Spotlight: Silvia Miranda (NM '18)January 30, 2019
Silvia Miranda (NM ’18) fell in love with teaching during her first year, when her kindergarteners realized “that letters actually made sounds and words, and that these words meant something to them.” Now a fourth-grade teacher, Silvia won New Mexico’s 2018-19 Milken Educator Award at Mesa Elementary School in Clovis on November 20, 2018.
Milken Family Foundation: How did you land in education?
Silvia Miranda: I think I was born knowing I wanted to teach. Coming from a low socioeconomic position, my parents instilled in me that I had the power to change my circumstances. I learned early on that education was the key to a better future. Great teachers who motivated and believed in me also inspired me to become a teacher and a lifelong learner.
MFF: Why did you choose elementary school?
Silvia: My heart is with young kids—I love their energy, their drive, and their randomness. I feel like I can make a better impact on young students. Fourth grade is the perfect age: Kids are independent, but they still love their teacher. And they have a contagious love for life.
MFF: You led a writing focus for Mesa’s fourth grade. Why is writing so important for students at that age?
Silvia: Writing enables students to think critically, analyze other people’s words, and express their own thoughts. When I teach writing, my main goal is to help students uncover their voices and learn to use them in a positive manner.
MFF: Why has being a teacher leader played such an important part of your career as an educator?
Silvia: To me, a teacher leader is someone who helps others reach their full potential by motivating them, pushing them, and providing resources to help them grow. A teacher leader leads by example and is not afraid to speak up for what is right or what needs to change. Most importantly, a teacher leader always has the best interests of students in mind.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Silvia: I was so surprised! I went into the assembly thinking it was a celebration for our school getting high scores. Once the Secretary of Education introduced the "special guest" and the Award was mentioned, I immediately started thinking about all my colleagues. Both my daughters have gone to this school since kindergarten, and they have had remarkable teachers. My daughter's current teacher immediately came to mind, because she is so passionate and dedicated. I never once thought that it might be me.
MFF: How did your students respond to your Milken Award?
Silvia: My students were over-the-moon excited for me. They kept telling me that I was famous! My students from last year, who are now fifth-graders, were also very excited for me because they were extremely close to me last year and witnessed many new challenges I took on. They all surrounded me with hugs and congratulations. It was the best feeling!
This experience has definitely had a lasting impact on my students. Many have mentioned that they want to become teachers too— because you can be famous! I refer to my winning the Award a lot, especially when things get tough for my students. It serves as a great motivator for them.
MFF: Who are your role models as an educator?
Silvia: One of my role models is Martin Luther King. So many things he said still ring true for me today, like my all-time favorite quote: "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?" I feel like teaching is the perfect response to this question.
Another role model is Melissa Romero, my mentor during my first year teaching. Every time I went into her room—and I went in there a lot that first year—I learned something new, like how to meet my kids where they were, how to change my teaching to reach each student’s demands, and how to remain positive and true to myself. I hold Mrs. Bensley, my own first-grade teacher, dear to my heart because she believed in me and pushed me to show my intelligence regardless of any barriers.
MFF: What do you remember of your first year in the classroom?
Silvia: My first year of teaching was exactly what I always dreamed it would be. I learned that each child is different, that there is no one way to teach and reach everyone, and that I had to be fully committed to being a lifelong learner if I was going to succeed. I had full support from my colleagues and principal, and my mentor was phenomenal.
I remember when my students started putting words together, realizing that all these letters actually made sounds and words, and that the words meant something to them. It was amazing to watch their little minds grow and know that I played a part in teaching them such an important skill.
Were there difficult days? Absolutely. Did I feel like I was doing it all wrong? Every day. Did I shed a few tears? Not just a few! But I loved it all, and even now I love seeing this kindergarten class, my very first set of kids, having grown into young adults, working and contributing to society, and hearing how they still remember our lessons, field trips and funny moments in kindergarten.
MFF: How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Silvia: Part of it might be spent on a family vacation. My family has been so supportive of my career, even when it has meant long evenings of mentoring and coaching others, traveling far away for meetings, and staying up late working towards National Board Certification. I could not be the teacher I am without the love and support of my family, and I would love to show my deep appreciation by spending some quality time with them in a fun place.
I also think I will use some of the money to publish a book. I have always dreamed of being a published author of children's books in both English and Spanish. I hope this Award will help me reach that dream.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Silvia: Success for me is leading a life that I can be proud of and finding happiness in what I do. Life is filled with small successes that eventually lead to greater success. That is the lesson I want my students to learn—that no one reaches success overnight. You have to set goals for yourself, work hard, fail, work hard again, and keep going. You have to go for your dreams and find the things that make you happy.
With some successes you work hard, reach your goals, and no one even knows you have succeeded, which is okay because you are doing it for yourself. Some other successes, like winning the Milken Award, are so extraordinary because your hard work, your failures, and your struggles are shared with everyone and can serve as a source of inspiration. That’s one of the greatest successes of all: inspiring others.
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