I want students from all backgrounds to feel appreciated and welcome.
“You are never going to find the right time.”
This one idea changed Rebeca Ambriz Olivera’s thoughts on pursuing a master’s in teaching.
“If you want to go back to school, just do it,” her mentor told her. “Apply, and you can just take one class each semester, but you’re going to have to do it.”
Ambriz Olivera had been stuck in a pattern of “maybe next year” since completing her bachelor’s degree in 2011 in her late 20s — and with good reason.
During Ambriz Olivera’s undergraduate studies, each morning started with a drive from Bothell to Carnation to leave her son with her sister-in-law, then a drive back to Bothell to drop her daughter off at school. A bus from the Bothell Park & Ride finally got her to classes on the UW Seattle campus. Then she reversed it all to get home.
With her husband travelling frequently for work, she still cooked, cleaned and cared for her children before ever getting to homework. But she tackled the challenge before her.
“I don’t want to be 40 and not be able to finish my degree!” Ambriz Olivera said.
However, completing her undergraduate work combined with the arrival of her third child put her plans to pursue her teaching certification on hold.
“I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t think I’m able to go back to school and do this all over again,’” she recalled.
Ambriz Olivera started working as a secretary at Sammamish High School in 2013 and later took a position as a registrar at Evergreen Middle School in Everett. While the work carried significant responsibilities, she had her sights set on being in the classroom.
“I felt that I could do more by teaching,” she said.
As an immigrant from Mexico, Spanish is Ambriz Olivera’s native language, and she’s always wanted to use it in her work. She built unique perspectives through attending high school in another country and as a first-generation college student in California. She looks forward to sharing her experiences and language with her own students.
Now, in the College of Education’s Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP), she said she’s making connections with other students of color. She values these relationships that her schedule as a wife and mother outside of college didn’t afford her earlier in her education.
So far, the program’s caucusing has impacted her the most. Each quarter, students join groups where they discuss their identities (e.g. race and gender), personal experiences, and how that plays out in the classroom. These groups provide a safe space of conversation for Ambriz Olivera and her fellow teacher candidates, something she also wants to create for her future students. One of her goals is to foster a culturally responsive classroom environment.
“I just want students from all backgrounds to feel appreciated and welcome,” she said. “I want to get to know them and I want to create my lessons based on their preferences and backgrounds. I’m excited to work with them and their parents as well.”
She ideally wants to teach higher levels of Spanish or “Spanish for Spanish speakers” classes. Her goal is to bring her literature background into the classroom, focusing on reading advanced books in addition to writing, literacy and other core requirements.
Ambriz Olivera is over halfway through the STEP program, and as she takes advantage of every opportunity for growth that she can, she has a strong support system behind her. In addition to classmates and mentors at the College, she also received the Tomorrow’s Great Teachers Today Scholarship Fund and the Washington Mutual Diversity Leader Endowed Fellowship.
“It made a big difference,” Ambriz Olivera said. “Especially when it comes to master’s programs, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for scholarships. So for students like myself with families, it’s very helpful.”
Managing her marriage, house, children and commute is a challenge, and she’s grateful for the support of her husband.
“He’s in charge of taking the kids to school and picking them up and doing homework with the kids so I can focus on my homework. Without his support, I could not be here.”
As Ambriz Olivera watches her own children grow and reflects on the challenges she’s overcome in pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher, she looks forward to the impact she can make in her future students’ lives.
“I have a deep interest in empowering students who are disadvantaged and underrepresented. I honor and respect the profession and look forward to joining the ranks of teachers that have a desire to change the world through education.”
Story by Olivia Madewell, marketing and communications student aide.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications