At the MAIA Impact School, teachers are referred to as educators. This is a deliberate distinction made with the intention of creating completely new associations for the term “educator.” Educators are innovative, resilient, and creative problem-solvers. They represent MAIA’s unique approach to education and our strategy to break away from the norm.
In Guatemalan public schools, the teaching style is traditionally disengaged. Teachers stand at the front of the classroom as students sit in rows copying down everything the teacher says; participation is not required or expected. It was reported by 51 percent of students in public schools that teachers will leave the classroom to take a personal call, and 86 percent of students reported days when teachers simply did not show up for class. Yolanda, MAIA Impact School’s math educator, shared that when she was in school, she was afraid of participating in class. She thought she would be berated if she answered incorrectly and was never given the opportunity to develop her vocal empowerment skills.
Yolanda continued her studies, become a part of the 10 percent of young indigenous women to graduate from high school, and transitioned from student to teacher. In her first job, she found herself mirroring the behavior of her previous teachers. She followed a set curriculum that was developed decades ago and implemented the same teaching methodologies that were used in her school when she was younger. She did not focus on class participation or dynamic activities; rather, she simply delivered the content that was given to her.
Once Yolanda was hired to work at the MAIA Impact School, she went through a year of training before she began teaching. The journey from a teacher to an educator is challenging. Yolanda had to unlearn the understanding of teaching she had known to be true her whole life. She received 1000 hours of professional development training and had a content coach who helped her work through her new curriculum. Yolanda was surprised by the different approaches to solving math problems and was driven to learn and implement these methods in class. During her year of training, she learned to think outside the box and to implement innovative techniques in a culturally relevant setting. The more she had one-on-one coaching sessions and professional development workshops, the more curious she became.
While extremely motivated by all that she was learning, Yolanda found it challenging to work on constantly innovating concepts and the language used in teaching. She found that by making her classroom an open space for dialogue and transforming the student/educator relationship into a cooperative one, she was able to work with the students on implementing her newly learned methodologies. After being shy and afraid of participating in class as a child, it was important to Yolanda that her students feel comfortable to speak out in class and that they know how to use their voice in an empowering way that supports their learning. This is also a competency called vocal empowerment, a cornerstone in MAIA’s education that is integrated in every level of instruction, with the goal that Girl Pioneers use their voice to express themselves in a healthy way. Yolanda welcomes students to the board to present their different approaches to math problems and opens a dialogue with the rest of the classroom to discuss different methods.
The journey of an educator at the MAIA Impact School is ongoing. Yolanda and her peers continue to receive professional development workshops and have weekly meetings with their content coaches. Earlier this year, Yolanda presented at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the largest gathering of math educators in North America. This once-shy, quiet student has become a leader in mathematics and presented her paper on “Global Lessons from Rural Guatemala on the Empowerment of Women and Girls through Mathematics” at the conference. Our goal at the MAIA Impact School is to continue growing and innovating, and educators are leading the path in reinventing education in rural Guatemala.
MAIA educators are indigenous women who come from the same communities as the Girl Pioneers. Educators are role models to the students at the Impact School, showing them that indigenous women from rural areas have the potential to become leaders and to create change in their communities. At MAIA, we believe that empowering local female educators is the key to unlocking the potential of Girl Pioneers to have opportunities and a choice-filled life.