After graduating from Morgan Park Academy, kindergarten teacher Paula Cuadros ’87 earned an undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies at Carleton College, an M.A. in social science at the University of Chicago, and an M.S. in Elementary Education at Northwestern University.
Mrs. Cuadros taught kindergarten for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools before working as a stay-at-home parent. Upon resuming her teaching career, she taught 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds and worked as a school librarian before joining the MPA faculty this fall.
Why did you choose to return to MPA as a teacher?
Once my youngest child was settled in school and I was ready to return to teaching full-time, I knew that MPA would be a great place to do that. The small class sizes mean teachers have a better opportunity to connect to students. The ability to create a true relationship with students and families is essential to teaching and learning.
What motivated you to become a teacher?
Even as a child, I don’t know that I ever considered anything but teaching. Before graduate school, I was a summer nanny to a family with 4- and 6-year-old girls. I think this is when I realized this was the age group for me! I enjoy the honesty and openness of 5-year-olds, and have always taught either preschool or kindergarten. I also love the flexibility that early childhood teachers have in creating curriculum and developing a program based on students’ interests and needs.
What is the most important life lesson you want students to learn in your class?
In order to perform academically, children need to be well-adjusted socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. I want them to develop positive relationships with each other and with adults. I want them to feel connected to the students in their class and their school. Feeling connected to a group, forming connections, and developing positive relationships is now more important than ever. Kids seem to spend more and more time connected to a device, and don’t have the opportunity to imagine, interact, create, and just PLAY!
What are your favorite moments with a student?
I love the small opportunities to talk to a child about things other than school work. I love learning more about what makes them tick and hearing about their interests outside of school. These conversations further my understanding of a child, and hopefully, make me a better teacher.
Another amazing moment is being there when a child first reads a book independently. I love capturing the expression on a child’s face when that door is opened. Priceless.
What experiences or people have had the most influence on you?
I am incredibly close to my family. My parents have always been supportive in so many ways. They always stressed the value of education, and my siblings and I have done the same with our own children.
I came to MPA as a seventh-grader after my parents decided that the public schools were just too large and impersonal. My three siblings — David ’86, Rachel ’90, and Julie ’93 — were here as well.
I believe the small size of MPA gave me more opportunities to be involved and develop confidence. I participated in sports, was the editor of the yearbook, and joined numerous clubs. I don’t think I would have done this in a larger school. It definitely changed my middle- and high-school experience for the better.