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Middle School Motivation: Natalia Cuadra-Saez, TEP'14

Natalia Cuadra-Saez
To keep her going throughout her year in the Teacher Education Program (TEP), Natalia Cuadra-Saez drew inspiration from her students. As part of her practicum, she taught sixth-grade social studies at McCormack Middle School in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston.

“My students inspired me, especially with their questions and curiosity,” says the Rockville, Maryland native. “I also helped coach a debate team in the school. It was incredibly inspiring to see how the challenge of debate and the community of the team transformed students into passionate learners and critical thinkers.”

Cuadra-Saez will continue to both gain and give inspiration next year as part of her “dream job”: social studies teacher at Joseph Lee K–8 School in Dorchester, where she hopes to start a debate team similar to the one she coached this year.

“Natalia’s energy, enthusiasm and her commitment to serving all youth make her a particularly special member of the TEP cohort,” says Senior Lecturer Katherine Merseth, faculty director of TEP. “She works hard and plays hard and will be a wonderful teacher!”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for the Teacher Education Program, Cuadra-Saez answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

What was your goal upon entering the Ed School? My goal was to become an effective middle school social studies teacher. To do this I felt I needed to learn more than pedagogy and curriculum. I also wanted to learn about schools as institutions and the systemic inequities that persist within these institutions so that I could become an effective advocate for my students.

When I was applying to HGSE I wrote about my goals for becoming a teacher in my statement of purpose: “I want to create the kind of classroom where students are comfortable enough to take risks and are empowered to ask questions and create projects they are passionate about. I want to create a classroom where case studies are probed in depth and where knowledge and questions about the past translates into projects with the community.” I believed the Teacher Education Program at the Ed School would help me achieve these goals.

Is that goal any different now? I still want to become an effective teacher and advocate for my students. But now I also want to advocate for more culturally responsive curricula and school cultures that value students and their communities.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? [Associate Professor] Meira Levinson’s class, Foundations of Urban Education. It made me realize how many assumptions I had made about the “problems” with urban schools. It made me realize that most of my assumptions were wrong.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? Listen to your students even when they don’t seem to make sense. Try to figure out where they’re coming from. Use what you learn at the Ed School to help you listen to your students. Use what you learn from your students to help you question the Ed School.

What will you change in education and why? As the Boston Globe recently reported, “The lack of racial diversity among Massachusetts teachers — a growing concern across the state — can be traced to an insufficient number of people of color enrolling in educator programs at local colleges” (April 28, 2014). I will work to change teacher education programs — including the TEP program at HGSE — so that they prioritize the recruitment of diverse cohorts.

I will bring more Ethnic Studies to schools because what I have learned from my sixth- grade students this year is that every single student wants to learn and be successful. Ethnic Studies is one tool for building community and offering a relevant, accessible, and engaging curriculum to facilitate learning and growth for all students.

If you could transport one person/place/thing from HGSE to your next destination, what would it be? Even though I never met her in person, I would take Eleanor Duckworth with me and keep her in my classroom as my co-teacher.


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