Early childhood education is a crucial time in a child’s development and having a passionate and dedicated teacher can make all the difference. Tiffany Ortego is the Kindergarten Lead Teacher at One City Schools in Madison, WI. and one of the recipients of this year’s Changemaker award for National Charter Schools Week 2023, May 7-13!
Tiffany is beloved by her community and known to go above and beyond to help her students reach their full potential. An important part of her work is creating a safe and accepting environment with her co-teacher where students feel supported. Outside of her classroom, she has also helped create the Preschool Garden Space and the 4K Volunteer Reading and Early Literacy program at her school.
The National Alliance connected with Tiffany for a Q&A about her experience as a teacher and in a charter school:
How has working at a charter school shaped your career as an educator?
I was moved with the passion behind One City’s vision about empowering young people and giving a fruitful education to all children. I had never thought of working at a charter school before, so I didn’t entirely know what to expect. I found a place of work that focuses on the true wellbeing of the child, as well as their education. We are able to push ourselves and think outside the box to help all of our children succeed, as well as the families as we work hard to stay connected with our community. I have had to challenge myself and change a lot of my strategies that I had learned in college to better meet the needs of my students, and in doing so I have found a second family here at my workplace.
Tell us one of your favorite anecdotes from being a teacher that showcases why you do this work.
My first year teaching at One City Preschool was one that I will never forget. My co-teacher had been handling the classroom by himself for three months before I was hired, and there were several children in the class that struggled with transitions and the school routine in general. I helped set up new routines, expectations, and goals for my students individually so that they could succeed. I saw two students with high behavioral issues slowly transform and become part of the classroom community. I loved seeing their growth, and their passions shine in the classroom. We went from a high tension classroom to one that could regulate. This experience pushed me to develop new expectations for myself and grow as an educator.
What do you love about being a teacher?
My students, of course! At our charter school, we have a big focus on bringing our families to be a part of their education journey. I love getting to see my students each day, and watch them make new discoveries and solve new problems. Working with four and five year olds, a lot of their learning is through play, which is what we focus on in our program. I get to get my hands dirty, too! Each child has so much to offer, and I love getting to provide that safe space for them to figure out who they are. That in itself is rewarding.
What made you decide to be a teacher?
Growing up, school was my safe space. My family moved several times, but I always loved getting to go to school. I had several teachers in my life that influenced and inspired me into the career; how they brought their joy and compassion with them, in order to make their classrooms have such positive energy. I loved learning new things, especially history and art. When I was about to start college, teaching was the easy answer. I wanted to help create a safe, loving environment for children, like my teachers had done for me. A place where they know they are cared for and loved, no matter their background or situation.
What makes you most excited about the future of public education or what opportunities do you see?
Our world is ever changing, and I think it was a big reality check for us back in 2020 when our world shifted due to the pandemic. It really made us as a society open their eyes to just how important child care, and education, is as a whole to our world’s children, and how it can change so quickly. One beautiful thing to come from it all is how we know that we have to help our children succeed as best as they can, and it may be trying new and different methods or shifting how we use technology with our students. I am grateful that we are willing to do what is best for our children and have the focus be on their success. We just help give them the tools and support they need to find their own dreams.
Meet more teacher 2023 Changemakers and join the National Charter Schools Week celebration!