Being a teacher is a full time responsibility, but that doesn’t deter Ms. Cara Monaco from wearing many hats and taking on other tasks. Ms. Monaco is an English teacher, the SAGE Director and currently a graduate student working towards her masters in Literacy, Birth to Grade 12. She aspires to work with students of all ages. She is part of the group responsible for bringing the SAGE program to Oracle Charter School.
Q: What has the teaching experience been like so far?
It’s making me work extremely hard, and it develops my work ethic. I’m learning every day; it probably makes me more of a learner than anything else and I’ve definitely become more of learner in this experience than I have ever been in my life. The cool thing about working at Oracle Charter School is you work with students who are different from you and have different experiences. There is so much to learn from each other, which I think is pretty cool.
Q: How important do you think it is for high school students to have a teacher as a role model, and why?
It is extremely important. We impact students in so many ways we don’t even realize, and you’ll have former students that will come back to you a couple of years later that’ll thank you for something you did, which you didn’t realize had such a big impact. There’s that saying, ‘be the change that you want to see in the world,’ so we have the responsibility to behave in a manner, or to act in a way that is showing students how to be productive members of the community and of society, how to function, and how to deal with things. Our job scope goes beyond instruction. You have to be a mentor, a friend, a mom, you have to wear all these different hats and you have to do it in a purposeful way. You have to do it knowing about that responsibility because you don’t know if your actions or your behavior is going to impact a student in a positive way or in a negative way, and when that is going to come back around to you. It could be tomorrow or it could be two years from now. It’s not easy, it is very difficult. Buttons get pushed frequently, but it is extremely important.
Q: What are some valuable qualities you think someone needs to be a teacher?
I think a sense of humor is a must. We all have different types of sense of humor, not everyone has to be laugh out loud funny. I think I’m very funny and I bet you a lot of people don’t think I’m so funny, but I think you need to find humor in things. It’s a great coping skill. You definitely need to be able to work hard, collaborate, and work with other people. If you can’t see somebody else’s point of view, whether it’s a students or colleagues, things aren’t going to go anywhere. What’s your purpose if you can’t move forward in whatever you’re doing? We are required to work with so many people in so many different ways that you have to be willing to collaborate. I think you need to be thoughtful, thorough, and considerate of people, of what you’re doing and why you are doing it. I think those are a must.
Q: In your opinion, what are the most compelling challenges with today’s education system?
Testing. That is probably the biggest challenge. I think we’re not valuing students as human beings enough. Not every student can pass multiple choice tests. That doesn’t mean they’re not smart or they can’t do something. It’s that they learn differently. It’s not just a Buffalo problem or a New York State problem, it’s a national problem where we’re not looking at students as individual thinkers and individual learners. We’re not taking that for what it is and using that to value what students can do. I think that pigeon holes kids and we’re not really seeing success because we’re not validating what students learn or what students are capable of because we’re too concerned about testing. Teachers get stressed, and if teachers get stressed, instruction isn’t as great as it can be. You can’t think as well when you’re stressed. If we valued students as individual learners and thinkers and thrived on that, I think so many things would be different. At Oracle, we value students as individual thinkers but we also emphasize on testing. I think the balance needs to be worked on so we can solve the problem rather than succumb to it.
Q: What makes your teaching style unique?
I do sing a lot, and I have an awful singing voice. I haven’t always done that, but this year it’s a bit sillier and it gets the students moving. I’m loud, I talk with my hands, and I’m very energetic when I’m doing my job. I try to make light of things, and be funny and goofy. I try to have a sense of humor about lots of things.
Remember to check every Thursday for the “In the Spotlight” series, which features interviews with teachers, students and staff about their role at Oracle Charter High School.