2022 Essential Educator Awards Winner: Teacher Q&A with Veronica Balli
Welcome to part one of our Q&A series with the 2022 Essential Educator Award winners. We sat down with our McCallen, TX Independent School District winner Veronica Balli to discuss why she became a teacher and what she’s learned over the years as an educator.
What made you want to become a teacher?
I didn’t know it then, but my kindergarten teacher had one of the biggest impacts on me. As I started to reflect on questions in college, such as sharing a favorite school memory or favorite teacher, I always spoke about Mrs. Casas. When I was younger, I had a speech delay. Mrs. Casas was always there as my champion. She made sure I knew that I mattered. She provided me with extra opportunities to build my self-esteem, asked me to assist in leading class activities, and helped me with my speech. She allowed me to flourish and love learning. I knew I wanted to provide that same nurturing support for other kids. I knew I wanted to serve my community by teaching and providing a safe learning environment where all students could focus on being kids, thrive and develop their talents.
What have you learned about yourself as it relates to teaching in the past year?
I have learned that four walls or distance can’t contain me as a teacher or constrict how students learn. I learned this because passion and drive can transform any place into a classroom and when you give a teacher a challenge we turn it into a success. Remote learning was a challenge but it brought out our resilience and showed how teachers, families and students could adapt to a new classroom setting because our passion for learning was stronger and could not be contained.
I have also learned how much I value my community. I must continue to expose my students to their community and the history it provides. I must instill in my students that, even though they are young, they can positively change and impact the world in their own backyards. Why? Because their voices matter.
What were the biggest rewards over the last year?
My biggest reward continues to be knowing I get to encourage my students, reigniting their passion for learning and watching them flourish – all while being surrounded by others who share my passion. I get to provide my students with the best situations in the most difficult times. I get to teach them to love who they are, tap into their talents and help them to become leaders long after they leave my class.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a few of my past students at a high school football game. It was great to hear how much they have already accomplished in high school, and it was so rewarding to listen to their excitement about their future goals. They had the best memories to share about our third-grade classroom and I couldn’t be prouder. An emotional feeling came over me after seeing my past students. It reassured me I am succeeding in the goal I set out to achieve: impact students' lives far after they have left my classroom, just as my kindergarten teacher did for me.
What advice would you give to someone entering the teaching profession?
You must build relationships with your colleagues and collaborate with them because it really does take a village. Spend time observing other teachers' classrooms – experienced or new, we all have talents and something valuable to share. Borrow ideas and make them your own, ask questions, and make suggestions. Every day is a new day to try something new, so be a risk-taker and step out of your comfort zone.
Every day you get to see students grow, share in their successes, ignite their passion for learning and build a classroom family. Keep in mind some of the most challenging students need the most support and love; so support them and love them. I can’t stress this enough, teaching is the best job ever, for me. Always remember, without building important relationships and truly getting to know your students, the best lessons will not matter until students know they matter.