Podcast: Lessons in Language and Loss with Angelica Moreno

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Photo: Angelica Moreno has been a teacher for 26 years, and although she was planning to retire soon, she has recently realized that she is not quite ready to leave the classroom.

Welcome back to Teachers in America. Our guest today is Angelica Moreno, a kindergarten teacher at Dr. Sue Shook Elementary School in El Paso, Texas. Recently, her school lost a teacher to COVID-19, and Angelica and Noelle talk about everything from student trauma to the dual-language program at her school.

A full transcript of the episode appears below; it has been edited for clarity.

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Lish Mitchell: Welcome to Teachers in America, a production of HMH, hosted by our Senior Director of Community Engagement, Noelle Morris. I'm Lish Mitchell.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! To mark the occasion, we’ve invited kindergarten teacher Angelica Moreno to join us on the podcast.

Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Angelica moved to El Paso, Texas at age seven. There, she entered the Socorro Independent School District to study English. She received her bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with Early Childhood and Bilingual certifications from the University of Texas, after which she began her career as an educator. A veteran teacher of 26 years, Angelica now teaches Spanish at the Dual Language Academy at Dr. Sue Shook Elementary—the same school district where she learned English as a child. Her hope is to bring comfort and understanding to students struggling to learn a second language, and provide a reminder that their culture and family will always be important, wherever they go.

In this episode, we cover the reaction of a school district that lost a teacher to COVID-19, student trauma in the wake of the El Paso mass shooting, and ways that educators can best support bilingual families.

Now, here are Noelle and Angelica.

Noelle Morris: How are you, Miss Moreno? So glad to see you. Thank you for being here. How was you your day?

Angelica Moreno: It was great. It was excellent. I was so looking forward to being here with you guys. I'm excited.

Noelle: I've been anxiously waiting to talk with you as well, because I know when we first met, just for introductions, I was saying your name, An-gel-ica, and then I heard you said your first name, An-hel-ica. I've been practicing. Share with everyone your full name, because your pronunciation is still going to be much prettier than mine.

Angelica: Of course, my name in Angelica Moreno. Just like you, I've had other people have trouble pronouncing my name. There was a time that my name changed from Angelica to Angie, because [people] would have trouble pronouncing it. Somebody just started calling me Angie. So I thought, you know what? I'll start introducing myself as Angie, and I don't have to put them through the trouble or the stress of, "Oh my God, I'm not pronouncing it right. Let me try. Let me practice." I thank you; I thank you. You definitely are doing a very good job in pronouncing it.

Noelle: Well, thank you. I know that's just so important. What I hear you also saying is what we hear from a lot of students and teachers: the decision to shorten your name or change it for the ease of others versus asking others to put in that work and effort. Your smile—I want everyone to see your smile. It just warms my heart. I think that your smile is also one of the reasons why you would easily be recognized as a kindergarten teacher. Tell our listeners why kindergarten and how you got into teaching.

Angelica: My mom was a teacher. Another thing that I need to share with you is that I'm the youngest of 11.

Noelle: Wow.

Angelica: Yes.

Noelle: You didn't tell me that when we first met.

Angelica: I am the youngest of 11, so I have nieces and nephews that are older than me. I was also surrounded with my nieces and nephews, but I was always surrounded by kids. It was always my job, not to entertain them…but I had somebody to play with, because my siblings were much older than me. I just thought either I'm going to be a pediatrician or I'm going to be a teacher, because I knew that it [would be] working with children, with kids. Because my mom was a teacher, sometimes there was nobody to watch me. So I ended up going to school with her a lot of times. I started first grade, because I didn't even go to kindergarten. I was five years old when I started first grade. I guess, since then, I knew that I loved working with kids, entertaining them, teaching them. If my nieces and nephews weren't around, I had my dolls, and my mom's pots and flowers in the garden, so it was just teaching.

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Dr. Sue Shook Elementary in El Paso, Texas, where Angelica teaches, is a Pre-K–5 school serving more than 1,200 students. Approximately 90% of students are Hispanic, according to the Texas Education Agency's 2019–20 School Report Card.

Noelle: Oh, it was just natural. I mean, it's definitely nature and nurture came together with you. Tell me a little bit about your story. I know that you weren't born in the United States, but have been here since you were seven?

Angelica: Yes, ma'am, yes. My mom became a teacher, and as a result of her going back to school, I have an older sister that I refer to as my mom. I call her mommy Terre, because when I was born, that's when my mom was going through school to become a teacher. We used to live in Chihuahua; I was born in Chihuahua. My dad was a farmer. He had his farm, his ranch, his cattle, his crops. I mean, that was his life. For my older brothers, that's what they grew up in. When my mom became a teacher, she got offered a job in Juarez. My mom gave my dad an alternative: I pursue this career, so I'm leaving whether you're coming with me or staying. My mom was very tough.

Anyway, we ended up moving to Juarez. I left Chihuahua when I was three. We lived in Juarez until I was seven. That's when we became residents of the United States, because my older brother worked to get that for us. He became a United Sates citizen and he was able to help us. I moved here when I seven.

Let me tell you what happened when I moved over here. When I was in Juarez, I was going to go to fourth grade, because remember I told you that I started school much younger. When we moved here, when we got to the United States, the US goes by the birthdate. So then, they look at my birthdate, my year, and they're like, "No, you belong in second grade." They brought me down to second grade. I want to call it a shock, because I thought, "But I'm going to fourth grade. Why are you bringing me down to second?" They did explain to my mom about the birthdate, the way it is in the United States. Another thing they explained to my mom was that, the younger I was, the easier it was for me to pick up English. Of course, my mom—having that in mind was one of the reasons why we moved to the United States to begin with—she loved the idea. But I was miserable.

Noelle: I want to talk about that a little bit, because I could see from the age perspective, I would almost guess as a mom myself, if you're a mom and you're looking at you, and then a fourth grader, visibly noticing age difference. But you, probably having nieces, nephews, siblings that are adults, you probably didn't see a big difference in yourself besides age. I'm guessing you were like, "I got this."

Angelica: Yes.

Noelle: Did you have some behaviors or something where you feel like you regressed? How do you remember coping with that decision?

Angelica: Well, to begin with, of course, I didn't speak a word of English. My only language was Spanish. We moved here in October, so the year had already started. The only classroom that had a slot was in a monolingual, which was in all English. My teacher did not speak a word of Spanish, and I did not speak a word of English. Guess what I would do? I would get sick. My stomach would “hurt.” I had my brother, he was in the sixth grade. We were in the same school. He would tell me, "Okay, I'll meet you here for the bus." I would say, "No, not today." I already had my plans that I was going to get sick.

My mom, like I mentioned to you before, she was a teacher. In Mexico, they have two time slots, one in the morning from 8:00 to 1:00, and then they have an afternoon, which is from 1:00 to 5:00, something like that. Well, my mom used to work on the second shift. I knew my mom would leave home by 11:30ish, so I knew I had to get sick before 11:30. Well, guess what happened to me a couple of times? My mom ended up leaving early, so they had to call my dad. He had to get off work, because of course I was very sick. Well, it happened to me one time. The second time, my mom found out.

Noelle: Oh-oh.

Angelica: Because, if my dad had to go pick me up, of course he couldn't go back to work. This is when strong mom finally told me, and I'm going to tell you in Spanish, because she spoke only Spanish, "Aunques este muriendo." "Even if you're dying, you're staying at school."

Noelle: Okay, everyone, I'm pretty sure, has heard that at least one time from a parent or a caregiver.

Angelica: I said, "Okay. Angelica, you're just going to have to stay." You know what? Even though it started like that, I still remember that teacher, because by then end of second grade, we ended up bonding, whether it was with science with the very little English that I picked up, the little Spanish that she picked up. There were two students that to this day I can still see their faces, their names, because they knew Spanish. They were my saviors. They were my interpreters. To this day, I am still grateful for them, because thanks to them, I was able to communicate to my second grade teacher.

Because I had already done first, second, and third math in Mexico, I already knew how to multiply. My math that I brought over was so high that, during my math block, they would send me to a fourth grade classroom. To me, it was something very positive. I would look forward to math, because that was my time to shine. Throughout the day, I had to be there quiet, because trying to take as much of the English instruction, that I could. During math, it was my time to shine. Because math, numbers are numbers in English or in Spanish. To me, it was my moment to shine. I loved it. To this day, math is my favorite subject.

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Angelica teaches Spanish in the Dual Language Academy at her school.

Noelle: I think what you just described, too, is at a young age a child can recognize their strengths. It's only going to amplify and strengthen, and become more of an empowerment if adults around them, teachers around them, recognize that and offer opportunities. Do you recall that initial moment that you and your teacher had a moment where you both understood each other?

Angelica: You know what? I just remember her smile that told me, you're not reason why we can't talk to each other. It's just a barrier of the language. You know what? I think she also knew that, because I also remember that when we got to the unit or to the theme of fairytales, we did the play of Caperucita Roja, Little Red Riding Hood. She let me be Little Red Riding Hood, and it was in Spanish. To me, the fact that she didn't know Spanish, it was acknowledging my language to me, my value.

Like I tell you, I still remember her embracing my culture instead of setting me aside, instead of ignoring it. And the fact that my mom was a teacher, with those experiences that I had, going back to your question about me becoming a teacher, then that was another reason why I wanted to get my bilingual certification. Because, I thought, you know what? I want to be that teacher that is able to help those students that don't speak the English language, that I can value their native language, even though they're trying to learn a second language.

Noelle: Were you parents bilingual? You moved to El Paso. I guess we definitely need to let our guests know that you live in El Paso. Is that where you all moved and you've been there since?

Angelica: Yes. We moved to El Paso, and I've been here since then. We moved when I was seven. I did finish elementary, middle school, high school, and I got my bachelor's at UT. Yes, unfortunately my parents never learned English. My mom continued being a teacher in Juarez, so she would cross the border every day. She continued being a teacher until she finally decided to retire after 30-something, years. But no, they never learned it. They also started relying on us being the translators for them. Because, I remember them giving me the mail, and either to me or my older siblings, "Okay, read it to me." “Léemelo.”

Noelle: Miss Moreno, when you think about who you are, what you bring into the kindergarten classroom, the standards, the interpersonal skills that you are teaching the youngest learners…what about yourself, in kindness, generosity, and gratitude, how do you introduce that to kindergartners who first come in and are just learning friends for the first time outside of their play dates or who's been in their tight family circle?

Angelica: I usually start by, first of all, greeting them as they come into my classroom when they were able to come in. I still do it now that we're online. I always begin my day by greeting each individual student. A smile, smiling to them. Again, going back to the teacher that I share with you, her smile kept me going.

Asking about their day, greeting them, I think that's something that has been hard for me now in this situation. Before we tell them, "Are you going to do a handshake? Are you going to give me a hug? How are you going to say hello to me?" I'm glad to say that a lot of them chose a hug, because I think I am a hugger. Now, it's been very hard for me. I only have six students in my class that are here for face-to-face. That has been hard for me, not being able to give them a hug. It's been very hard. I think making that connection just on a personal note, greeting them by their name, saying good morning, "Buenas dias," "Buenas tardes." It's amazing how those students that didn't speak a word of Spanish, they can have that, at least that greeting, in Spanish with me.

Noelle: I know how important it is for greetings in any culture. I also know, Ms. Moreno, that you are a school that has been impacted COVID. Personally, you lost a teacher to COVID, a teacher who had a YouTube video that went viral on greetings. If you don't mind, I would really like to talk to you about how that has felt, what have you all done as a school community to grieve? If you don't mind sharing, because I know that could be a hard conversation.

Angelica: The way we got affected was the fact that not all of us came back. When we shut down school back in March, first of all, back then we all thought it'll be over, we'll be back soon. It's a year and here we are. I think that's what has been the hardest. She did, based on that video that she shared that got millions and millions of views, and unfortunately after her passing, it keeps growing. The video…her thing was kindness, promoting kindness. To her, she felt it important that, as part of the greeting, it was her message of telling the kids, there's somebody here that loves you, you're here, it's going to be a great day. It was just promoting the kindness. I think, even though she's no longer with us, I think that message of kindness has gone all over the world.

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Angelica teaches in the same classroom as Ms. Zelene Blancas, who posted a viral video that she recorded just outside the door.

Noelle: I know that you were new to the school. You may have only had a year or two with her. Is there anything else that you think about now because you knew her, and as a faculty, that you all started to do?

Angelica: As a matter of fact, this classroom that I'm in right now, this used to be her classroom. When they recorded that video, it was right here outside my door. It was here. It was in the video; it shows room 500. We are a very big campus. It is an elementary, but it's almost as big as a high school. That's how big it is. We are such a big campus that something that I regret is not having more time to have interacted more with her. She was a first grade teacher. I was kinder. I was on one side of the hallway. She was on another side of the hallway.

After that August 3rd, it was most like Hispanics were the target. It is scary. That's why she started doing that. As teachers, we had to make kids know that it's okay if you don't feel safe at home for whatever situation is happening at home. Here, in the classroom, you're safe. That was something she wanted her kids to take home. "You know what? I'll be here waiting for you. We'll be here waiting for you. Just take this hug, and tomorrow we'll receive you, and we'll welcome you with another hug."

Noelle: You mentioned August 3rd...that was the day of the shooting at the Walmart in El Paso. Are you or your school at near that Walmart?

Angelica: The Walmart where it happened, it is not in our school community. It is a little bit further. But it's like everything, you do find out from people that, "Oh yeah, my aunt was there." As a matter of fact, a teacher that's also part of the dual language, her husband was affected because he was one of the ones that got hurt. Even though we're so far away from New York, from the 9/11, I can tell you that, as it was happening, I have it very vivid. I remember, my boys were little. I was dropping them off in daycare. I remember getting there and the daycare opening the house, and it was when the first airplane had hit. That same feeling that I remember getting home, being thankful that I was home, that I got to hug my kids, my husband. You know what? On that August 3rd, it was the same feeling.

We were at a training, at a dual language training, when we started noticing our administration, the supervisors, on their phones. We started noticing, even though they tried continuing with the training, we knew something was happening. Sure enough, social media, people started getting messages, because I don't know if they were threatening that it was going to happen in all the Walmarts, that they were targeting Hispanics.

Noelle: I think this is important, because so much is happening to so many demographics, and 2020 has not been an easy year. As a faculty, Miss Moreno, with your students, I say students but they're children, would this have been something that you would have heard them say and the fear that it was a specific target on people, the culture, the ethnicity? As a teacher, were you supported in how you would work with students who might experiencing trauma?

Angelica: Yes. Yes. You know what? Our district is very good about providing that support to us as teachers and to our parents. When that incident happened, it was... Like I said, we were at a training. They sent us home. Coming back to school, you know what? It was very sad to hear five-year-olds, I don't think they knew who the targets were, but it was very sad to just hear them talking about, "Did you hear what happened? Did you hear about the shooting? Did you hear? We're not going to go to Walmart anymore." It was hard trying to not think about it, and okay, let's get back to school. Because, it gets to where there's some parents that tell them more than others, because you would hear different comments. "Oh, my mom said this." "Oh, and I heard this." I mean, just trying to make them feel safe here, and trying to make them feel that, I mean, that there are mean people. Even though there are mean people, not everybody is mean. I mean, that there is still a lot of people that are kind, that love them, that are going to protect them.

Of course, here at school, me as a teacher, that was something that I was going to do. You know what? I think, having lockdowns before August 3rd, we heard of other places where they had incidents. Here, in El Paso, I don't think we've ever had anything like it. I think, after August 3rd, practicing lockdowns are more real, because now we know that it could happen, that it doesn't happen just in other places. Now, it can happen. It happened already in El Paso, and it can happen again. I think now they do get scared every time we have a lockdown. Even though they announce it as a drill, it's a drill, it's practice, I think a lot of times, it comes to their mind. They wonder, is it going to be something like that? Even though they were four years old, I think some of them still remember.

Noelle: Hey listeners, if you need another podcast to keep you up to date on the world of education, check out Shaping the FutureTM. My friend and colleague Matthew Mugo Fields sits down with industry experts to discuss how education and innovation can change the world. Subscribe to Shaping the Future on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Now, let's get back to the episode.

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The photos clipped from this plaque represent the icons that Ms. Blancas had outside of her door. The students would use them to select how they wanted to be greeted or dismissed that day – a hug, a handshake, a high five, or a fist bump.

Noelle: Do you think that there's still children that sometimes have to translate for their parents or their caregivers? I say that because I'm thinking with COVID, and with regulations, and policy, that's a challenging lift. I'm curious, as educators, you're thinking about it, and how do you support even more, based on what you experienced as a child as well.

Angelica: We had to change that in our program, because the way our program is going to work is if we're faithful to our language. The way it was, last year before COVID, in the Spanish component classroom, you would only hear Spanish. Because, this year, we do have another part of our program, which is they have a bilingual partner. If they were in my Spanish class, they had a bilingual partner that was very fluent in English that could help and support each other. Same thing when they were in the English class.

Now that they're at home, we're not able to do those bilingual partners. Their bilingual partners, I call them teacher at home, whether it's grandma, whether it's big sister, whether it's a mom, dad, a daycare giver, or sometimes they're by themselves. That, in our program, had to change in that sense, because I do have some students that don't speak Spanish. I had to provide that support for the parents. Because, they would look at me like, “I don't know what to do.” I have some kids that are with grandma that they don't speak English or vice versa. I think both in my class, as a Spanish component, I've had to resort to giving instructions in English for the support. I think my partner, she's having to do the same. For those grandparents that don't speak English, she's having to speak to them in Spanish. They're me at home.

Noelle: Okay, so the bilingual education and some of the strategies and approaches, are definitely extending out of your four walls. It'll be interesting what you and your colleague, your counterpart, reflect on at the end of this as to maybe how some of that has strengthened and supported. It's not an adaptation that doesn't have to go back to the way it was, but maybe now you're going to think about how you keep going with some of that, thinking about the family structure and how that can support you even more.

Angelica: You know what? We've had very positive comments from parents. Those parents that don't speak Spanish, they said that they love listening whenever they have a chance, because they're learning Spanish themselves. I'm sure, like you said, I'm sure parents that don't speak English, as they're sitting there with their grandson, their grandchild, they're learning English. I guess that’s something that my parents didn't have the opportunity to do, and maybe they would've picked up English if something like this would have happened.

Noelle: What are you noticing, Angelica, about when students are with you and their language development? The time that I spent in Puerto Rico, I would have been a language learner. The cognitive load… I would come home exhausted just trying to comprehend, watch body language, and I relied so much on the facial expression to help me with understanding what words I was hearing and then make meaning. I'm a four-year-old, I'm a five-year-old, I'm wearing a mask, how are you adapting with that?

Angelica: It has been a challenge. I'm going to be very honest, we have our face masks, we have our shields, students have shields, that our classroom looks totally different. For our phonics, we do have a mask that's open for the mouth.

Noelle: Really?

Angelica: It is not the best. It is not the best, because, like you say, in kinder, they're learning, they're matching the sound to the letter. It is very hard. I'm like you, I say a lot with my hands, with my facial expressions. I feel, as a language learner, you need all that. You need all that. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Whenever I'm doing the phonics, I do stay here in my desk. Students are in their desk. We're dong the social distancing. I do take it off at least for that. That's the only time, because I do think it's important. Especially the ones at home, they're looking at me through this screen. At least here, it's a little bit more. But the ones that are home, it's hard. That has been challenging. That has been very challenging.

Let me tell you something about COVID. I think it has been challenging, but I think we've all learned, and I think we've gotten a lot of positive out of it. I mean, I share with you about grandparents, about even parents having to learn technology, having to learn the programs that we use, the academic vocabulary. I think that has been positive. Like I was mentioning to you, I have a lot of students that are at home with grandma, with daycare givers, and even parents that it's made them more aware of the programs that we use. Having to learn technology, as a teacher, I think I've learned more technology, because I didn't grow up with technology. Technology, sometimes it's challenging for me. I think that has been a positive. I've had to learn it as a teacher. We've had to be creative. Okay, they're not here in front of me, I can't just give them the manipulatives. What can I do? How can I improvise? What can use? I have to think, "Okay, what do I think students have at home?" I think that in itself has been positive.

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Adjusting to the pandemic hasn't been all bad; some parents are listening in on their students' virtual language lessons to add to their own understanding of English or Spanish.

Noelle: I would like to talk about and get your perspective on what happened last year when school didn't close. There was this temporary interruption and you had to adjust. What you learned then and how you have maintained that learning and continue to support your parents and students today.

Angelica: Last year, when we were hit with the pandemic, we had to find a different way of delivering our lessons to our students. The district chose a platform which most of our lessons were on that platform. It wasn't live. It was just we would create lessons and we would share them with the students through that platform. We were all learning the process. That's how we ended last year.

Noelle: You were asynchronous, then, last year.

Angelica: Yes.

Noelle: Describe to me and our listeners, did you have a piercing in your heart? Because, I think that's probably what I know I would have felt. What do you mean I can't be in front of and be with my students? How did you feel emotionally?

Angelica: We had been with them for three marking periods. It happened right after spring break when the schools were temporarily closed, or back then we thought it was temporarily closed, but we had been with them most of the year. And then all of sudden it ended, they would ask me, "What is it that you missed the most?" I would miss seeing them. I missed hugging them. Listening to their stories, because they all had stories to share, and their jokes.

Back then, I'm going to be very honest with you, I would tell everybody, whoever would ask me, "How have you felt this?" You know what? Something that I would say, because I am close to retiring, I think I have about a year and a half or two to go, last year I would say, "This pandemic has proved to me that I'm not ready to retire." Because, I've learned and I realize how much I miss the kids, how much I miss being with the kids, having the kids in front of me, listening to them, teaching them. I did miss them. I think we all did.

As teachers, we also miss the camaraderie with the teachers, the school environment. Because, as teachers, school is our life. I mean, this is where we spend of our day. And then, we go home and we continue working. Weekends, we continue planning.

Noelle: I know. Angelica, have you ever been told by your family to stop talking in your teacher voice?

Angelica: Yes.

Noelle: Oh, okay. It happens to me, even still. It's just, you can't shake it.

Angelica: No. You know what? In our conversations, my husband is also in the district. Sometimes, we say, "Okay, we're not going to talk about work," but then that's most of my day, so that's part of my life. That's my life. That is my life. I spend more time here in my classroom than I do at home. But yes. It got to the point, when my daughter was younger, and even when my boys were younger too, they wanted to say something and they knew that if they raised their hand, I would call on them and I would listen to them. But yes, I think as teachers, yes.

Noelle: I remember, when I first started teaching and getting used to hearing my name said so many times, that when I would initially get home or go home and visit my mother for the weekend, and I would just get to a place where I would tune everything out. She would be calling me. She's like, "Don't you hear me?" I'm just like, "I'm so sorry. I'm decompressing. I can't handle my name being said one more time." I'm curious, have you ever had that moment too? It's almost like you're overstimulated.

Angelica: Yes. Yes. It happens all the time. It's like one of those examples like when you are a mom, you hear mom and you automatically turn. It's the same thing. As teachers, it’s like that. You know what? When you mention about the voice, I remember last year, like I said, that we were creating our lessons and then sharing them. Well I started recording myself. Because I thought, okay, my kindergartners cannot read. So I started recording my voice. I remember my daughter would listen to me, and she says, "You sound so much like a teacher." I'm like, "Well, I am a teacher. That's why I sound like that." I want to sound like a teacher.

I want my kids to feel that, even though they're at home, I'm still there with them and I'm still teaching them. Even though I'm not physically there, I just felt that by me recording my voice, first of all, that was making it easier for them, because I knew some kids, their parents weren't there to read it to them or do it with them. I figured, if I record myself with the instructions and whatever I'm teaching them, delivering my lesson just through my voice, I thought, "You know what? At least that's going to make them feel that they're still with me or that I'm there with them." But yes, I was using my teacher voice.

Noelle: I'm sure, if they were with you for three marking periods, they're also hearing your voice and they're remembering and thinking back to their classroom, because they loved that. Angelica, you didn't have closure, and this school year you started virtually. How did you welcome in kindergartners virtually?

Angelica: You know what? It was very hard. You know why? We have some students that they didn't go to Pre-K. This is their first experience in a school, even though they're not physically in a classroom, in a school. When I heard that I had some students that didn't go to Pre-K, the parents shared that with us, that broke my heart, because I thought...I mean, I'm trying my best to give them a very good experience, but I thought, they're not in a building. They're not in a classroom environment. To them, to those students that this is their first year in school, this is what they know. They're just seeing a teacher. To them, school is, I sit in front of a computer and I have this lady talking to me.

I guess, last year, it was the other way around, where we knew them. We missed not having the closure. This year, it hurts as much because we've seen them a couple of times. There's been a couple of times where we asked the principal...For Christmas, we thought, we just need to meet them. We asked for permission if we could have a drive-by. Just seeing their faces, I got home and I felt that I was complete. You know what? Another thing that was, it's amazing how the personal connection is so important, the seeing eye-to-eye. You know what? When I see them on the screen, because they're so close to the screen, to me they look so big. When I saw them inside their vehicle, you see this little tiny body. I'm like, "Oh my God, they're so tiny."

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Angelica took inspiration from her mom, who was also a teacher. Because of her, Angelica always knew that she wanted to work with kids.

Noelle: Oh, the sweetness.

Angelica: I didn't tell them that, because I know they want to hear that they're big, because they're in kindergarten. I was just like, "Oh my God.” It just made me realize that they're still very tiny, even though here on the screen they look bigger. Because we expect them to sit down in front of the screen and to be good listeners. It also made me realize, you know what, Angelica? They're five years old.

Noelle: Let's say it's Friday, you're going home, what's for dinner?

Angelica: Well, in my culture, it's Lent. I'm going to tell you what I want to eat today. I don't know if I'll get to make everything, but I'm going to make capirotada. I love lentejas. I don't know if you know what chacales are. Do you know what any of those three things are?

Noelle: I'm thinking the last one is something chocolate.

Angelica: No.

Noelle: But I don't know. I'm phonetically hearing chocolate, but I think it might be because I want some chocolate.

Angelica: Let me tell you what capirotada is. Capirotada is it's like a sweet, it's like a dessert. It's a traditional food for Lent in Mexico. What it is, it's bread and it's sweet. It's sugar. You can add peanuts. I mean, that's one of my favorite foods from Lent. And then lentejas, that's lentils. I just boil them. And then, I remember my mom used to put a little bit of onion, tomatoes, cilantro, just to give it a little bit more flavor. It's funny because earlier I sent a text message to my son, and I said... because, you know what? I lost both my parents. I was just telling him I miss them always. They're always in my mind and my thoughts. For some reason during Lent, I miss them more. Because, my mom would cook a big pot of capirotada. My father could finish it in a day or two. It was his favorite food. And then, chacales, the one that I was telling you that is the third item. That's actually dried corn.

Noelle: Totally not chocolate.

Angelica: No. It's like a soup. It's like a soup and it's dried corn. Of course, you also boil it. My mom used to put some red chile, which was spicy. And yes, another tradition is seafood. I'm not a seafood person, so to me, I was happy with the lentils and the chacales, and of course the capirotada is the dessert. It was funny, because I sent a text to my son, and even my eyes got teary, because I tell him, I said, "In Lent my mom and my dad are with me, and I just remember them because I think of the food."

Noelle: You'll have to send me some pictures. Send our podcast team some pictures. We always love to see and have those connections. I am grounded in the belief that every teacher deserves the reminder of how necessary, how valuable, and how awesome they are. I ask every teacher, what's your walk up song? When you're having these moments, and you're pumped up, and you're so excited, if you're getting called to the stage, what's your walk up song?

Angelica: You know what? The song from...Oh my God, I can't think of the name. It's from the movie Trolls.

Noelle: "Can't Stop This Feeling."

Angelica: Yes.

Noelle: ...by Justin Timberlake.

Angelica: Yes. I love it, because to me, I guess the video, his video, comes to my mind. I might not be the great dancer, but I just love to dance. That's what I love doing with my kids. I just hear that song, and I love it. Probably because of the video, and because I think my dad and my mom, they loved to dance. I think I inherited that.

Noelle: The feeling, the aura, the love, everything that you bring to teaching is stemming from the moment your mom decided she was going to be a teacher and she was going to make this move. At seven, she knew she could bring you to a new place, a new opportunity, and the language would come. I am just thrilled that I've had this time with you and that our listeners had this time with you. Please, if there's anything that I can ever do for you, or you want to just reach out, and you have a new friend. I appreciate you, Miss Moreno, so much.

Angelica: Thank you, so much. You brought tears to my eyes. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I just love the way you ended it. You put everything together. The bottom line is, thanks to my mom, I'm here, because she was a great role model. Thanks to her perseverance of, like you said, her goals were for us to come and to be successful. This is where I am, and I love being here.

Noelle: I'm a better person, because now I know you. I look forward to the next time, because there will be a next time.

Angelica: Thank you so much.

Noelle: Thank you so much.

Angelica: Thank you, thank you.

Noelle: Thank you. Thank you.

Hey listeners! Angelica is just another wonderful, gifted teacher that I am so proud and excited and thrilled that I had the pleasure of meeting. My biggest takeaway is thinking about teacher appreciation. Angelica’s voice is all about her gratitude and her appreciation for others. I want to say, I hope she appreciates herself. I hope you appreciate you. And as we think about this week, and you're being celebrated, and emails are coming your way, and thank you's and virtual hugs, soak it all in. Smile at someone across the hall, wave, shout through your mask, “You know what? This is a good week.” Until next time, your friend, Noelle.

Lish: If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on the Teachers in America podcast, please email us at shaped@hmhco.com. Be the first to hear new episodes of Teachers in America, by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you enjoy today's show, please rate, review, and share it with your network. You can find the transcript of this episode on our Shaped blog by visiting hmhco.com/shaped. The link is in the show notes. Teachers in America is produced by HMH. Thanks again for listening.

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