Starting in February, we are taking recommendations for educators to be recognized for their years of service teaching the youth in our community. For February, we are recognizing Questa Junior Senior High School teacher Maria Cintas.
How many years have you been teaching?
I have been teaching for 22-1/2 years. It will be 23 years at the end of this year. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent a year as high school principal and four months as Interim Superintendent.
Tell us about the subjects you have taught over the years.
I started teaching 7th/8th grade social studies when I first started teaching. Later, I went on to teach high school New Mexcio history, world history, western civilization, US history, government/economics, English Language Learner, and psychology. I also taught English and language arts for 7th through 12th grades.
I have taught some electives as community service. In addition to teaching, I have been student council sponsor, Honor Society sponsor, and student class sponsor to different classes. I also coached volleyball when I first started teaching.
What is the most fulfilling thing about teaching in your opinion?
The most fulfilling thing is seeing students succeed in whatever they choose to do in their lives. I take joy in seeing them never give up but continue to grow as individuals. It is so rewarding. I have taught students who went on to earn their doctorate, students who are now running their own businesses, students who are raising their families healthy and successfully, students traveling the world in the military, it just makes me so happy when I hear from them every now and then when they check in.
Sometimes I will get a wedding invitation in the mail, or a graduation announcement, a baby shower or birthday invitation. It makes me so happy that they still invite me to significant events in their life, no matter how big or small. No matter how old they get, I am still so very proud of each one of them repeatedly winning at life. It makes my heart happy to witness the greatness that exists within our community, which extends throughout the world.
What is the most difficult part about teaching?
I think the hardest part of teaching is helping students learn to believe in themselves and have confidence to try anything without the fear of failure or being judged. With so much AI and shortcuts to cheating, learning takes a back seat. Having students step up and try and gain knowledge by doing it themselves, while simultaneously being confident in their abilities, will only help them continue to gain the knowledge they need to progress and grow.
We live in a society now where there is always an ‘easy button’ to accomplish things, and many times students don’t even want to try. Students believe it is too hard, a waste of time or just don’t want to do it. The internet can produce the same results in five seconds or less, so it’s hard to get students to buy in on why it’s important to learn. This has been an obstacle since 2020 and it’s the reason we saw so many students regress during the pandemic.
Now, we are working to instill and grow that confidence in our students. It is exhausting but so rewarding when they grasp the concept. There is no ‘easy button’ in life, so I strive to help them understand that the sooner they learn to invest in themselves, their abilities, their knowledge, and their hard work, the sooner they have already set the foundation of where they see themselves and their future.
That is something no one can ever take from them and something that they can be proud of because they attained it through hard work, perseverance, and dedication. This concept applies to all aspects of their life, not just in education.
Why didn’t you leave Questa to teach in a different school or community?
Believe it or not, I have always loved my hometown of Questa. I wasn’t one that wanted to go far away or to a big city or even see the world. This is just me. When I was in high school, I remember everyone telling us as kids that we needed to leave Questa, because there was nothing here for us. It always made me feel that if you are here in Questa, you are nothing, which is totally not the case.
You can go and be successful wherever you are, but who says you can’t be home and make a difference? Yes, there aren’t many opportunities here, but you can create opportunities and make a difference.
Did I always want to be a teacher?
My answer is no. I never wanted to be a teacher when I was younger, but as I entered the profession, it is something that I find to be my calling. I believe that I was put in a place to be the person I needed when I was younger. Someone to tell me it is okay to fail but most importantly, you need to get right back up and keep going. You can be from Questa and still become ANYTHING you want to be whether you stay here, or you travel the world.
You will face judgment, especially living in a small town, but you can rise above it. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. I love my community, family, culture, and faith. Being able to embrace the community where I grew up and continue to build a life here has been and always will be a blessing to me. There is nowhere else I would rather be.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your journey?
Without the assistance of my family, faith, and community, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Teaching is not an easy profession, there are a lot of obstacles, heartache, tears, and work, more than most people care to recognize.
I have had to teach while mourning the loss of students, not sleeping worrying if students are cold or hungry over the weekend. Just as parents worry about their kids, a teacher worries about their students from past to present. You don’t just stop when they graduate. Sometimes students will reach out to me asking for advice as their world is falling apart and I am there to tell them “It’s okay, this too shall pass,” or “you got this!”
I was blessed with my upbringing because I had a strong support system within my family. I’ve also had coworkers who have become family because in times of my world falling apart, they have stood by my side and never left me to face it alone. My support system has become one of my biggest blessings. They have been there when all seems to fall around me, and they remind me of my strength. These people have helped me in turn give that strength to my students.
The world is a tough place, but if we help each other reach our full potential, we can get back to the basics of bridging the human connection. Close the bridges society has created, help each other, and give to one another.