Looking for a job, Young Scholar’s educator found a career

March 4, 2019

FORT MOHAVE — Monica Rodriguez was a single mom, looking for a job.

She found a home and a calling.

Rodriguez took a teacher’s aide position at Young Scholar’s Academy, which grew her love for working with children. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Northern Arizona University and now teaches second grade at the school.

“This is where I belong,” she said.

Working as an aide in various classrooms, Rodriguez said, exposed her to a variety of teaching styles, and she has blended them into her own.

She said former YSA teacher ReNee Leonard in particular inspired her to become a teacher.

“Every time she did her lessons, the ways she grabbed the kids’ attention ... I wanted to be like her.”

Rodriguez said she has growth as a goal, for both her students and herself.

“I want them to do better every day,” she said. “I want to do better for them.”

She said she hopes to help her students build up their writing skills, because in third grade they’ll be given more complicated writing assignments; she uses art toward that end.

Many projects, such as a set of decorated robots at the back of her classroom, have writing and art components.

“I show them the craft and tell them they have to do the writing first,” Rodriguez said. “They actually get excited about writing, because they can’t wait to do the craft.”

She said she encourages her students to use their imagination in writing.

“I have a lot of very reluctant writers,” she said. “My goal is to get them to love writing, or at least not hate it.”

Lola Gambrell loves writing. She said the best thing about being in Rodriguez’s class is that there are two writing exercises a week.

She said she also likes that Rodriguez lets students choose their own reading books.

Lola and Noah Mendoza both said Rodriguez is a good teacher.

“I feel like she gives second chances,” Lola said, “and she answers everybody’s questions if they raise their hands.”

In January, the class did a penguin unit that culminated with an assignment for each child to study a species of penguin, write a report on it and create a diorama at home.

Rodriguez said her overall goal is to have the students ready to start third grade without risk of struggling. She also hopes to instill in them a love of learning.

A recent class project proved rewarding for Rodriguez. Near Valentine’s Day, she had her students cut out paper hearts and asked them to write about something they love on them.

Those writings included “I love my class because it’s where I learn,” “I love my class because my teacher is so nice,” “I love my class because I have the best teatcher (sic) ever” and “I love this class because we do lots of fun stuff.”

“It means the world to me,” Rodriguez said. “It’s very encouraging.”

She uses a smartphone app to keep parents updated on their children’s behavior. Every time a student gets a “dojo point” for good behavior or a demerit for not making the right choices, the parent’s phone pings.

“When kids go home with five points, they know they had a good day,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, born in Mexico, has taught the second-graders a few phrases in Spanish. She also uses music a lot in her teaching, and sends the children home each day with a song whose most common line is “we had a happy day.”

Rodriguez said that the most rewarding part of being a teacher is being involved in the students’ lives.

“We have super, special, wonderful kids,” she said. “Even the ones that are a little difficult now and then, I still love them.”

Rodriguez said Young Scholar’s was a great place to start and is a great place to teach. She described a supportive network of parents and peers who are always willing to help.

“In school, when I had a question, I could go to my teacher friends,” she said.

Tonnie Smith, director at Young Scholar’s Academy, said Rodriguez has inherited that spirit.

“I could literally ask anything of her and she would make it happen,” Smith said. “She is truly an amazing educator.”

Rodriguez said she is the first member of her family to graduate from college and is still awed by her progress.

“There are times when I’m up here and think ‘I can’t believe I’m a teacher,’ ” Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t even feel like a job.”