Inspirational Educators – Maria M. Briseno – No Excuses. Just Ideas, Time, and Effort are Required.

How long have you been teaching?

I began teaching full time in 2014 in special education for moderate to severe students with Autism who are nonverbal. Prior to that, I was a sub for a couple years and prior to that I was a stay at home mom for 13 years until in 2010 my husband suffered a disabling accident and I had to find full-time work to support the family.

Why did you choose teaching as a career?

After becoming a stay at home mom, I realized that I was volunteering at my kid’s school 3-­5 times a week. My twin’s kindergarten teacher said I was a natural, so I went back to school for my MAed and general education credential. There was a hiring freeze for full-time general education teachers and so I became a teacher’s assistant in 2011 and then a sub in 2013 and worked in special education classrooms quite often. Then in 2014, a friend who was a special education teacher asked me about becoming a special education teacher. I realized that I was raising a child with special needs and substituted in special education classrooms all the time and I found it fulfilling.

Many people question if our current education system is working. What do you think?

While it may work in many respects it fails in many areas as well. Funding is the area where it fails the most. One area where funding is lacking is in special education. In my classroom, I must print the alternate curriculum for my students and in 2015, I spent $900 in color toner for my classroom. That is in addition to the money I spend to purchase all the supplies and equipment that I need to create an engaging and differentiated instruction for my students. Another area is field trips, I am teaching my students to be able to function in our society with their disabilities and field trips or Community Based Instruction is essential. However, field trips for our classroom have been non-existent in the last three years. I have had to start finding ways for funding. I am going to neighborhood council meetings to ask for funding and for donations from whomever I can ask. We finally were able to attend our first field trip this last October. It took three school years to finally attend one field trip but my students need more exposure to the community in order to learn how to function in the community. All can not be learned from a book or the internet. Students, especially those with severe disabilities, need real world experience to be able to strive to become independent and functional citizens of our society.

What would you like to see being taught in our classrooms?

We need more differentiation in our curriculum. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) currently has the core curriculum set up in order for students to attend a 4-year college/university or the alternate curriculum for those students with ID (Intellectual Delay) but we have students that fall in between. There is this gray area, where there are students who cannot succeed in the core curriculum without major modifications. The major modifications allow the students that fall in this gray area to lose the opportunity to fully grasp the depth and complexity of the core curriculum. These students need their own curriculum. We need to get away from the idea that all students can be lumped into two groups. Those with ID and thus need the alternate curriculum or those students that can effectively compete with other students in the common core curriculum. We need to realize that not every student can go to 4-year universities and successfully compete in college preparatory courses. We need to provide a challenging curriculum but not to the expense where students feel overwhelmed because they have no idea what they are doing in these college preparatory classes. It is not just from professional experience but from my own personal experience with my 13-year-old special needs son. He functions above the alternate curriculum but could not be successful in a core curriculum/general education classroom. His classes with the core curriculum have major modifications and are now expected to go on to Algebra when he is still trying to learn multiplication and division. There used to be basic math classes but LAUSD has changed their graduation requirements. All students must ALL do the A-­G UC & Call State basic requirements in order to graduate. This utterly ridiculous because a one size fits all curriculum is not sensible.

If you have been teaching less than five years, do you intend to stay in the profession?

My first contract was teaching in special education with students who have moderate to severe disabilities. I find that teaching them the alternate curriculum is crucial. They are learning to be functional citizens of our community. The curriculum allows me to ensure they are prepared to be functional and develop skills in order to be independent. A group of students that many time is overlooked in many ways.

Share your proudest teacher moment.

About a year and a half ago I got a new student who didn’t know how to write more than lines and circles. We began with tracing letters that spelled his name every day, then we began to show the student how to copy the letters of their name well, about a year after doing all this work, I asked the student to write their name. I gave them no visual prompts and then I saw the student write their name and then even self-correct when they forgot one letter. I yelled and jumped for joy that I scared the poor student. I do not know how to express how excited I was to see the enormous progress.

What is the most important message about teaching that you would like People to know?

You cannot go into teaching without knowing that it is very difficult. In a general education classroom, you may have 30 kids all with 30 different needs. Which requires a teacher to differentiate instruction for 30 different students. It is not easy and they don’t pay you to create this curriculum, it is done after class on your own time. You will need to want to put in all your time, effort and personal funds in order to create an engaging curriculum. You cannot use the excuse that the school district does not provide the funds. It is our responsibility to ensure that our students learn regardless of the circumstances. No excuses just ideas, time, and effort are required.

One more thing all should know is that teachers are not paid for the summer time off. It is not a paid vacation. We (teachers) are allowed to save some of each paycheck during the school year so that we can have a paycheck each summer month we are off. It is our money the district saved and earned interest on and then gives back to us in the summer.

How can parents and Educators work together to better to ensure children are successful?

Parents need to be active participates and advocates. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the teachers. Ask how you can help and contribute to your child’s learning. Advocate for what your child needs. It is true, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Educators must encourage their parents to participate in their child’s education, at home, and in the classroom. We must also help our parents to advocate at school for their children. Have open communication with the parents and utilize them in the classroom as well. Students need to see their parents taking an active role in their education and working with their teacher.

What is the most important educational gift parents can provide for their children to help them be successful learners?

Reading and working with the students on activities that the teacher can suggest.

Who is most Inspirational Teacher you’ve had? Why?

There are so many, I can not pick just one. The first is Dianne Roberts who retired in 2016. She was an elementary school teacher for my 20-year-old twins. She provided a curriculum that had depth and complexity. She went above and beyond to ensure that her students could become critical thinkers.

Second, is Ms. Amy Tseng. She was an education specialist who taught the core curriculum to students with Autism and went on to become an Autism specialist for the district. She was the one who encouraged me to become a special education teacher and how to become an effective teacher.

How many hours a week do you spend completing all of your duties related to your job. Are there any extra duties that people may find surprising or not consider that you have to complete?

Each week I spent about 20 additional hours outside of the classroom to ensure that all my duties related to teaching are completed. All are unpaid but I did not go into teaching to only do what I was paid for or otherwise the job would never get done.

What do you think is a fair salary for teachers? Keep in mind the argument that celebrities make millions and teachers are always struggling?

There will never be 100% consensus on what an accurate and fair salary should be and my opinion not only brings criticism from those paying the salaries but even among the teacher’s union and other teachers as well.

I feel a fair salary should be to figure out our hourly wage and pay us for all the work we do outside the classroom. Teachers do so many hours outside the classroom for the implementation of their curriculum as well as mandatory volunteer activities for the school, on non-­school days. We prepare lessons, grade work, do grades, hold conferences, meet with parents, and even meet with students outside of the classroom. We use our break times to check messages, go to the bathroom because we cannot leave our classrooms. We also use our break to get all the necessary items done before school is out. We never really use our break for us, that’s a luxury.

On top of a fair salary, we need to provide all the necessary funds to pay for the instructional materials the teachers spend each year. At this time, only $250 is allowed to be deducted on your taxes. Yet, last year I spent $900 on toner alone to print my alternate curriculum in color for my students that need real life visuals and not poorly copied black and white copies. I spent about $4,200 dollars last year. That is about one month’s salary.

At a conference for Autism & Aspergers Syndrome and the guest speaker was world renown Dr. Temple Grandin.

Have you ever paid for supplies for your classroom?

Each and every week I pay for supplies, look for sales, go to yard sales and steal from my own home to take to my classroom to provide all the necessary items for an effective and engaging alternate curriculum. I spend over $4,200 last year and only was able to deduct $250 as a teacher expense.

In addition, there are students that need supplies and basic essentials at home, I provide them with these items when I know their parents cannot. This, not extra money I had to give away. It was taken from my own family needs but needs that were not as crucial as my students. So I had a decision to make and I did.

If you had a wish list of needs for your classroom what would the top three things be?

1. MAC Desktop computers (currently have one desktop and that is the
teacher desktop)
2. Sponsored field trips (about 3 years, currently have had 1 in the last 3 years)
3. Color toner

If you would like to help this Inspirational Educator fill their wish list, please contact Maria at – mrsbriseno@mac.com

In addition to teaching in the classroom, I also volunteer after school and one day each weekend to coach students in Students Run LA. I have attached some of the srla student pictures which can be posted because we have a signed waiver/release from their parents. Also, following is the video link that I was selected to do for SRLA.

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