Born in the Philippines, Lovelyn Marquez-Prueher is open about her difficult beginnings as an immigrant and English learner. She tells stories of sitting alone on the playground, not knowing how to play American games like handball.
"I have shared my immigrant story with my students, where I was bullied for the shape of my eyes, and as a result, I had students feel safe enough to share in their narratives," said the eighth-grade English teacher at Dodson Middle School in Rancho Palos Verdes.
For three years, she has taught English to long-term English as a Second Language students and other students approaching fluency.
As a teacher specializing in English as a new language, she wants English learners and students with learning disabilities to have the same educational opportunities that she did. Her goal is to inspire students and show them that they can overcome obstacles with hard work, determination and a strong support system.
"I set very high expectations of my students, so one might hear them say that I'm not nice. And that's because I hold them accountable," said Marquez-Prueher, who has a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in education. "I don't let them use their learning disability or their less-than-proficient English language skills as an excuse to not learn and to not try."
Marquez-Prueher immigrated to the U.S. with her parents and older sister in the 1980s, when she was in third grade, settling in the L.A. area. She first discovered her passion for education when she won a math competition in seventh grade.
"I had to prepare a speech about three separate math concepts and teach it to a panel of judges made up of high school students and a math teacher," she recalled. "It was my first taste of what it would be like to be a classroom teacher and what it would be like to have students."
Prior to her job at Dodson, Marquez-Prueher taught seventh and eighth grade at Wilmington Middle School, where she was named the school's Teacher of the Year in 2009.
As a teacher, she strives to keep the lines of communication open for all. "My students' parents know how much I expect from their children and how much I care from the numerous e-mails I send each week reminding them of everything from homework and upcoming tests and projects to eighth-grade activities to missing assignments, and days when their child was not acting the way he or she normally does."
Her favorite aspect of the job is the gratitude she receives from students and parents expressing how she has impacted their lives.
"This makes teaching more than a job for me. As an immigrant, this is my American dream," Marquez-Prueher said. "When I see the results of helping a student, especially an at-risk student, go from far below grade level to grade level in his writing by the end of the year, I just think to myself, this is why I enjoy my job."
Her future goals involve collaborating with her colleagues to devise a way to get parents more involved in their children's academic lives.
"I encourage teachers to be advocates for their students and to seek out resources and organizations that will help them make an impact on a macro level," she said.
More than anything, Marquez-Prueher wants to improve teaching policies system-wide so she can touch more lives.
"I want to spread the message that the state, the union, the district, the school, the parents and community need to come together to help all our students be prepared for college and career," she said.