Spotlight: Krystal Contreras (TX '18)March 12, 2019
In writing “boot camps,” Krystal Contreras (TX '18)’s fourth-graders fix injured “soldiers” (sentences) with punctuation and recite march-style chants about the writing process. “Learning to write is like going to the Army,” Krystal tells her students. “We are going to exercise our brains to get them into shape.” She won Texas’ 2018-19 Milken Educator Award at Dr. C.M. Cash Elementary School in San Benito on February 15, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: What’s it like to teach in your hometown?
Krystal Contreras: I love teaching where I grew up. It’s amazing that I now teach the children of people I went to school with. I love trying to make an impact for the children of my community.
MFF: What brought you to education?
Krystal: It never felt like a career choice—I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher. I remember playing school with my brother in my bedroom when we were young. I had some exceptional elementary teachers who solidified my career path by making education so much fun.
MFF: Why elementary school?
Krystal: My degree is actually in English. I intended to teach high school English, but the first opening I found was elementary. Since I had passed the elementary exam I decided to start there. And I loved it.
I love elementary because the students enjoy having fun. When you make anything fun, they retain the information better. This is why I try my hardest to incorporate some type of fun into my assignments. Even if it is coloring and cutting, they love it!
MFF: Who are your role models?
Krystal: My role models as an educator are Kayla Shook, Amy Lemons and Hope King. Like me, they love to make learning fun. I constantly follow them on social media to see what ideas I can tweak for my classroom.
MFF: What was your first year of teaching like?
Krystal: My first year was challenging. I started mid-year because the teacher was retiring. That was a difficult class. The advice that stuck with me the most was to “pick your battles.” I also learned not to listen to other teachers’ comments about students. A teacher may have had a difficult time with a child because they were not handling an issue in the best way. Every child has different needs. Learn how to work with each child individually.
MFF: Tell us about your writing boot camps.
Krystal: At the beginning of the year I like to tell the kids that learning to write is like going to boot camp in the Army. We are going to learn so many things and exercise our brains to get them into shape. We sing a march to learn the writing process. We fix up injured soldiers (sentences) and patch them up using the correct punctuation. We even use bandages to correct the sentences! Many students come to me with very limited knowledge of writing. Reading and math are tested in third grade, so those subjects get more attention.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Krystal: I was in shock! When they were describing the Award I even had a couple of teachers in mind, but when I heard my name the moment felt surreal. Even now it feels like a dream when people congratulate me and recognize me at public events. My school has so many exceptional teachers—I am just trying to do as good a job as they do.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Krystal: They were congratulating me all day and into the following week, but they’re regular 10-year-olds. They forget. I am just happy that they got to experience the moment with me and see that teachers can be recognized as celebrities.
MFF: How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Krystal: I plan to take my family on a very enjoyable vacation and then save the rest for my children’s college.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Krystal: For my students, success is making progress and showing improvement. Not every child will pass the STAAR [assessment] test, but if they came to me with a 19 at the beginning of the year and are now scoring 65 and showing improvement on their writing, that is success—for my student and for me. I know I have made an impact on that child’s life.
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