Immersed in Teaching

BY BEN DEJARNETTE

Siéntate! Sit down! Soy la maestra. I am the teacher.

Her brothers would roll their eyes, calloused to young Margarita’s attempts to order them around. She always wanted to be the teacher, she recalls, just like her mother.

Today, some 2,300 miles from her childhood home, Margarita Field is living that dream.

First-grade teacher Margarita Field greets her students in Spanish to begin the day at Buena Vista Spanish Immersion Elementary School.

Field, 68, is a first-grade teacher at Buena Vista Spanish Immersion School, a K-5 elementary school nestled within Eugene’s Cal Young neighborhood. In her ninth year at Buena Vista, Field plays a valuable role in the school’s mission.

“I think [she’s] been a positive impact on the kids because she’s teaching them Spanish from a native speaker’s perspective,” third-year principal Juan Cuadros says.

Parents also see the impact. Kathy and Tim Bruegman, whose twins are in Field’s class, credit Field for helping their daughter Elle improve her penmanship.

“She’s very encouraging and very positive,” Tim says. “Nurturing,” Kathy adds.

Field began developing these traits at a young age. As the sixth of 12 children growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, Field revered her mother Carmen Martínez. She describes Martínez as an amazing teacher and a strong woman, a pioneer who entered the workplace at a time when women were still expected to stay in the home.

By the sixth grade, Field knew she wanted to be either a teacher, like her mother, or a doctor, like her grandfather. Presented with this dilemma, her school principal offered a third option. Why don’t you become both, he asked.

She did.

Field earned a doctorate in medicine while living in Mexico, her home for 42 years. In 1985, after falling in love with a man from Oregon, Field moved to Eugene.

Unfortunately Field’s medical credentials did not carry over to the United States, bringing a premature end to her brief career as a family doctor. After starting a family, Field enrolled at Oregon State University to earn her teaching credentials.

Then, with her childhood dream closer than ever, tragedy struck. In 1995, Field’s husband died of cancer, leaving her to raise three children and begin a new career alone.

“[I had to] just keep going, “ Field says. “There was no other choice.”

Today her children are grown, but Field does not complain of an empty nest. The students in the class are her children, she says, and she cares for every one of them.

“This, for me, is what fills my heart. It’s my life, my passion,” Field says. “I feel very lucky, very privileged to be able to be part of their lives.”

As part of Buena Vista’s Spanish immersion approach to education, Field instructs the students primarily in Spanish, using English only when absolutely necessary. She also tries to expose them to other cultures by teaching them to say “happy birthday” to their classmates in seven languages.

The world's Spanish-speaking countries are represented with flags at the entrance to Eugene's Buena Vista Spanish Immersion School.

One of those languages is sign language. With the help of University of Oregon student Annie Goldsmith, Field is teaching her students a language she thinks will make them more accepting of other human beings. She says the use of signs also helps the students understand Spanish grammar conventions better than traditional methods. Goldsmith can see the positive effect.

“[The children] are getting it,” Goldsmith says. “Visual reinforcement just helps in general.”

Field also encourages art in the classroom, integrating cross-stitching and drawing projects into the class’s daily routine. The school has no art teacher, so Field must do it all herself.

As for controlling a classroom of 33 students, Field’s upbringing in a large family comes in handy. Her eyes and ears are everywhere at once, cutting off transgressions before they happen and cautioning the students who test the limits.

Still, even Field occasionally permits herself to sit back and let the day’s student leader take the reigns. On this Tuesday morning that special helper is Grace, who is charged with transporting her classmates’ books to the library. In a voice bursting with authority, Grace gives her orders.

“If you haven’t put your books in the box, this is your last chance,” Grace says, scanning the room for any respondents. Soon she will know how to say this in Spanish.

With a late-arriving book in hand, Grace offers the class their “last, last, last chance” to drop books in the bin. Looking on from her desk at the back of the classroom, Field nods approvingly and flashes a wide smile.

Grace should become a teacher, she might be thinking. Just like me.

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