A fresh start
By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
Questell is 42 and just starting her career as a teacher in Hillsborough County. She used to teach in a business college in her native Puerto Rico and was a principal there before coming to the mainland in 1991.
"As a teacher, you can make a difference," said Questell. "I could be an accountant working eight hours a day auditing. But I prefer to be in the classroom."
As a first-year teacher, Questell knows she has a lot to learn -- especially when it comes to managing classes of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. "I've been learning to be prepared," she says before the start of school. "Not just with knowledge, but with strategies and how middle schoolers behave and think. Because they are different. I have to have something always up my sleeve, just in case."
Questell is eager for school to begin. She worked as a substitute teacher at Benito Middle School last year before getting a full-time position this year at Liberty. She is ready for a fresh start.
"We're all very excited because it's a new school and for me it's a challenge," Questell says. "When I came here 10 years ago, I couldn't speak English. Not a word. So I went to the University of South Florida, and I'm still correcting myself. Although I'm too old to correct this accent," Questell laughs.
'I care about them'
It's Aug. 7, the first day of school and Liberty Middle School is awash in the patriotic decor befitting its name. Hundreds of American flags and red, white and blue pennants festoon the halls and staircases at the just-opened school.
Questell is taking her students through the paces, establishing classroom rules and getting them familiar with this part of their world. On the board she's posted the law of the land in her classroom. Raise one finger for "I wish to speak." Raise two fingers for "I wish to leave my seat." Raise three fingers for "I need your help."
As it's the first day of class, the children make it through only a few rudimentary tasks before it's time to go. But Questell hopes to make an immediate impact on them.
"I hope to impress on them that I care about them," says Questell, whose son, Wilson, attends Liberty. "I know my son is always saying that he knows who cares and who doesn't care."
Questell teaches four, 90-minute classes each day. One of them is a sixth-grade "wheel" class, a revolving elective. "I have 37 sixth-graders, but it's just for six days," Questell said. "And they still behave like kindergarteners, some of them."
But Questell is fast learning how to keep on top of her young charges. "I was expecting terrible behavior, but it hasn't been that bad," she says. "I'm more organized, and I've been able to manage their behavior better. That's the most important thing. And I'm planning better my classes."
Despite all the planning and the good marks her kids are earning in the congeniality department, Questell finds there's plenty of work to do after the final bell sounds.
"Every day, every day I'm doing something at home," she says. "Even Saturdays and Sundays. But I know it's not going to be like that next year. But for now, I have to do it because it is real."
During school hours, Questell teaches her already computer-literate students the most basic of business skills. "Right now, we're working on keyboarding," Questell says. "They know how to go to the Internet, chat rooms, and how to play games. They know that better than me, of course. But they don't know how to make presentations and reports. They don't even know how to type!"
But they will, Questell assured. Very soon.
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-- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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