05 Oct Teacher finds joy in achieving that light bulb moment
Some of the most rewarding moments of Dulce Moreira’s day happen when she sees a student struggling to figure something out and then — suddenly — a light bulb goes off.
“And all of a sudden, it clicks. And when that happens, you see (the student’s) eyes light up, and they say ‘I get it, I get it!’ and they’re not just saying it, they really get it.”
The 43-year-old teacher at St. Nicholas School in Barrie recalled one junior kindergarten student who was struggling to do up the zipper of her jacket.
“Struggling with that zipper is a huge deal, because if you can’t get it, you can’t put on snow pants or jackets or anything,” said Moreira.
When the student figured out the mechanics of zippers, she was overjoyed to “make it into the zipper club.”
Getting to that light bulb moment is something Moreira tries to do in any way possible for her students, and it’s one of the reasons she was named the Toronto Star Teacher of the Year.
“I try to figure out different ways for them to remember. If it’s by song, then we deal with it by song. Some kids need to draw it out, if they’re visual.
“When I see that happening without me — it actually brings me more pleasure because I know they won’t always be around me.”
Moreira always wanted to be a teacher, but her dream was almost derailed in high school.
At the time, high school had basic, general and advanced courses, and Moreira had wound up in the general stream.
“I went into general courses, and one of the principals came by and said, ‘Hey, I know you want to be a teacher and you’re in general, so you need to be in advanced … we’re going to put you in advanced — are you OK with that?’ ” recalled Moreira.
She switched into advanced courses, graduated and then went to York University where she became a teacher, but the memory of that principal who helped her has never left her.
Moreira has been teaching at St. Nicholas since 1998. Over the years, she’s taught everything except French and reading recovery, but she’s now working as a Special Education Resource Teacher.
“I think a lot of the children that are in the special education area, for whatever reason, lack a bit of a voice … so, I like to be their voice for them,” she said.
“I sort of think of it similar to that high school principal … He was my voice. If he hadn’t told me that, I wouldn’t have known any different. My parents wouldn’t have known any different,” said Moreira, her voice filling with emotion.
“My parents wouldn’t have known. I would have graduated with general — just because.
“He was my voice, and I just want to be a voice for kids. They don’t always know what they need. The parents don’t always know, so I want to be that voice.”
Her commitment to helping her students has extended from being their voice, to teaching them to how to be their own advocates and how to be independent.
The multilingual teacher — she speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese (and used to speak Japanese) — is also known around the school as a “techie superwoman.”
“Dulce knows everything about computers,” wrote a colleague in a nomination letter, adding she manages the school’s Twitter account and helps with the website.
Moreira also uses technology to help her special education students learn alongside their peers so they don’t feel different.
If a student is having trouble reading at the same level as their peers, Moreira will let them listen to the audio of the book so they can still appreciate the language and the story.
But it isn’t just her interest in combining learning with technology that colleagues say makes Moreira stand out — it’s her compassion.
A colleague wrote about “how (Moreira) buys diapers and pull-ups out of her own pocket, and shops for them on her own time for a family without a car or the financial resources to provide these most necessary items.”
Moreira was born to Portuguese parents who immigrated to Canada with “with zero English, a suitcase, and a willing family member to sponsor them.”
Growing up, her parents worked three jobs each to support their family. They “didn’t have time to sit and read with me or do homework or take me to extracurricular classes after school … for them, I could and would,” recalled Moreira, adding they taught her she could achieve what she wanted so long as she worked for it.
The lesson from her parents taught her that her students could also thrive, “regardless of their background and challenges.”
“Dulce has worked tirelessly with countless hours of ‘overtime’ to ensure that all our students receive support, educational opportunities outside of the formal classroom and a healthy dose of encouragement and positive engagement regardless of their abilities,” said a colleague.
Other colleagues wrote about how there is always a line of students outside her office waiting to see her for anything from tech to life help. She’s a teacher who goes above and beyond, sending emails from 9 a.m. until midnight.
Moreira’s involvement in her school extends beyond class hours. She’s a faith ambassador at the school, photographs school events and is a member of the social committee, wrote the former principal.
But Moreira wouldn’t have it any other way.
“To be quite honest, I just feel like I teach, I just come into work — which isn’t really work — I do my job — which isn’t really my job because I love it. I feel privileged to be paid to be doing something I love so much.”