“If my students aren’t able to focus…then we are all wasting our time.”
Michael Diaz-Rivera, Columbine Elementary
A 5th grade ELA teacher at Columbine Elementary, Michael Diaz-Rivera may be a rookie in the profession (he’s been teaching for one year), but he’s already learned one of the most valuable lessons of teaching: An engaged student is a student who will learn.
“My most difficult challenge is ignoring outside factors,” Michael said. “I say this because engagement and motivation are the keys to getting through a lesson successfully. If my students aren’t able to focus on the lesson because they are distracted, then we are all wasting our time. So staying focused on what we are dealing with in the classroom at the moment is the biggest test.”
As so many teachers understand, maintaining that focus isn’t always easy, Michael said. Students are struggling with myriad concerns, both inside and outside of school. Acknowledging their challenges can go a long way toward securing a student’s focus and gaining their trust.
“The biggest win I’ve had so far was with a student that was struggling to feel comfortable with his reading,” Michael said. “He had been given extra resources and teaching before I arrived but wasn’t able to reach the growth that he needed. Because of the relationship that I was able to establish with this student, he started to want to go to school and this did wonders for his engagement. He began passing his expectations and ended the year ahead of what was initially planned!”
Michael is a longtime supporter of collective bargaining. As a member of DCTA, he served as the Master of Ceremonies for the recent Bargaining Kickoff event – and he said he’s excited to know that someone has his back as he works to become the best teacher he can be. His involvement in the community is not limited to engagement with DCTA, however. He’s also an active member of Black Lives Matter and works for social justice and other issues that impact students every day.
As much as he loves teaching, Michael knows there’s always room for improvement. Here are the top five ways he thinks the teaching profession can be improved:
- Increased pay
- More teacher support
- Autonomy (re: having a voice in curriculum and/or lessons)
- Family/community support
- Social/Emotional learning
“I became a teacher after working as a mentor with students caught up in the system,” Michael said, explaining why he entered teaching. “I wanted to be more proactive in helping youth overcome the circumstances that they face. After learning about the opportunity gap for black and brown students, I wanted to help change that. And finally, after learning of the disparity of minority male teachers, I knew that I had to give it a try.”
If you know of a DCTA teacher that should be featured here, please email their name and contact information to Amber Wilson – DCTA Secretary.