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February 21, 2019

Kenyan tutor eyes America's top ECDE teaching award

Annie Mucheru-Garza.
Annie Mucheru-Garza.

I was raised in Nairobi, Kenya, where I attended Brookhouse School for my primary and secondary education where I graduated in 2000. Then I took a gap year, trying to find the best school for me to proceed to. In 2001, my mind was made up to join my elder sister Liza in the United States where she was studying. So off I went and enrolled as a business major at a community college in Texas.

However, two years later, I decided to change majors to music education because I felt that I loved music more. My mother did not get to know about it until after the change. The only thing I didn’t realise was how difficult the major would be because I could sing but had no musical background. Theory was a challenge for me. It was torture for me and at some point, I just felt I didn’t want to do this any more.

Long story short, I changed back to the business degree and I committed to it and graduated. I wasn’t very perturbed that my associate degree had taken more time than the normal two years due to my change of majors. And my mum was very supportive. I then moved on to a four-year university programme in business finance at Texas A&M University. I talked to my brother before who advised me to do that major but I knew I was in for a rough ride because I was not very good at math. Hah! So I enrolled and was miserable.

Liza at that time was running Texas Techies — a technology education advocacy organisation — which ensures all children, especially those at risk of being left behind, have the resources and the opportunities they need to grow up healthy and lead productive lives.

As I studied, I started working with her, teaching children how to use computers. Liza kept telling me how good I was with the kids but I dismissed her as just being nice because she was my sister. She encouraged me to go speak to my college adviser and see what he says. Through their guidance, I took an aptitude test which showed that 90 per cent of my talents were in becoming an educator. I switched majors and signed up full-time for a degree in education with the promise from my adviser that if it wasn’t for me, I would still have the option of changing back to business finance. It never came to that. Right off the bat, I knew I had found my calling and there was no turning back. Four years later, I got my degree in Early Childhood Education.

With that said, I felt there were a lot of lessons learnt trying to find my purpose. Personally, if a student came to me with a question on education, I can tell them how to go about it and the things not to do. I wouldn’t take away from my journey because where I’m at, has been influenced by where I came from.

After I graduated in 2011, I got a teaching job at the school I had done my teaching practice at. The principal asked for me personally. She did her best to keep me there as she tried to find me a permanent teaching position. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. A year later when I got an opportunity to attend an interview at Garcia Elementary School in Corpus Christi. I got hired as a kindergarten teacher and it was very challenging because I had never worked with children that young before. When you have your own classroom, you are not only dealing with the pupils but also the parents and administration. You have to keep up with the laws and fill out a lot of paper work on the children, in terms of progress and health reports. That said, three years into teaching and I’m happy.

As a teacher, my philosophy is that when I walk into my classroom, I believe that I can help all my students. The same way I set high expectations for my students, is the same way I set high expectations for myself.

The result is that my students deliver. But I have to be their cheerleader. I usually tell them that all your needs necessary for success are met in my classroom. If its a pen you need, come to me, if its a crayon you need, come to me. If its a book you need, come to me. They will not learn if they are worrying about supplies. It’s a human need to feel secure in the classroom and I try to do this as best as possible. That said, I have a supportive school system.

I am very attached to my kids especially the 23 children I was responsible for this year. I even get emotional talking about it. It has been my best year yet and the CCISD Teacher of Year award is a testament. They came in not knowing and they left knowing. For me, that is such a great achievement.

What next for me? Well, just before I arrived here for holiday, I turned in my essay paperwork for the National Teacher of the Year contest where I will be competing with whole of Texas. If I’m successful then I move on to compete with the rest of the country. Its an exciting journey and I’m praying for the best. I never ever imagined I would be here. Look at my story...some days I wake up and I’m like wow!

Future plans are that I will definitely continue teaching. I want to be really good at what I do. I will pursue a Masters in Educational Technology. It will gives me the ability to get promoted to a job that is probably outside the classroom. My ultimate goal is to be able to teach teachers to incorporate technology in the class without stress.

I would definitely come back to teach in Kenya when the time is right. I believe that I can make a difference.

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