INTERVIEWER: This year you were elected as Vice President of NJSEA, so first, congratulations. What led to you wanting to become Vice President at the state level and what have you gained from this position thus far?
JESSICA QUIJANO: My win for the Vice Presidential election of NJSEA was not a surprise for many people, but to me, it was. I first got involved with NJSEA when I attended the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City my freshman year. I volunteered at one of the NJSEA booths to earn points for The College of New Jersey’s local chapter. While at the booth, they gave me pointers and taught me far more about NJSEA. From that point on, I was immersed in the organization. I served as an ambassador for TCNJ for two years, and as I got more involved, I served on state and national committees. I decided to take a leap of faith and run for the Vice President position last year. I am grateful to all of the people who encouraged me to pursue this position and those that believed in me more than I believed in myself. The role of Vice President has allowed me to communicate with other chapters, organize events, and be the voice of such a strong preservice organization. It is through this role that I have had the opportunity to take advantage of everything NJSEA has to offer. From county fall focuses to statewide professional development and more, I have been able to communicate who we are as an organization and what we stand for.
INTERVIEWER: Sounds like the organization has helped you grow personally and professionally, and you continue to help our organization become stronger, as well! In terms of the future for this organization, what is your vision? Do you hope to continue the role of Vice President when you go on to your graduate year at TCNJ, or will you perhaps even seek the Presidential role next year?
QUIJANO: From my freshman year to my senior year, NJSEA has made great strides! They created an ambassador program to allow local chapter leaders to play a role at the state level, and now, NJSEA had branched out and broken down the barrier between NJSEA and NJEA. More and more full time staff and members, educators in schools, communities, etc. are hearing and learning about our organization. NJSEA has paved a way for these connections through workshops, conventions, county events, Early Career Member events, and more. There are now so many opportunities for members, especially preservice members. My vision for the future of NJSEA is for members to not only take advantage of all of these opportunities but also, to obtain more of a reach and voice politically. There is a ton of politics and legislation that impact preservice educators, and our voice should be heard in those decisions surrounding education. Right now, we are working on #STOPedTPA, which is a movement to stop an assessment from Pearson from entering our professional teacher preparation programs. Sometimes as preservice members, we fear going against what we know is wrong because we don’t want to be knocked down, rejected, or receive backlash; however it is our duty to fight for what is right in education. NJSEA is a branch of NJSEA, and we should strive to unite our members strongly under pressures. I’d like to see NJSEA unite strongly. As for my personal leadership role in the future of NJSEA, you’ll have to wait and see!
INTERVIEWER: That sounds like a good goal for NJSEA to extend political advocacy because you’re right, politics going into education affect us now. In your own educational career is there a quote that has stuck with you and will continue to stick with you as you work towards becoming a full-time educator, and why that quote?
QUIJANO: When it comes to choosing a quote, I struggle to come up with just one, so I end up coming up with multiple. A past assignment I was given was to design a self-portrait of how I want to be viewed as a teacher. My self-portrait contained many pieces of literature from lyrics to stanzas of poems. All of them captured my approach to teaching and how and who I want to be. The order in which I laid the quotes and pictures was thematic: designed to be like the waves of the ocean and the sand – fluid. If we think about it, a teacher is like a beach. He or she is always there, receiving waves of new students who carry nothing but surprises. Each one has his or her flaws and aspects that he or she need help improving, and it is up to the teacher to see and help bring out the beauty and their strengths. Just like the sand, a teacher is altered after each wave. Teachers experience years of refinement and breaking, yet they still provide support. I want to be a beach, and so it is that self-portrait that I will put in my classroom near my desk to keep me grounded.
INTERVIEWER: That is a very interesting metaphor that I have never thought of before, and I think it is a very true one. Teachers are continuously shaped by waves of students every year. It sounds like you have a really solid idea of who you want to be as an educator and know that it takes a flexible person take on the education profession. So, what advice would you give to a preservice member just starting in their program?
QUIJANO: Your experience is what you make of it. I have been placed in a variety of schools throughout my practicums, such as fifth grade, urban kindergarten, third grade, and even sixth grade. The experience is about how much you observe, take in, and learn from, but never forget that relationships with your students matter. You teach students first and foremost, not content. Don’t stress about your lessons. Don’t think that you failed because something didn’t go as planned. There’s a quote that I love from one of Robert Frost’s poems, and it reads, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.” This quote, in all its simplicity, is the essence of how you should approach your practicum experience. You can take your experience and just do your assignments for class – go through the motions – do what your cooperating teacher asks, etc., or you can find ways to engage yourself in other ways, such as volunteer to do a bulletin board, go to lunch and recess with the students, and be active in the classroom. Take the road less traveled, and you’ll learn and see so much more.
Do you agree that being more politically active is an important goal for NJSEA?
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