“We can be proud as educators that we were a positive influence.”
Silvia Curiel-Torres, Peer Observer
Silvia Curiel-Torres has been an educator for 39 years – but she started rehearsing for the role long before she ever started teaching professionally. The childhood neighbors of a pint-sized Silvia did not know it, but they were to become her first students. Even at the tender age of seven, Silvia knew she had found her life’s ambition.
“I’ve wanted to teach since I was a kid,” Silvia said. “I would invite my little friends to my house and have them sit in a row facing me because I was the teacher. I gave them blank papers or old notebooks and I enjoyed grading whatever task I instructed them to do.”
Those first neighborhood students instilled in Silvia a love for educating – and they unwittingly provided her with a first glimpse into what would become her future career. Now a Peer Observer after many years in the classroom, Silvia spends her time helping other teachers refine and perfect their teaching skills. Although she loves the observer role, she said she still misses working directly with students.
“My favorite part of teaching was when I delivered a lesson and saw students successfully reaching their goals,” she said. “I enjoyed watching students’ progress in their own learning. It’s like watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon.”
Today Silvia helps teachers break through their own cocoons as they strive to improve and enhance their classroom skills. Traveling from school to school each day, Silvia has learned how to identify the needs of teachers, as well as how to adapt her improvement suggestions to different teaching styles and approaches.
“My most difficult challenge in my job is the differentiation for my teachers based on their students’ needs,” she said. “I am learning to respect their styles of teaching and put away my own style.”
Silvia’s own style has been shaped her whole life by family, a love of nature and a passion for traveling. The mother of three and grandmother of five, Silvia says her family is her “pride and joy,” and she takes any opportunity she can get to boast about her good fortune.
“My family for me is very important – they are the motor of my life,” she said. “I love them and they give me the best support I need in any situation.”
In addition enjoying her family and her role as a mother and grandmother, Silvia enjoys the bounty that Mother Nature has provided to Coloradans – and she takes advantage of the scenic opportunities any chance she can get.
“I enjoy nature so much, I like to hike in the mountains, listen to the birds, listen to a river or creek that runs, watching deer, moose, looking at all animals, how they live and survive in their tough world,” she said. “I also love traveling, meeting people and experiencing different cultures.”
In her work as a Peer Observer, Silvia gains great satisfaction when she is able to help a fellow teacher reach a goal, improve a skill or discover a new way to reach a student. She brought that same passion to her classroom teaching for many years, as well as the science skills she learned studying dentistry. After Silvia finished her career as a teacher, she wanted to explore the science field and decided to study dentistry and became a dentist. At one point in her life, Silvia worked as both a teacher and a dentist at the same time.
“I enjoy enjoyed both careers learning how to improve myself each day as a teacher and as a dentist,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for me to teach science because I could integrate the science skills I learned in the university in my instruction. Applying those skills in my science classrooms helped me to support my students’ learning. It has giving me great opportunities to learn and grow.”
Sylvia brought that passion to her classroom teaching for many years – and is particularly proud of her work with a group of Spanish-speaking biology and earth science students earlier in her career.
“I was a science teacher for 76 seventh and sixth grade students,” she recalled. “The school participated in the science fair that the school district organizes every year. I talked to my students about the research project. Then, we talked about expectations for the science fair.”
Her rules for the students strictly followed the science fair guidelines, and Silvia was adamant that everyone adhere to the basic tenets of scientific research, including properly documenting all work and following the scientific method to complete their projects.
Some students balked and resisted, she said, but parents were pleased by the strict rules – and the students eventually succumbed to Silvia’s demands (primarily because they had no choice).
“It was four weeks of intense work from my students and myself after school, before school and during school,” she said. “All students did their individual research work and I made adjustments for Special Ed students. I was asked to select six science projects from each grade level and the rest of the projects would be posted in a family night for parents and visitors.”
In the end, Silvia’s students prevailed and exceeded all expectations. In both the sixth and seventh grade competitions, students from Silvia’s classes were awarded first, second and third place ribbons. It was an achievement Silvia will never forget and one of her proudest moments as a teacher.
“When we succeed in sowing in our students the seed of curiosity, of learning more, of experiencing challenges, of struggling for strategies, of seeking alternatives, of enjoying achievements, we can be proud as educators that we were a positive influence for our students,” she said. “In my case, it was for a group of minority students who had not been exposed to high expectations.”
If you know of a DCTA teacher that should be featured here, please email their name and contact information to Amber Wilson – DCTA Secretary.