Teacher gives rural perspective on national stage

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Daisies stood in vases near the back of Mauro Diaz’s science classroom one recent morning at Dean Morgan Junior High in Casper.

“You brought us flowers, how nice,” one student said as she entered.

The daisies were for the day’s lesson about reproductive organs. Students overcame their giggles about sex and dissected the flowers at Diaz’s direction, looking for organs they learned about the week before.

Diaz, 43, moved slowly from table to table, meeting the gaze of each student with a question. One girl asked whether she could keep her flower after class. A boy wondered where on a worksheet he should draw ovaries.

Diaz asked as many questions as he answered, his soft voice barely rising above the level of a one-on-one conversation.

Ask Diaz what he wants changed in education, however, and he’s hard to quiet.

The Juarez, Mexico native is a teaching ambassador for the U.S. Department of Education this year. He serves on the governing board of the country’s only independent teacher certification program, the Arlington, Va.-based National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. His colleagues there say he provides a rural voice in a discussion otherwise dominated by concern for urban schools.

In a profession with growing focus on standardized tests and school accountability, teachers often feel reform is something that’s done to them. Diaz wants that to change.

When appropriate, he suggests students should be grouped by ability, not age. Teachers, like doctors, should complete an apprenticeship. Diaz opposes using student test scores to help determine a teacher’s evaluation, and he wants to build “passion time” into every student’s schedule.

Most importantly, Diaz says, teachers need a voice in the discussion.

- Beginnings

In a way, Diaz’s childhood move from Mexico in the late 1970s led him to teaching.

His mother and her four children relocated to the U.S. on a work visa when Diaz was about 8. They settled in New Mexico, where she worked at the county hospital.

Diaz’s father stayed in Juarez. He passed away in 1996.

“He drank a lot,” Diaz said. “And the drink kind of went to his head. I think my mom didn’t want us to grow up around that kind of violence. She wanted a future for us.”

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