“I know how important my job is.”
Suzanne Hernandez, Westerly Creek Elementary
The best part of being a teacher, according to Westerly Creek Elementary first grade teacher Suzanne Hernandez, is when you know you are making a difference in a student’s life. Unfortunately, the opportunity to make those connections is increasingly difficult in today’s increasingly crowded and time-crunched classrooms.
“My favorite part of teaching is when I get to sit and talk with my students one on one,” Suzanne explained. “It’s very difficult when I have 27 students in each class and my schedule doesn’t allow for much personal interaction, but when I get a chance to ask them how their day is, listen to what’s going on in their lives or help them in some way outside of the classroom, then I know how important my job is.”
Suzanne began her educational career nearly 20 years ago working as a para within DPS. With three young children at the time, she relished the opportunity to shape young minds. Suzanne’s teacher colleagues recognized her talent in the classroom and encouraged her to pursue teaching as a profession. As a result, Suzanne joined the profession full time in 2008.
“I had always thought that the workload at that time was much more than I could handle,” she said. “Boy—little did I know!”
Now with nine years teaching under her belt, Suzanne continues to battle with the pressures that teachers throughout the district face every day: overcrowded classes, unrealistic demands on time, increasing responsibilities and a disconnect between administrators and the real-world burdens of teaching.
“I sometimes wonder how long (some administrators) would last as classroom teachers given the expectations that we must follow,” Suzanne said. “Not only do we have the responsibility to educate students and all the work that comes with teaching, but we have to prove constantly that we are professionals.”
In addition, teachers must accomplish all this while working for sub-standard compensation in many instances, Suzanne said. The inconsistent support schools receive across the district also contributes to teacher frustrations.
“Some schools are simply amazing and well-supported while others are struggling to provide materials for teachers and students,” Suzanne said.
Still, despite all of the challenges, Suzanne knows her teaching is making a difference in the lives of students. And that is what matters most. A story from her first year as a classroom teacher exemplifies this point.
“When I first began teaching first grade, we had finished up a unit with a few days to spare,” she said. “I decided to teach my mostly Caucasian students about (Mexican artist) Frida Kahlo. In a few short days we learned about her life, her art, and we created our own self portraits just like Frida.”
The experience continues to pay dividends both for the teacher and her students.
“I’ve had many of those students, who are now teens, come back and tell me how much they enjoyed reading and writing about her,” Suzanne said.
Today, Suzanne’s three children are grown – and she has one “brilliant” three-year-old grandson to spoil. She lives in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood with her snowshoe Siamese cat, KittyCat – and enjoys Colorado’s great outdoors via hiking, camping, fishing as well as attending concerts and relaxing with a good book.
If you know of a DCTA teacher that should be featured here, please email their name and contact information to Amber Wilson – DCTA Secretary.