Photo above: Stedman Elementary ECE teacher Pablo Benitez
Pablo Benitez, Stedman Elementary
Pablo Benitez was a terrible student. Throughout his middle and high school years, he felt disconnected from his teachers and school. It didn’t seem like his teachers were trying to connect with students. As a result, Pablo’s school performance suffered – and he’s got the report card to prove it.
“I always used to share this with my students,” Pablo said of the 11th grade report card he displays on his website, milehighteacher.org, “so they could see that we can all succeed even when we have previously failed.”
The report card – riddled with low marks – serves as a stern reminder to Pablo of his past as well as of his mission. “This really motivated me to become a teacher,” he said. “I did not really try much in high school because I was bored. As a teacher, my goal is to create engaging and rigorous lessons for my students that are relevant to the real world.”
Pablo’s educational experience taught him something important: That teachers can make the critical difference in students’ lives. If Pablo’s students over the years are any indication, his efforts as a teacher are definitely paying off. An 8th grade history teacher for 15 years, Pablo achieved a remarkable teaching accomplishment: Students actually wanted to attend his history classes (and consequently rarely ditched them). And his student perception surveys routinely received high positive ratings.
“My biggest accomplishment as a history teacher was just making the class fun,” he said. “I’m pleased with that and I think it says a lot about who I am and my teaching.”
This year, Pablo has accepted an entirely new challenge. Now an ECE teacher at Stedman Elementary, Pablo admits making the transition from older students to those just getting started has involved a bit of a learning curve.
“Teaching ECE is a huge departure from what I have been accustomed to doing,” he said. “In 8th grade social studies, you are trying to help kids develop writing skills, selecting and citing textual evidence, determining main ideas from a reading. In ECE, the skill set you are trying to help your children develop is still academic but there is a bigger social component that is also included.”
For example, ECE teachers are trying to help kids problem solve and identify and address their emotions, Pablo said.
“The work is different but so rewarding,” he said. “The challenge has served to rejuvenate my career. Teaching in ECE has been so refreshing. Plus the kids are adorable!”
Being a male ECE teacher is a departure from the norm, but Pablo doesn’t see gender as an issue in the early education environment. He has received tremendous support from fellow teachers at Stedman, as well as from his coaches and mentors in the ECE department.
“I think from the kids point of view it’s a non-issue,” he said. “For many of my students, I am their first teacher. They have not had other teachers before, male or female. These kids are just looking for a teacher that makes them feel safe and happy.”
Pablo said some parents might have been surprised to see a man as their child’s ECE teacher, but that overall his move to ECE is just a sign of the times.
“Today we are encouraging young girls to explore careers in science, engineering, law, and politics because females are under-represented in those fields. Men are really underrepresented in ECE classrooms,” he said. “For me it is a privilege and honor to be doing this kind of work. I would encourage other male teachers to explore teaching opportunities in early childhood education.”
Pablo’s success with students is a reflection of the philosophy he brings to the classroom – and to life. Married with two children, he relishes the opportunities the teaching profession provides for him to explore Colorado and the world with his family. He chronicles his travels on his website, revealing the reason he works so hard during the school year.
“When I am not teaching I love to spend time with my family traveling. During the summer, we go on huge road trips across the country,” he said. “We love to go camping in the different national parks. Yellowstone is our favorite. Closer to home, we visit Rocky Mountain National Park for long day trips. I have seen a great deal of America but there are still places I want to visit like Alaska.”
Prior to coming to Colorado, Pablo taught in Miami, Florida. Like any long-time educator, he is passionately dedicated to the teaching profession. Also like any long-time educator, he’s been around long enough to find room for improvement. He worries that teachers are stretched too thin, and how that impacts students’ achievements (as well as teacher job satisfaction).
“Teachers need to be able to take care of themselves physically and emotionally in order to be really effective in the classroom,” he said. “But many teachers get burned out from the job and the demands of work and life. Teachers are expected to do many things that might not really improve student performance.”
A potential solution, Pablo suggested, is to provide better professional development opportunities for educators early in the school year, particularly in urban and diverse districts.
“Young teachers especially are thrown to the sharks and are expected to not only survive but perform well,” he said. “Many teachers leave the profession within three to five years. I think the reasons they leave are related to salary, workload, lack of meaningful training and support – and a lack of autonomy.”
There are many ways to teach students, he said, emphasizing that teachers must be allowed to infuse their lessons with personality and avoid a “cookie cutter” approach. Pablo also emphasized the need for more diversity in urban school districts like DPS.
“I think we serve something like 90,000 students and many of these students are students of color,” he said. “Students of color really need familiar faces in the classroom.”
Still, despite its many challenges, Pablo remains a strongly passionate advocate for the teaching profession.
“I love Colorado and I love teaching,” he said. “Living in Colorado and teaching allows me to live my life to the fullest. I feel that I am truly blessed and I try and give back to my community and country by teaching America’s youth.”
If you know of a DCTA teacher that should be featured here, please email their name and contact information to Amber Wilson – DCTA Secretary.