Position: Bilingual Fourth Grade Teacher
School: Herman Becker Elementary School
School District: Austin Independent School District
City, State: Austin, TX
Music that Describes Dolma
Dolma Diaz-Arellano was nominated by an anonymous member of her community.
While studying advertising and business at The University of Texas at Austin, Ms. Diaz had envisioned herself working as an account executive for an advertising agency and living a glamorous life as she’d seen in many movies or shows. After working in the field for two years with a variety of clients, she was quickly disillusioned. Ms. Diaz did, however, have a nonprofit client that did fascinating work for children. She volunteered her personal time so she could better understand their brand.
The copious amount of joy she felt in those few days truly made quite the impression on her. The students in the program were quirky, weird, kind, brilliant, and full of wonder. She immediately realized that she needed to pursue a career where she could fill all of her time with this energy and make a true, lasting difference in our world.
While substituting at different schools for a few weeks, she was thrilled about the thought of having her own classroom where she could be a leader with full autonomy of the class culture. She was ecstatic to be able to create opportunities for students to make meaningful connections through thoughtful instruction and discussions. Ms. Diaz found herself happily making copies, redoing bulletins boards, organizing closets, relabeling books in the library, and doing anything that could be improved in every school she worked at. She did it for the students and believed they should have the best.
Ms. Diaz was asked to step into the classroom and become a Spanish lead kindergarten teacher. She immediately turned the classroom into her own after being an educational assistant for only two months. She quickly built strong relationships, established trust by applying discipline with fairness and consistency, pulled intervention groups, and maximized learning by differentiating instruction to meet the academic needs of her students.
After teaching kindergarten for a year, Ms. Diaz looped up with her students and taught first grade for two years at the same charter school. She collaborated weekly with her grade level team to create, implement, and assess academically rigorous lesson plans. She provided a warm, supportive environment for developing academic, social, and emotional growth. Ms. Diaz instilled confidence, higher self-esteem, and an optimistic attitude in each student every day. She also worked closely with the school principal to spearhead school-wide initiatives that improved school culture.
Then, Ms. Diaz courageously moved across the country to help found a brand new charter middle school in Seattle, Washington as a sixth grade English language arts teacher. She worked closely with a dedicated, passionate team to generate aligned systems, uphold high expectations, and meet all students’ needs. Ms. Diaz was in charge of improving connections for students and staff in all content areas as the school’s English language learner lead by providing resources and guidance. She masterfully formed a student council that planned school-wide events. She also recorded weekly episodes of the RVLA News and put together the yearbook, which included fundraising. Ms. Diaz implemented ideas, goals, incentives, and joy in the sixth grade ELA curriculum, as well as two seventh grade social studies classes. She also spearheaded the school’s testing growth in MAP by creating individual student trackers, incentives, resources, games, and celebrations for progress.
In moving back to Texas, Ms. Diaz has been teaching all subject areas to fourth graders in both English and Spanish at Becker Elementary School. She is continuously and joyfully planning with her team to align and create amazing projects with social justice in mind. She plans rigorous, yet exciting daily lessons that are differentiated to meet all students' needs. Ms. Diaz is proudly elevating the Spanish language, implementing social-emotional learning strategies, and leading restorative community circles on a daily basis to create a welcoming environment for the diverse population.
Ms. Diaz is going into her 7th year of teaching. She feels endless gratitude for making the decision of pursuing her passion. She has grown tremendously professionally, as well as personally. Ms. Diaz has learned about the importance of being intentional with her thoughts and impeccable with her words. She has also learned how to validate the feelings of others and celebrate their voices. Ms. Diaz has learned how to embed social justice and equity into lessons and conversations. She has learned how beautiful a community can be because of the diverse perspectives and stories it can tell. She has learned how much hard work it truly takes to not only be an outstanding teacher, but a team player, a leader, and a confidant while accepting feedback, assuming the best, and giving endless amounts of grace to herself and others.
Moving forward, her vision is to share what she has learned on a larger scale. She's currently pursuing her graduate degree to add the necessary tools into her toolbox to become an assistant principal. She wants to collaborate with teachers on curriculum, lessons, and SEL strategies. Ms. Diaz also wants to help design sustainable systems for the betterment of the students. Eventually, her goals are to become a principal, foster and cultivate a utopia of sorts within existing walls, and elevate mindsets to celebrate their own growth journey. Ms. Diaz wants to question, push back, break down barriers that continue to oppress, and continuously push the needle forward towards a better world.
Ms. Diaz is on a trajectory towards bigger responsibilities and has been taking her time to get to the top so that she can speak from experience. She wants to be able to step in, demonstrate examples, and be trusted to make decisions, understanding the weight of each perspective. She had no idea about the amount of work that goes into her profession, yet the enormous amount of love she has for it completely outweighs it all. Her passion shines through her work and the relationships she maintains.
Even within the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Diaz didn’t hesitate to jump in and creatively problem solve through how to best serve her students. She worked with her team to pull at each other’s strengths and create a sustainable system that is working beautifully, whether students are learning in-person or virtually. She typically teaches all subjects in both Spanish and English, but due to the circumstances of the pandemic, she is only teaching math in English and science in Spanish. Ms. Diaz takes four to five hours a week outside of school to record and edit videos for students and families. These videos demonstrate key math and science concepts and strategies. Bath Math is the name of her math show, which she records in her tub at home. Her science videos are recorded in her “lab” (the kitchen).
"The amount of effort Dolma puts into her work, not only for the students at the school she serves, but in her studies for her Master's, is unreal," said her nominator. "She is this fierce woman with the most positive energy. She is continuously pouring love into everything she does and everyone around her. I can’t think of anyone else in my life that deserves this more than her."