Breanna Gutierrez’s passion for teaching began in middle school. She was struggling to be successful academically, and then something life-changing happened: A teacher and a counselor helped support her tremendously.
At times, Gutierrez pushed them away, but they never gave up on her. To this day, she recognizes them both for believing in her ability to overcome obstacles. Their persistence inspired the young woman to eventually become a teacher herself in order to help all children and their families reach their fullest potential.
Today, as an early childhood special education teacher in the Adams 12 Five Star Schools district, Gutierrez provides specialized instruction to 3- to 5-year-old children who have developmental delays and disabilities. Some of the children join her classroom on the day they turn 3. “It’s a nice birthday present for them,” she said.
Helping kids learn to love school
Gutierrez sees school as a gift that will last these children a lifetime. She is there to recognize the potential in each of the children in her class and do everything she can to promote their growth. “We are one of their first teachers other than the parent,” Gutierrez said. “We set the foundation of whether they are going to love school or not.”
What she enjoys most about her job is “watching that light bulb turn on over their head. Sometimes you’re teaching the child the same thing over and over again for two weeks. But when they finally get it, that’s what I love – watching it click.”
A class in relationship building
A big component in the children’s success is developing strong partnerships with families, something Gutierrez learned during her Working with Families, Professionals and Communities class.
“Prior to the program, I didn’t think that parental involvement was as important as data or outcomes,” she said. “But as early childhood professionals, we serve a very diverse population of children.”
Recognizing the importance of diversity and social justice informs the decisions Gutierrez makes in the classroom every day.
“Making the right decisions for children and their families provides all families with the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. It is our responsibility to advocate for them, making sure they have equal access to play and learn and grow and develop in our care.” The results can be astounding.
In April, as the school year winds down, Gutierrez really notices the change.
“So many aspects of their growth start to stand out. You see it in their behavior. The relationships they’ve developed with their peers. The relationship they’ve developed with you. You see it in your data. It’s very emotional. I know that the time’s coming to say goodbye. It’s a really bittersweet moment.”
A master’s program and a five-year plan
But having served as an early childhood teacher then lead teacher at Arapahoe Ridge Elementary School before stepping into her current role, she knows the cycle will begin again, with new achievements blossoming for each child. In her work toward earning her master’s degree, she has felt a similar sense of growth in herself.
“I absolutely love the program at CU Denver,” she said. “I truly feel as though I’ve flourished.” Her colleagues have seen her growth too, encouraging her to apply for the special education position she holds today.
“This is my dream job,” said Gutierrez. “When I began my master’s program, I had a five-year plan.” She achieved that plan – to be hired as an early childhood education specialist – in her first year as a student at CU Denver. “A year into the program, I did it somehow.”
Mother of three crushes her goals
What makes her achievement all the more impressive is that she’s done it while working, raising three young daughters and attending graduate school full time. SEHD’s faculty have been especially supportive, she said, naming former senior instructor Alissa Rausch and Associate Professor Cristina Gillanders as mentors.
“I saw Dr. Gillanders two weeks ago, and she asked how I’d been,” said Gutierrez. “I told her that going back to grad school was probably the best decision I have made. I’ve had so many opportunities educationally and professionally that I couldn’t be happier.”
That sense of fulfillment motivates Gutierrez. She encourages others who are scared to go back to school to give it a try. Just as her middle school teachers supported her when she was struggling, she believes in supporting others, whether they are the children in her classroom or adults hoping to fulfill their own dreams.