Teacher of the Issue: Mares shows interconnected curriculum drives success
March 30, 2022
Having a dual cultural identity is something many Coppell High School students and staff can connect with, including CHS AP Spanish IV teacher Eligio Mares. As the youngest of four siblings and one of the younger two born on United States soil, Mares had trouble finding his Mexican heritage represented in his education growing up in Decatur, which is why he aims to bring his AP students a more holistic view on both culture and education. Mares was selected by The Sidekick staff as its Teacher of the Issue.
Why did you choose to teach Spanish?
I wanted to study psychology. I knew that you had to declare two degrees, a major and then a minor. I was very fortunate that my Midwestern State University advisor, Dr. Cuevas said, “ I think you should do Spanish,” because as she said, my informal casual Spanish was not going to be good enough for the professional world if I were to become a psychologist, or whatever I wanted to become. It was the greatest thing that I had ever done because it allowed me to be connected, not just on the language level, but on my parents’ cultural level.
How does your background influence your teaching?
It helped me embrace both of my cultural identities. At that time, there was a significant gap between minority and majority, and in schools, my home culture, my parents’ Mexican background, was not really addressed in the curriculum on a consistent basis. Doing a Spanish degree gave me that foundation of where my parents come from, why they had to immigrate to the United States, what it entailed to have to try to assimilate to the majority culture over here.
How do you think being born in the United States affected your perception of your culture?
Technically, my culture would be American because I was born here. How much of Mexican culture I actually want to embrace was a challenge because as a minority, there was an inferiority complex and my culture was viewed as a marginalized culture. Majoring in Spanish at the college level, being a more mature adult with more exposure to the world and knowing how important it is to embrace your roots really helped me again evolve as a person. I felt like I became a better student overall by embracing the Spanish side.
How does teaching make you a better person?
We’re just using Spanish to stimulate the mind further. It gives me just more awareness of all the different areas and cultures and I always tell my students that one of my goals in life was to be well exposed to the world, be well versed, and be well cultured. One of the reasons that I came to Coppell is that I felt like I didn’t have to go to the world, the world came to me because there are so many different ethnicities and backgrounds here. I think I’m intrigued by that. It helps me evolve as a person, being here as a teacher in high school.
Why did you move to Coppell from Lewisville?
I always heard about how wonderful [fellow teachers] kids’ experience was in high school and how I didn’t realize they had been so diverse and basically a melting pot here. I was deeply intrigued by that. So, when I wanted to move from elementary to secondary, I took the job in the middle of the school year because the position I wanted opened up. I jumped on it when it came open, four years ago, in the month of February. Coppell was a school district I was eyeballing very seriously.
One of the reasons that I came to Coppell is that I felt like I didn’t have to go to the world, the world came to me because there are so many different ethnicities and backgrounds here.” — Eligio Mares
One of the reasons that I came to Coppell is that I felt like I didn’t have to go to the world, the world came to me because there are so many different ethnicities and backgrounds here.”
— Eligio Mares
What makes teaching challenging?
I’m naturally curious, I want to know a little bit about everything. With teaching, I think you do have to know a little bit about every single field, especially if a student comes to me and says, “I want to do this when I grow up,” I want to have a little bit of knowledge about that area, that way I could find a way to mentor them, or coach them, or encourage them. As a teacher, you’re basically all the professions all in one. You have all different kinds of personalities in the classroom. I have to manage that and be a psychologist and understand that. But that’s also what makes it worthwhile, to understand each student on a deep level and not just assume that they wear their emotions on their sleeve. Sometimes it’s a lot deeper than what they present.
What is the funniest mistake a student has made?
False cognates, embarazado means for a woman to be pregnant, but they think it means embarrassed. That’s a common mistake. But it’s hard not to chuckle sometimes because of the completely different meaning that it has. It just kind of becomes kind of funny.
How does this school year compare to your first year at Coppell?
I understand the curriculum on a much deeper level. One of the things that I wanted to focus on this year was positive reinforcement. The service industry had taken such a big hit and there was a shortage of people helping with hotels, restaurants and anything in the service industry. I felt like in general people were very short with you just because they were struggling to stay afloat. I put that into perspective with students and what they’re going through at school. This year, I feel like in that sense of seeing the best response from students to be more motivated by using positive reinforcement. Early on, being in an AP classroom, I thought that I had to constantly challenge them. I wanted to meet somewhere in the middle and just use positive reinforcement to make sure students actually love learning Spanish and continue doing it when they go to college.
What sets you apart from other teachers?
I have had the opportunity to teach such a large range of different learning levels and backgrounds. When I was teaching elementary school students, I was working at Title I schools, which tended to be low-income families now I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum. Sometimes, I’ll do an activity that’s either hands-on or a foldable with a paper, and I had my mentor teacher that first year say, “how do you come up with this kind of stuff?” And I was like, this is an everyday thing in elementary school, they expect you to do this every day.
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