For Bryan Alvarez, his greatest strength as a future teacher is his empathy.
Understanding students is key to supporting them in the ways they need most. He doesn’t want to forget what it’s like to be a child, and he always wants to be there to lend a listening ear to those who need it, regardless of what mistakes they may make.
“There’s ways to be disciplinary but also have that empathetic atmosphere,” Alvarez said. “I feel it will help me a lot in building relationships with students and building that trust, being someone there if they ever need someone to confide in.”
Alvarez is working under Marty Konechne, a physical education teacher at Madison Elementary School.
“He definitely mentors me a lot, and he lets me have the freedom to learn and make mistakes, but he provides great explanations,” Alvarez said. “It provides me great knowledge for future events.”
Alvarez took what he called a “roundabout” route to his current teaching track. He attended a few different universities in an attempt to become an athletic trainer. When he was completing a practicum before starting his graduate degree, he changed his path to teaching so he could help future generations. Since the University of Minnesota didn’t have a teaching program, he decided to go to Dakota State University.
“I knew I had a passion when it came to sports and helping the youth, but I also had teachers in high school suggest, ‘Hey, you should think about being a teacher,’ because of my personality.”
They saw another strength in Alvarez: his Hispanic identity and ability to speak Spanish and English.
“I could really help out a lot of schools who lack [bilingual] teachers. That kind of lit a spark. I never saw a Hispanic teacher growing up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, so I thought it was pretty cool,” Alvarez said. “Even now with Madison Elementary, I feel like certain Hispanic students gravitate toward me when they have a question. They used to be shy and reserved, before, during activities. A lot of times it’s hard to follow the instructions of the game if you don’t know the rules in English, so I think having that benefit of being able to explain it in their language is very helpful.”
It’s not just students Alvarez wants to help with his knowledge of two languages; parents can benefit, too. Having conferences with a language barrier is challenging, after all, and connecting with parents can help both teachers and parents support students.
“I think it’s a big help within the youth,” Alvarez said. “And that’s always been the goal: help the younger generations because they’ve always been the future.”
Alvarez said he loves coming in to work every day and greeting his enthusiastic students. He didn’t expect to end up teaching elementary school, but it has provided him with a wealth of new knowledge and experience.
“So far, I’ve been loving it,” Alvarez said. “I thought I would be more interested in [teaching] the upper grades. I enjoy [the elementary] a lot and now want to do elementary. The kids are awesome, and they’re always excited to be there.”
Alvarez, who will graduate in 2023, said he hopes to do another semester of student teaching at a larger school, like one in Sioux Falls. Part of this has to do with his commute, but he also wants to gain experience in school districts of different sizes. While he enjoys the small class sizes and connections to students he’s made in Madison, he wants to learn to accommodate, regardless of school size. That’s what he aims to learn in the rest of his student teaching in Madison, as well: how to make each student feel welcome and give them the best education he can.
“What I’m looking forward to most in student teaching is probably getting to know the students and building those relationships,” he said. “Continuing to learn and gaining those experiences is probably what I will enjoy most about student teaching from here on out, because there’s always things to learn. Every student is different, which is something awesome about the job. You’re never going to have the same day…You’re going to learn about your students and use that to build their strengths.”