Seeing students walk through the door after the first period bell rings, Gabriela Pena gets a burst of energy to do all that she can to make the day successful in her classroom.
“Their enthusiasm is infectious,” said Pena. “I see my students walk through the door in the morning and get excited. It’s a reminder that no matter what I’m here to help the kids.”
Pena is an Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 teacher at Harlingen High School, and for the past ten years she has used that enthusiasm to create lessons that develop a love of math in every student. It’s a feeling she’s had since a young age as she recalls playing “classroom” with her cousins and always taking on the role of the teacher, she said.
Turning her passion into a reality right out of college, Pena has learned to be a chameleon in the classroom to meet the needs of her students, she said. One day they may get her goofy and the next her detail orientated persona, but either way it’s to help students understand the day’s lesson.
“You have take it day-by-day and assess what you need to be as a teacher,” said Pena. “I’ve had students come to make-up work during a different class period, and they will tell me that I’m not the same teacher I was earlier in the day. Every day is a surprise.”
Understanding students’ needs has also led her to create video versions of some of her lessons so that students have the opportunity to receive assistance while at home. She’s seen a positive response from her students as they’ve frequently attributed the videos to helping them comprehend lessons, and for students that may have missed the day’s lessons; they find it easier to catch on.
With her efforts she hopes that her students know that she won’t give up on them until they succeed in whatever they do.
“We are a family, and they are my children,” said Pena. “I want what is best for them, and for them to love whatever they do in life.”
Continuing to spread her love of math outside of her classroom hours, Pena is also a University Interscholastic League (UIL) mathematics, number sense and calculator sponsor. Preparing for meets includes practicing with her students for hours after school, and going above and beyond to open her doors during scheduled vacations for additional sessions.
She’s more than happy to do all that she can for her students, and looks forward to the stories she hears from her former students about their success in life.
“I’ll have present and former students come up to me and tell me about how well they are doing,” said Pena. “It’s always a surprise that they remember me or what we did in class, but it’s a great feeling the moment you hear that they were able to help someone else in their college math class because of what we did.”