By now, we are well into the 2015–2016 school year at The New Century School, a period that has been brimming with exciting education-related events so far and has kept the TNCS community very busy, to say the least. But let’s take a moment to catch up with a new-for-this-year educator, who, it’s fair to say, has reinvigorated TNCS’s Spanish-language program and achieved new levels of student engagement. Meet K/1st teacher Manuel E. Caceres—or, as the kids know him, Profesor Manuel.
A native of El Salvador, Central America, Profesor Manuel moved to the United States in March 2004. With a degree in education at the primary and secondary levels, he went on to study education and theology at Pan-American University. He is married with three children, an 8-year-old daughter and boy/girl twins born in spring 2015.
Education is vitally important to him; he believes that “we can accomplish much in this world through educating children as global citizens; citizens who are humane, caring, thinking, and effective.” He strongly believes in “you can do if you really want to.”
Up to now he had worked in public schools, including most recently at Baltimore International Academy, an immersion-style International Baccalaureate school, where he taught a variety of subjects. At TNCS, he teaches global studies in the target language of Spanish and is committed to his career in education, to his students, their parents, and TNCS. “I’m very glad to be at this school,” he said, “because private school is very different from what I’m used to. I will use this first year to learn—learn from other teachers, from parents, and from the children.” He values the degree if parent involvement here, especially. Some of his past students have not had the benefit of continual parental interaction, likely due to their life circumstances. In such cases, says Profesor Manuel, the teacher has to become part-time parent, psychologist, etc., leaving insufficient time to teach. “[At TNCS], I can see that children get a lot of support, and it makes an important difference.”
If you are wondering why suddenly your children are speaking more Spanish than ever before, look no further. Although Profesor Manuel might consider himself to be in an adjustment phase, his students would never know it, given the measurable strides they have made already this year in Spanish from his teaching. His deep engagement with his students is at the root. He asks them to set and be ever mindful of their personal goals. He demands—and receives—respect in and for the classroom. Once these important messages have been understood, it’s time to have a little fun while learning.
He also has an innate gift for tapping into kids’ natural proclivities. They like to move around. A lot. So, on field trips, he has been known to take turns sitting with each and every child on the bus and playing piedra, papel, o tijera, which you probably know as the game “rock, paper, scissors.” Not only did keeping them occupied this way reduce the fever-pitch levels of noise and intensity on the bus (by a hair, anyway—any reader who has served as chaperone can relate 😉 ), but it’s also a brilliant method for enhancing language-learning. The actions reinforce the meaning of the Spanish words, and the rhythm aids pronunciation. (By the way, this is the basis of Total Physical Response, a core TNCS teaching approach that “uses physical movement to react to verbal input in order to reduce student inhibitions and lower their affective filter. It allows students to react to language without thinking too much, facilitates long-term retention, and reduces student anxiety and stress.” We’ll explore this fascinating concept further in a future post!)
“I integrate all sorts of things when I teach, like singing, playing, smiling . . . I always try to make connections,” he said. He also makes sure that every child knows that he or she is the “favorite”—in other words, there are no favorites. Each child is special in Profesor Manuel’s class and knows it. They feel secure, and when kids are confident, they are primed for learning.
Watch this video to see him keep a normally pretty rowdy crowd of K/1st students in check as they wait to begin work on a division-wide art project. Some minor delays in getting art materials ready would have otherwise severely taxed the kids’ reserves of patience, but Profesor Manuel and his skeletal assistant came to the rescue, with “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in Spanish!
“Let them be,” he said, “teach them the rules, but then let them play.” This approach is clearly working and fits in beautifully at TNCS. We’re glad to have you on board, Profesor! Bienvenida!