"Ms. Lozada has inspired me to go further and always go beyond my comfort level. She helped me see that anything is possible."
“Ms. Lozada…I won. I won!”
Berline Civil, then a ninth-grade student at Atlantic Technical High School, jumped to show her teacher an email from the United States Congress congratulating her for winning the annual Congressional App Challenge. It was impossible to tell who was more excited about it—Berline or her teacher, Tatiana Lozada.
“We were both ecstatic! She runs to tell her parents—I run to tell the principal! It was just such a wonderful moment.” Anyone who spends a few minutes with Ms. Lozada can clearly see this is a joy she carries every day, not just when her students win national competitions.
“I love teaching,” Lozada says, her face beaming. “I have so much passion for it; it’s a really beautiful thing.” And it’s contagious, fueling her students to reach their goals and to find the beauty in creating new things. “The reason she’s my favorite teacher is because every time I come into her class,” Berline says, “I’m excited to learn.”
Berline’s love for computer science and journey to becoming an award-winning programmer began in Lozada’s information technology class. There, Lozada introduces her students to Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)—the code that tells a website or smartphone app what to display—and she explains to them that everything begins with having the right elements.
A few fundamentals first. An element is the building block for designing websites or apps, containing the instructions for what happens next. For example, the element <b> says the text that follows should be in bold, <p> indicates a new paragraph, and <img> is for showing an image. Websites have thousands of elements, so as you can imagine, the coding gets very complicated very quickly and requires incredible attention to detail. Finding an error can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
This leads to a different type of element—one that Lozada teaches her students is extremely important for leading a successful life:
Lozada knows that element well. She grew up in New York but attended college in Florida, earning a degree in business marketing and beginning a career in banking and accounting. She loved the analytical skills that the work required, but she felt unfulfilled, like something was missing. She decided to start tutoring teenagers in her spare time, helping students who had fallen behind in math to catch up and pass their classes.
"Teaching was a huge career shift since I spent 18 years in business, but now, I have the best job."
“I was having so much fun tutoring,” Lozada recalls. “They were getting excited about math, and I was getting excited about teaching them.” That’s when it hit her that maybe she could transform her new passion into her new profession.
So, five years ago, she left behind a career in corporate America and obtained Florida’s educator certification, qualifying her to teach classes in business and Spanish. But her analytical mind and desire to learn skills that would help her students be competitive in a changing economy led her to computer science. She had to teach herself all the technical material and fight through struggles with the exam, but she soon earned the qualification to teach that subject, too.
Lozada’s ever-present smile momentarily gives way to a serious look filled with gratitude when she says, “For some of us, it takes time to find where you want to be in life in regards to your career. Teaching was a huge career shift since I spent 18 years in business, but now, I have the best job.”
And then she says, her smile returning in full, “Can you believe it??”
Lozada typically has her computer science students for two years—first teaching them the fundamentals of information technology, and then getting into the more complex programming languages in an Advanced Placement class. This allows her the time and space to get to know each one and track their personal and academic growth.
“Teaching is a very personal job,” she says. “The better you know your students, the better you’re able to give them the things they need to succeed.” The challenges of coding affect different learners in different ways. Some of them focus so intently that they won’t move for hours. Others might burst into tears when they’re unable to locate an error. Some want to talk it all through and collaborate with classmates while others work better in solitude. She has to remind them to take a break, to breathe, to get up and move around.
For Lozada, this is the challenge she enjoys most—meeting her students where they are and cracking the code to unlock their potential. She says, “I love seeing that moment when they just get it. It’s such a sense of accomplishment—for both of us. In that moment, they have achieved their goal as students, and I have achieved mine as a teacher.”
"The fact that many of my students are introduced to computer science by me, a Hispanic woman, gives them—and me!—extra motivation."
But the lessons don’t stop in the classroom. Lozada is always seeking opportunities for her students outside of the school that will help them learn new skills, make new connections, and get a sense of what a career in computer science could look like. She was able to get training for her and her students through Oracle Academy, a weekend program that helps prepare students for the AP Computer Principles exam and provides opportunities to receive mentorship from professional programmers.
And she was part of a select group recently invited to Facebook headquarters. One of the themes that stood out to Lozada during the visit was the focus on equity and the goal of making the computer science field look more like America. Only about 20 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women and just 10 percent to Black and Hispanic students, combined. But more than 4 in 5 students at Lozada’s school are students of color; her students are the ones most underrepresented in the profession. That gives her job all the more meaning.
“The fact that many of my students are introduced to computer science by me, a Hispanic woman, gives them—and me!—extra motivation,“ Lozada says. “They can see themselves in those jobs.”
Berline agrees. “I feel like it’s important for girls to know that they can come into the computer science field. Ms. Lozada has inspired me to go further and always go beyond my comfort level. She helped me see that anything is possible.”
Lozada’s approach provides a few more examples of her elements for success:
This last one is a word that recurs whenever Lozada talks about teaching or whenever students talk about her. Berline states it directly, like good programmers often do: “I love that she is so passionate about teaching.” Lozada is proof to them that you can make a living doing something you love, and technology can help you get there.
Berline took this message to heart. She entered high school wanting to be a doctor in order to help people, but she soon discovered an interest in computer science. Lozada helped her see that she could use one to accomplish the other. This vision is what led to Berline’s award-winning app. Titled “Mental Health Coach,” the smartphone application used different computer languages and artificial intelligence to help teens identify symptoms of depression. And then the app directed them to resources that could help improve their mental health and showed them how to seek help.
The awards didn’t stop there. Berline, with Lozada’s guidance and inspiration, was also the South Florida winner of the Aspirations in Computing award from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, placing in the top 10% nationally.
Lozada says of Berline, “She’s so amazing. She’s disciplined. She’s hard working. She’s intelligent. All of my students are wonderful but teaching Berline feels like a luxury for me.”
"The reason she’s my favorite teacher is because every time I come into her class, I'm excited to learn."
Like many school districts around the country, Lozada and her students are learning virtually this semester as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, computer science is a subject that lends itself to a quick adoption of this style of instruction. But Lozada misses the classroom and being able to walk amongst her students as they work through a program. So, she’s recently taken up biking, reaching speeds of up to 18 miles per hour, as a way of practicing what she preaches to her students—to take a break, to breathe, to get up and move around.
She also stays connected to other computer science teachers through Facebook Groups. This not only helps maintain a network and sense of community that may help her students in the future, it also keeps her sharp and continues her own learning journey. “I routinely communicate with other teachers across the country. And they are a great resource to resolve issues and to get inspired on new strategies to use in the classroom and enhance my teaching practice.”
Needless to say, another of Lozada’s elements of success is to never stop learning, whether it’s new teaching strategies or high-speed biking.
When Lozada’s students move on, not only are they competent in programming languages, they also pick up important financial information from her days in business. They learn about mortgages and points, loans and interest, and the cost of college credits.
“When they’re registering for college or when they’re buying their first home,” Lozada says, “I want them to think about the lessons they’ve learned in my class.”
Nothing brings her more joy than to know she’s prepared her students to do something they love and to be successful at it.
"I love seeing that moment when they just get it. It’s such a sense of accomplishment—for both of us."
One last word on fundamentals. In HTML, elements are often paired together to signal when something starts and stops. For example, after using <b> to tell an internet browser to show the following text in bold, one has to type </b> to tell it when to stop. Without that latter element, all the text on the website may show up in bold.
So, here, at the end of her profile, is where Lozada’s elements of success—perseverance, dedication, confidence, learning, passion—should be closed out. But in Lozada’s programming language there is no </perseverance> or </learning>, and there’s certainly no </passion>.
Lozada and her students know those elements are expected to show up throughout our lives if we are to reach our potential.
“I want their experience with me to know that they have someone who is passionate about their work,” Lozada says through her signature smile, “I want to have a positive impact on their lives.”
Photography by Mike Jurus
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