In this interview, Elementary MAT candidate Hector Hernandez discusses how Brown’s small cohort, and the supportive faculty and mentors, are helping him become the teacher he always wanted to be.
What were you doing before the program?
Before the MAT program, I was teaching English at an inner-city high school in Madrid, Spain on behalf of the Fulbright Scholarship. I taught four days a week and also tutored students outside of class. In addition to teaching, I undertook a personal project which involved capturing Madrid through a series of photographs and interviews with its people about their perspective towards the culture of the U.S.
What attracted you to Brown’s program?
What attracted me to Brown’s program was the intimate setting that I had heard so much about. After interviewing a couple of friends who had recently completed the program, I got the impression that though it was an intensive program, you were given ample room to ask for help and to express your ideas, due in part to the small-group setting. As I went into the program myself, one of my goals was to become vulnerable to the process—to allow myself to feel a little uncomfortable as I was pushed to observe my blemishes from the outside in. However, I had just returned from yet another enriching experience abroad, and I came back to the U.S. feeling rejuvenated and fresh. In other words, I was prepared to be challenged further. I could not have done this without the help of the MAT cohort.
What is the highlight of the program?
For me, the highlight of the program includes the MAT cohort. Teaching is a journey that you do not undertake alone. As a cohort, we are willing to push each other to become more adept learners and teachers as we take turns being strong for each other. I admit that though the work is rigorous and you may not always feel steady, you always look forward to going to class and seeing everyone again. In fact, one of the harder things in the program is to part ways after class has ended. The people in the program help me to better comprehend my teacher self as we discuss the readings, complain like our students, and laugh together as we look to what lies beyond the horizon.
Where are you student teaching?
I am currently teaching at George J. West, a public school in Providence, Rhode Island. Last semester, I taught at Highlander Charter School, and I am becoming accustomed to a different world. For example, I have an increased number of students and it has not been easy to tend to everyone’s distinct needs in the classroom. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the experience. In fact, I welcome it. It is the tougher experiences that I believe bring out the best in me. George J. West is much like the school I went to when I was in elementary school. I see endless possibilities, as well as some familiar “demons” sneaking their heads around the corridor. However, this time I return as both a teacher and a student.
How is the program meeting your expectations?
The Brown MAT program has exceeded my expectations. The pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit into place as I look back on all that I’ve learned this past year. So far, the program has provided me with skilled and knowledgeable mentors who have invited me to make mistakes while feeling more comfortable doing them. I am also being put to the test as I confront novel challenges that encapsulate both the physical and emotional realm. Above all else, I am becoming the teacher I see myself as being.
How is the program helping you meet your personal goals?
In terms of my personal goals, the program is helping me to become more aware of them. Some of them unveil themselves after having read a particular text or after conferencing with my supervisor as we talk about different ways to hone the art of teaching. They include, but are not limited to drafting more concise and measurable lesson plans, learning to increase the ratio of student participation, and to consider who I am as a teacher in relation to my students.
What do you like best about your work as a teacher?
What I like best about being a teacher is working with my students. They make living, working, and making mistakes a worthwhile pursuit. They make my life an adventure. I wish I could better describe for you my relationship with my students. You’d have to stop by sometime. There’s nothing like hearing a student say “Oh, I get it now!” or “I’m grateful for my friends, who made me feel better when I was sad.”
What would you tell someone considering the Brown MAT?
“Either email me or call me.” That’s what my friends did for me when I was applying and it did make a difference when I was in the midst of thinking about all the details. One of the greatest things about the MAT program is the support systems you forge during your journey up the mountain. You have the MAT cohort, filled with inspiring people who will push you to challenge, question, clarify, and learn; there are mentor teachers who invite you into their classrooms so that you may learn to tap into their resources as they help you to “find yourself” within the classroom environment; you are also under the careful and caring tutelage of experienced Professors and supervisors who want nothing less than to see you grow and prosper; finally, you are teaching and learning what it means to be a lifelong learner.
“There are always specific, individual worlds to be changed, one by one. To name oneself a teacher is to live with one foot in the muck of the world as we find it—with its conventional patterns and received wisdom—and the other foot striding toward a world that could be but isn’t yet.” –William Ayers
We read some pretty good stuff in this program.