For this week’s Bilingual and ESL Teacher of the Year Spotlight, Multilingual Programs visited Mrs. Cynthia Berrios’ class. She is one of HISD’s finalists for the 2018 HAABE Bilingual and ESL Teacher of the Year award.
As a daughter of Puerto Rican parents, Cynthia Berrios knows what it’s like for a newcomer student to experience a different culture, country, and language. That’s why in her three bilingual fifth grade classes (about 80 students), she tries to vivify one of the class mottos: ‘A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart’ by continuously motivating them. “An engaged student —she says— will be eager to learn. At the beginning of the year they were shy, but now they are more verbal and committed with class activities.”
Her journey as a bilingual teacher in Houston ISD began four years ago when she attended an interview in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “I was hired on the spot. So, I had to leave all behind, but I do not regret any of it. I love working for the district, I love the way they support teachers through their first year, and I love Patterson Elementary where I have an extension of my family.”
With over 18 years of experience, she was inspired to follow this educational path by the need to help children learn a language effectively without losing their native tongue. “During my years in college, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, so I began studies for general education, but as I saw the need for good bilingual teachers and took some courses, I honestly fell in love with the bilingual program.”
Once you enter her classroom, you see why she says: “There’s a lot going on in my class”. Walls are covered with students’ writing samples, the whiteboard strategically divided in to sections ‘To do’, ‘If finished’, ‘Vocabulary’, ‘Objectives’ and children researching about a certain topic, others working on a specific skill, and some even collaborating only in Spanish, reading and creating a product to demonstrate understanding.
“My students have multiple choices when creating any type of work. I usually research topics based on their interest and, from there, they choose. Sometimes, if they want to do something that I am not offering, and it is within the parameters of the activity, I let them do it. If they are interested, the experience they get from the activity will stay with them always.”
One of her students, Lucas, says that Mrs. Berrios “is a really nice teacher because she helps us learn and makes everything fun. With her, I am making my English better. I read faster and I’m definitely going to remember her when I go to middle school because she has given me strategies to help me improve.”
For her struggling students, Mrs. Berrios provides them with visuals and exposure to vocabulary by having them read various sources to make their language acquisition grow. “I try to teach them by creating activities that are ‘fun’ but at the same time challenging. When they think they are ‘just playing’ they take more risk and dare to participate more. Those educational activities help them close gaps in an attractive way to them,” she emphasizes.
When Mrs. Berrios looks back to the first day of school and she compares it to today, she sees students that are “confident, more risk takers and balanced. They are exposed daily to activities that lead them to participate and take action into their learning.”
Every year she has students return to Patterson to visit her. “They appreciate and thank me for providing those experiences, because it has helped them in their current schools, to me that’s an honor. Even more, now that I’ve been selected for the first time as a finalist for the HAABE award. I feel so proud, but the most rewarding feeling is that I’m able to guide students into becoming inquires and great thinkers to become the generation that can help this society that so needs it.”