Meet Our Team: Wanda Perez
In this new blog series, we are interviewing members of the CT3 team about their background in education as well as the expertise that they each bring to their work with educators across the country.
Why did you want to become an educator?
My first inspiration to become a teacher was my father, who had been a teacher in our native Dominican Republic, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. However, it wasn’t until I was 15 that I really knew that it was a calling I could not ignore. I spent time serving with a non-profit in the poorest areas of Cleveland during part of my spring break. It was then that I really understood how advantaged I had been to receive a “suburban” education. Fundamentally, I knew it was wrong for all students not to have access to a quality education.
Tell us about your background in education.
I received a BA in Elementary Education and have taught everything from 3-year-olds to remedial high school Spanish. Most of my time as a teacher was spent in 3rd grade on the notorious west side of Baltimore and my years of principalship were all in Washington, DC in a bilingual school. But my background has really been built by critical relationships I have had learning from students, parents, colleagues, mentors, and even folks who taught what not to do and what type of educator I did not want to be.
What was your first teaching experience like? What did it teach you?
I feel I had two first years of teaching. The first was in a private daycare in Rochester as the lead teacher for a 3-year-olds class. In this setting, I learned that kids are kids. They all need and want the same things: love, structure, routine, consistency, and a teacher that is as excited about learning as she/he is about them. I then moved to Baltimore to begin my calling as an urban educator. This was a tough year, no doubt, but one filled with tremendous learnings and blessings. I had a fourth grade class of about 16 students, almost all boys and many who had experienced trauma and even exposure to lead. Again, I learned what not to do but also that I had the capacity and passion to truly get kids excited about learning.
Do you have any regrets from your first few years of teaching that you wish you could do over? Why or why not?
Although it has been 20 years and memory starts to fade, there are certainly things I would have done differently. I would have gotten to know my students even better on a one on one level. I would have also built stronger relationships with parents. I don’t regret jumping right into a fantastic Master’s program at Towson University where I learned effective pedagogy that I would immediately implement in my classroom. I believe teachers have to be learners all of the time in order to be effective teachers. That is why I work in the area of professional development. Ongoing professional development supports every teacher’s professional pursuit of excellence and drive to make an impact on students lives.
What is your unique perspective when working with teachers, coaches, or principals?
As a first year teacher, I never imagined that I would enjoy working with adults as much as I do. I believe that learning is such a critical component to experiencing joy in life. As adults, it is easy to stop the learning process and to shut off our intellectual curiosity and natural problem-solving abilities. My goal in working with teachers, coaches, and principals is to support them as they activate and advocate for themselves as learners.
What are you an ‘expert’ in besides CT3’s work?
As a turnaround principal in a public, 50% English/50% Spanish bilingual school that provides all levels and services of special education, I learned so much about differentiation, language learning, the needs of students and how to effectively raise the rigor across an entire school in two languages! I am extremely passionate about these areas and of course, leadership overall. I believe that the impact of a leader is always significant and incapable of neutrality. Leaders either enhance or detract from the mission.
What, in your opinion, is the most important aspect of school in order to best serve students?
Without question, the relationship between every child and at least one trusted adult in the school is the most important aspect of the educational process. Children must feel wanted, valued, and important in order to learn effectively. They may learn skills and knowledge without effective relationships, but the outcomes for their lives will be diminished regardless of academic achievements. My most recent work in investigating classroom practices that heal trauma speak to the importance of relationships.
What is your best advice for a first-year educator?
The advice is the same to all. Don’t allow yourself to stop learning! Read, ask, draw conclusions, test theories, collaborate, problem solve. Do all of the things that great learners do and do them with your “why” in mind. Our children deserve adults who will not stop improving on their behalf.
If you could only tell educators ONE thing about No-Nonsense Nurturer, what would it be?
This was not invented by one person or even a small group of people. This is what the best of us have been doing for years in classrooms and getting results. Don’t let the branding and fancy terms fool you or turn you off. If you were to observe a truly effective teacher, you would come to all of the same conclusions about what works for students.
What’s been your proudest moment working with educators/students (choose one)?
My proudest moments always involve being part of a team that took a grim reality and changed it. Seeing a clear before and after is always an amazing thing to be a part of especially as you and your teammates change and grow in the process. Our mission as educators could not be more important and whenever we come together as a team to create a pathway for a student where one did not exist, it is what I live for.
Click here to read Wanda’s post on our blog titled “Trauma and Teacher Practice: Actions that Heal”, where she shares best practices for educators in supporting students affected by trauma.