Inspiring Teachers: Aurora Dominguez
Aurora Dominguez’ journey didn’t begin at the teacher’s desk.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Dominguez started as a journalist and mass communications major at Florida International University. She worked at the Miami Herald until the recession made her reconsider career paths, and her husband encouraged her to follow her passion: People.
Eventually, she found her way to Boca Raton High School, where she’s been teaching high school since, with a focus on advanced classes like AICE Global Perspective and AP Seminar.
She recently won Teacher of the Year, and then was chosen as one from more than 6,000 teachers to be one of the 50 inspiring educators celebrated at Disney World’s Imagination Campus this past Memorial Day. They marched in the Festival of Fantasy Parade, and enjoyed workshops and more, which you can read about here.
Among the weekend’s many activities, Teach & Travel chatted more with Dominguez about her story and what teaching means to her, along with advice for new educators!
Having made the career switch, what do you love about high school teaching?
For me, the kids make me happy. The experiences make me happy. The first year is always really hard, because it’s full of ups and downs, but I’ve been there since the 2015-2016 school year. And this celebration is just such an honor, because I’m a huge Disney fan in the sense that I grew up with it. I’m Puerto Rican, and my family would take me here when I was teeny just to come and celebrate summer.
What was your 50 Teachers essay about?
My essay, I really wrote it about the fact that I feel like differentiating instruction is so important. I teach students from all backgrounds, from all languages, being a big high school with over 3,000 children in it. I bring a lot of my newsroom experience into the classroom. So I treat them like my little group of writers and editors. I teach them a lot about deadlines, because it’s a research writing course.
I’m also very much an advocate of: You need to read, you need to know what’s going on in the world. So they do a lot of work in the sense that they have to become the type of students that are open to new ideas and what’s happening globally.
How does that play out in the classroom?
We do a lot of collaborative projects. My classroom is always decorated with posters that the kids create, with us talking about the different lenses and perspectives of, say, the world. What’s environment? What’s technology? What is entertainment? What stories fall under those, and how can you share those stories with the world? So it’s a lot of creativity.
A lot of them are with me for two hours a day. So they become very close because it’s a block class. And what I love is that these sophomores not only leave knowing more about what’s going on in the world, they become better writers and are more confident because they have to present as well. In our world, we have to talk to people all the time. So I really want them to have fun. At the end of the day, if you’re going to teach a research writing course, it’s not just about sitting down and typing. It’s about making relationships and having fun at the same time.
What’s been the highlight of your Disney experience so far?
I remember coming here and watching the parade, so the fact that they honored us with that, that was beautiful. Like, a lot of us were almost in tears. That was the highlight. Everything’s been great, but that was so magical.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for new teachers in today’s world?
I’m seeing a lot of teacher exodus. It’s reality, it happens. But my advice if you’re a teacher is: Don’t give up. Even if it seems hard in the beginning — it was hard for me at the beginning, trying to understand that age group and just getting it together. Give it time. It does get better. Not every day is a stressful day. You will have beautiful days where you connect with your students, and they connect with you.
And also, self-care. I know it’s been so many times. But I, for example, have bipolar disorder. And I’m very open about it in the sense that my students and community know. They actually interviewed me for something called Motivational Monday’s in Boca High where I spoke all about it. So if I see anxiety, I see stress, I help them deal with it. I have a safe space in my classroom, they can sit in the back.
So I feel like new teachers should really consider being open about their struggles. Because when the students see that you’re a real person that struggles as well, they can relate to you. And also, keep an eye out in your classroom. Make sure you’ve noticed these mental health issues. We all do, but I’m the type of teacher that if I see something’s off, I will give them a safe space, give them a moment, send them to the counselor.
So it is a “work of heart” like people say, but just try your best, keep going. Don’t give up. We need good teachers. We really do.
To see more of Aurora Dominguez’ work, head here.