UW-Green Bay alumna Majriela Macedo takes a lot of pride in making her first-grade classroom a happy place. The main reason is that she really loves teaching and creating a welcoming atmosphere for her students. Plus she’s always found inspiration from “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
“I’m a very big fan of Disney,” she says. “I have been since I was a child. So it’s only natural that it would be a theme in my classroom.”
That personal Disney vibe extends beyond her classroom décor, complete with dozens of Disney characters, from Tinkerbell to a properly frozen Olaf. But it’s the extensive array of Mickey and Minnie ears that’s most impressive, popping up out of storage cubbies, bookshelves and display cases. And that’s to remind everyone, including the teacher (whose ears are accented with gold sequins), to keep their listening ears nearby. “The kids have Mickey ears that I got for them that they wear during reading and phonics. It’s fun when they come to the carpet for a lesson with their ears on.”
Those who may have an “old-school” perspective toward education might think that happiness would take a back seat to rigorous instruction, even at a first-grade level. But to Majriela, there can be a balance with both. There’s more to her own magical mix that makes her a beloved sight in the hallway, less than two years into her career.
“I’m really into dreaming,” she readily admits. And not just because her school-day 5 a.m. alarm tends to cut into her own dreamtime.
“I tell the kids that dreaming is so important—they have dreams that they want to achieve— maybe being a teacher, a veterinarian, an astronaut, or millions of other things. I was always taught by my teachers to believe in my dreams. With that extra magic of Disney motivating me, I want my students to know that it’s okay to have dreams, no matter how big or small. I want them to believe in themselves and to believe that they can work to achieve the dreams they have their hearts set on.” And so does a Mickey Mouse poster on her classroom wall with the message, “All Our Dreams Can Come True If We Have the Courage To Pursue Them.”
So what dream did Majriela pursue? That’s right—being a teacher. “As a kid, I always loved school. I would play teacher at home. I would play teacher at school.”
Now in her second full year of rising at 5 a.m. to face 20-or-so first graders, navigating a pandemic, professional observations and parent-teacher meetings, how’s that dream holding out? She still looks forward to going to school as a teacher as much as a student. But turning a dream of teaching into reality is hard work. And when asked about the transformation of shy Majriela, a school-loving student, into Miss Macedo, beloved first-grade teacher—she credits UW-Green Bay with helping make her dream come true.
In Summer of 2021, Macedo took part in a PSA about UW-Green Bay, and the University’s commitment to help their students and this community RISE. Here is her own RISE story:
What keeps you up at night?
One thing that I’ve always struggled with is confidence, even just believing in myself. Being a new teacher, I had concerns about if what I was doing was enough. There were nights I would stay up prepping digital activities or lesson materials to make sure it was the best it could possibly be for my students. Now, in Year two, I still do that same thing, but a bit less since a lot of my materials are prepped from last year.
What was the last lesson life taught you?
In both years of teaching, I’ve always told my students that I am one of their supporters and someone that believes in them. I’ve said, “I want you to believe in yourself as much as I believe in you”, because even at a young age of six and seven, students (as young people) sometimes struggle with confidence, too. I’ve learned that I need to start taking that advice that I try to constantly give to my students. Just like I believe in them, they believe in me as their teacher. I’ve learned to push the self-doubt out of the way and embrace who I am as an educator.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I’m always excited to go to work every day, because it’s not work—it’s school. Thinking about it when I was a kid, I just loved school. That hasn’t changed. But the reasons I love it have changed.
I love that I get to work with my students every day and help them grow as learners. I get to see and interact with them. I’m excited to see them, and they’re excited to see me, too. Students have said, “This is just work for you.” And I tell them, “No, it’s fun for me too!”
Why will you never stop learning?
I’m very feedback orientated in my profession. When I talk to my Principal, I always ask if she has any feedback and to let me know. It’s how I keep learning and growing. As an educator you can’t stop learning. If you’re at a standstill, you can’t keep improving your craft for your students.
The one thing I learned going to UW-Green Bay is that education is always changing. Not every child learns in the same way. So, if I don’t continue learning and growing myself, how are my students supposed to?
How has education ignited your personal growth?
When I started out at UWGB, I was very introverted, very shy, not one to go out of my shell for any reason. I loved my shell; it was my happy little place. Being at UWGB and starting in the Education program, taught me I needed to become more involved and be comfortable while doing it. I ended up becoming president of my sorority, Zeta Omega Tau and a Phuture Phoenix Phellow. Those were opportunities were a gift that taught me so much.
How has education opened doors for you?
I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, three times. Currently, Disney World is celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. There was a show called “Happily Ever After.” It was all about “following your dreams, grabbing hold of your dreams, and making them come true. You are the key to unlocking your own magic.” For me, going to UWGB was the key that I needed to find and achieve my happily-ever-after in teaching.
How has education levelled the playing field for you and others?
What I learned at UWGB is that there are many people who can help you walk through the process. Some students just need to feel they have somebody on their side supporting them. At UWGB, there are many people who will assist you and support you every step of the way.
What is higher education’s biggest challenge?
I feel that the biggest challenge is helping people realize that college is attainable. I remember in high school that we had people come in to speak to us. We went to many presentations to help us start thinking about college. I remember saying to my friends, “This sounds like some really big and scary stuff.” Giving students the tools, and guiding them along the way to help them realize that college is attainable, goes a long way in helping them to achieve their dreams.
Intro. by Michael Shaw, Marketing and University Communication