the SSN s/he has used “didn’t work”. Some of my students know that high school is all that mom and dad can afford. This is it for them. As freshmen they begin inspired and filled with motivation, but when their junior year hits they start thinking: “next year is my last year in school…what am I going to do next? I do want to go to college, but… where do I get money to pay for that? How can this college accept me if I don’t have a valid SSN?”
What’s the most important thing teachers should know about working with different language learners?
As an English Language Learner (ELL) myself, I’d say that teachers need to be aware that these students come to our classes with different language skills than some of our regular students. They struggle not only with the many challenges of the content areas, but also with the language itself.
Teachers may perceive them as shy, careless, or even lazy because they avoid participating in class or raising their hands to ask questions. But we need to consider that there may be cultural differences impacting their behavior. For example, if you don’t know that Pepe does not look at you directly because he is showing respect to you — and not because he is daring you–then you are losing the opportunity to reach him and to create a positive rapport with him. Always learn about your students’ diverse backgrounds and acknowledge them on a daily basis. You will see that, once you have made a connection with them, they will be forever grateful for having you as their teacher(s).
How are the Chicago Public Schools and MPS alike or different?
I have been working for CPS the last 10 years, and I have not kept I touch with the news regarding MPS. However, what I do remember from my clinicals at some of the MPS high schools and elementary schools were issues such as lack of funds for supplies, textbooks and after school programs. Here in Chicago we are facing a major budget crisis for public schools and many teachers are at risk of lactually osing their jobs due to the lack of money to pay teacher salaries.
What is it about being a teacher that you find to be most gratifying?
One of the most gratifying things about being a teacher is the ability to see my students experience educational success — whether it is going on a college tour, obtaining a scholarship to the university of their choice, or simply watching them as they experience a cultural field trip where they try new food or music that they might never have experienced otherwise.
What is it about teaching that saddens you most?
To be limited in my power to impact immigration policy and not being able to find alternative avenues for my students many of whom have limited choices after high school. Many times I’ve wished I was a millionaire so that I could give money away to these students with limited options to gprovide some help and get them into college.
How has cura personalis contributed to your formation as a teacher?
I was deeply influenced in both my professional and personal life by Marquette’s cura personalis. For me it was like finally getting a chance that would help me fulfill my mission as an educator. Before attending MU, I felt like something was missing and my life was nunfulfillig. Each of my MU professors was a strong role model who instilled in me a spiritual seed to be committed to each and every one of my students, their families and their communities. I was taught to truly care for the “whole person.”
I have become what I am now thanks to MU, along with my wonderful and dedicated professors. I will be forever grateful and blessed for this golden opportunity. This is why I also intend to leave a legacy behind, and I hope that I am also inspiring many of my students to be spiritual people of great moral and ethic al values with an indomitable passion for education.
Would you agree that professional development for educators is vital?
Most definitely! As I previously mentioned, teachers need to be up-to-date in any way possible, especially with technology! We need to keep ourselves “marketable” within our profession or someone else will come and take our “spot.” Besides, if you don’t keep up, your students will know right away that you are becoming an out-dated teacher and may decide to take a different course. Our students can rapidly perceive if we acurrent or not and may even tell us so.
What would you tell teachers who are considering National Board Certification?
I’d tell them not to be afraid of the many myths out there regarding how difficult this program is.
I’d tell them that it’s definitely helpful to find another teacher(s) who can serve as emotional support. I had a great colleague who would lecture me and remind me what a great teacher I was during those days when I was about to give up.
I’d tell them that they should also be ready to rely on your family and friends. Having moral support plays an important role, so it’s iessential to surround yourself with the right people to cheer you up! I remember some nights when I would not get any sleep at all, and my husband would be sleeping in the living room or preparing hot cocoa for me so that I could continue typing. He would stop by the computer room just to give me a hug. Or he would tell me that he was going to take the kids to the park so that I would have peace and quiet to keep working on my entries. What a blessing that was!!!
I’d tell my dear colleagues: do not give up…you may take a break, but do not give up! National Board Certification is not that easy, but it is certainly possible. As we continue facing budgetary crises in schools, and teachers lose their positions, national board accredited teachers will continue to be valued due to the solid preparation they have received. School administrators definitely take qualifications like that into into serious consideration!