Coming from Colombia

International educator Hernan Niño enjoys fourth year teaching math at Monroe Middle

by Josh Whitener

Hernan Niño is making a difference for the students of Monroe Middle School. The Colombia native is here as part of the Visiting International Faculty program. Josh Whitener/UCW photo

MONROE – Hernan Niño may be living in a different hemisphere now, but the Colombian native feels right at home in Union County.

Niño is in his fourth year teaching eighth-grade math at Monroe Middle School through the Visiting International Faculty program, and has no intention of leaving. He’s one of only two involved in the program to be teaching middle school in Union, and the program’s only secondary education teacher in Union that’s not teaching Spanish.
He taught math for eight years, in grades first through 11th, in a bilingual school in Bogota, Colombia, prior to applying to the program.

Though he’s a standout teacher now, the process at first for Niño was a little daunting.

“I was scared,” Niño, who had to leave his wife and 3-year-old daughter back home, said. “I came here by myself. I knew I was coming here to teach, and I knew that I know my subject. But it was going to be a totally different experience.”

Niño had known English for at least four years before making the move, but had never been immersed in a 24/7 English-speaking situation. But he flew through the application process with ease and got a spot in Union County, and has since moved past the culture shock. That’s thanks in part to a number of Spanish-speaking citizens willing to help Niño adapt.

“I knew if I had decided to come into this journey, it was because I was gonna be able to make it,” Niño said. “I knew I had to make it for me and my family, and to get the experience.”

When Principal Mike Harvey first arrived at Monroe Middle last September, he immediately saw Niño was a first-class educator.

“He’s an excellent teacher,” Harvey said. “He’s one of the most explicit teachers I’ve seen in my 14 years, and he’s a model for a lot of our Hispanic students that they can be successful.”

Niño has recognized a distinct similarity between the student/teacher relationships in Colombia and the United States. In both countries, Niño has taught students who are willing to do their work and want to succeed, students who like to see how many buttons they can push before getting into trouble and students who just don’t seem to care.

“I can tell you that, in school, if we are talking about students, you will have to face the same kind of issues,” Niño said.

One major difference Niño has noticed between the two countries’ education systems is the availability of resources here. All classrooms at Monroe Middle are equipped with a SMART Board. The school also has licensed software at the students’ and teachers’ disposal.

In Colombia, these resources are not so easy to come by. Even though Niño taught at a private school mainly for high-class families, tools like these are scarce and highly valued. “If (online resources) are free, then you can use them,” Niño said. “But if there’s something where you have to buy, like, a license to use the software, you have to be lucky to get that.”

Another big difference between the education systems is the curriculum used for specific grade levels. In Colombia, subjects, such as science and social studies, are broken up into subcategories (biology, chemistry, history, geography) as early as sixth grade. Testing is different, with more real-life application questions given in Colombia versus the standard multiple choice math problems given here.  Students also are more advanced. Material taught to eighth-graders in Colombia would likely be taught to ninth- or tenth-graders in America.

“If a student from my country in the eighth grade comes here to the eighth grade, the topics we’re working on should be very easy for that student,” Niño said.

One of the things Niño loves about being in Union County is how easy it is to participate in activities, like swimming and soccer, at an inexpensive cost. He also loves the environment and atmosphere of the area. “I like to see green,” he said. “You see green, green, green… trees, parks. I love that.”

Some of the things he misses about Colombia are the hustle and bustle and constant contact with people, public transportation and being able to walk to restaurants and grocery stores. “Here, I have to drive my car everywhere,” Niño said.

Although Niño was able to get his visa extended to teach a fifth year in Union County, he hopes to stay at Monroe Middle even after the 2012-13 school year is finished. “If there’s a possibility to extend it to six, seven (years), I will go with it,” he said. “I love what I do. I wake up every single morning and I know that I have to go to work, but I want to and I like it.”

Harvey is doing everything he can, working with the central office to extend Niño’s tenure with the school. “It will be a big loss to our school if he leaves,” Harvey said.

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