Kia Educator of the Month - April 2013
Maria Ovalle, Special Education Teacher, Joseph E. Gary Elementary School in the South Lawndale neighborhood
How long have you been teaching? What grade do you teach?
I have been teaching 17 years. I am a special education teacher. I teach 3rd, 4th and 5th graders with moderate cognitive disabilities.
Why did you decide you wanted to be a teacher?
Are there any particular teachers who have influenced you in the past? I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I was in high school. I worked as a summer camp counselor at the time and knew I wanted to work with children as a career. I have always enjoyed building students’ curiosity and love for learning.
Describe your favorite teaching memory or experience.
I don’t think I have a favorite teaching experience. Every day is new and interesting, so there are many memorable moments. As a special education teacher, the most memorable moments for me are when students show growth and progress in the area of independence. For example, when we go on a field trip and my students are able to articulate to a cashier or restaurant server what they want, it is exciting to me because I know they are gaining their independence. These are wonderful moments for both students and parents.
How do teachers/educators impact the lives of their students? What do you hope that you personally can do to have a positive impact on the students you work with?
I believe that educators impact the lives of students not only through academic instruction, but also through the life skills and social emotional support. Many educators teach academic content, but also serve as coaches, mentors, counselors and in some cases, provide parental guidance. In these roles we often provide the leadership skills, character development and structure that students often need. Many of the skills that we help students improve and develop go beyond those that tests assess; they include life skills that are important for each child as an individual. Personally, because I work with a special population, I would like to continue to foster independence in my students.
Describe how your professional role has made an impact thus far. What goals, if any, have you set in an effort to make even more of a difference in the future?
I have worked in both the elementary school and the high school and in both settings have served as the service learning coordinator. I believe the greatest impact I have made is in my volunteer work which is also in the field of education. My work in motivating students, providing resources and encouraging post-secondary education at both the middle school and high school levels is extremely rewarding to me. I direct a not-for-profit organization, the Josefina A. Ovalle Foundation for Education, where we promote college attendance and completion. We provide scholarships to students who excel in the areas of academics, leadership and service to the community. We also organize college and career days for elementary school students as we want to expose students to as many opportunities as possible. My goal, in both my teaching and my volunteer work, is to provide students with opportunities to excel, work beyond their potential and promote independence.
If your students could end each school year having learned only one thing, what would you want that to be?
I want all of my students to understand that they have many abilities, that they can overcome obstacles and would like for them to generalize their skills from school to home and the community.
What was your reaction when you learned of your nomination, and then when you were selected as the Kia Educator of the Month?
I was extremely honored. There are many excellent teachers at Gary Elementary and throughout CPS, so I feel extremely privileged to have been nominated. I was surprised and am still a bit shocked that I was selected. I’m very grateful to both Kia and the Chicago Bulls for this opportunity.
As Teacher of the Month, how will you spend your $1,000 award money?
I will surprise my students with an iPad and new applications. I currently use my personal iPad in my classroom, so students will be extremely excited when we have additional technology to use as a learning tool. It will minimize the “waiting of turns” which is extremely motivating for them. I will also allow students to go online and select books for both our class library, their home libraries as well as interactive books for the iPad. Book shopping will be so much fun for all of us. I look forward to seeing the excitement in their faces when I tell them!