Natalia Benjamin was born in 1978 and moved to the United States at age 17 and went to college to get a degree in molecular biology.
He earned a master’s degree in language acquisition and teaching. At that stage she met her husband and they currently have four children.
One of his characteristics since he left Guatemala is that he always tries to wear a garment that is representative of his country. A jacket, his earrings, a detail that reminds her of his roots and of his family and friends who are in Guatemala.
The Guatemalan woman shares that in her family she promotes Guatemalan culture and misses a lot, like food, and often tries to make tamales, chuchitos and others to keep her family close to these and other customs.
The path for teaching with culture
About 11 years ago she came to Minnesota and started working in schools as a volunteer, teacher’s aide, substitute teacher and then got a teaching license and ended up teaching in High School.
About four years ago she took some courses where she focused on supporting students to maintain their native language and cultural pride. Her work in this line led her to be nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year and win this recognition in 2021.
“It was a special event with a ceremony in a garden near the Minnesota Capitol with invited personalities…it opened many doors because I am the first teacher of the year of Latin American heritage in Minnesota and it is important because there are not many of us and sometimes our work is not recognized. what we do, so it is an opportunity to be a voice”, says the Guatemalan.
This has led her to be invited to give talks, share in events and be part of the national group of teachers of the year. So they have been summoned to the White House in Washington, they spoke with legislators about teaching and how to help students, also last July they went to NASA in a summer course for educators.
“We want to humanize education programs…especially after the pandemic. The boys have lost people, others have emotional difficulties or extra chores at home… it’s not just about learning math or history but about welcoming them with everything they bring and supporting them to be successful,” says Benjamín.
In the long term, he would like to study for a doctorate in Latin American literature or history of this region.
“Many of the issues in which I get involved are social justice so that children have the opportunity to realize their dreams and if we think of Guatemala, a lot of this is also needed so that everyone has access to education…it is important to celebrate the richness of the Mayan languages and connect with our roots,” he adds.
He recognizes that there are efforts and it would be a great opportunity for all of us to have the opportunity to learn the languages of the communities.
These are some of the awards and distinctions that Natalia Benjamín has had in recent years.
- Horace Mann Award, February 2022, a recognition from the NEA Foundation
- California Casualty NEA Teaching in Excellence Award, February 2022, NEA Foundation
- MNTESOL Mary Diaz Award, November 2021
- Minnesota Teacher of the Year, August 2021
- Highest Medal of Honor Educational Excellence Award, 2019