Known as Señora, Profe, or Madam is teacher Maylén Rafuls, who holds many roles for the advancement of world language education in the Coronado Unified School District.
The Coronado High School French and Spanish educator will accept an Outstanding Teacher award by the California Language Teachers’ Association (CLTA) in Visalia during the four-day state conference on March 19.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized among many other wonderful teachers in California and just share that with that network,” she said.
The 37-year-old teacher understands Italian and Portuguese very well and also received a 2017 outstanding New French Teacher Award in San Diego from the American Association of Teachers of French.
This semester, Rafuls oversees other world language tasks across the district and will resume teaching one section each term beginning next year as she’s the district’s World Languages Teacher on Special Assignment.
Rafuls also is working closely with district Director of Special Programs Shane Schmeichel, coordinating activities for the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) World Language grant team, and providing resources towards an assessment system for Spanish and World languages.
“I really couldn’t ask for a better team.”-Maylén Rafuls
“My colleagues are a really committed group of individuals who want to do what’s best for kids and who want to constantly improve their skills,” she said. “I really couldn’t ask for a better team.”
Spanish for kindergarten to fifth-grade students is something the community has been wanting for a while and has been expanded and received really well, she said.
Schmeichel said Rafulus’ vision and passion “help us build an innovative and sustainable program that will support the next generation of CUSD students to become highly engaged global citizens.”
One of the most passionate educators
Coronado High School Principal Karin Mellina, another educator involved in the award nomination process, considers Rafuls one of the most passionate educators in the district.
And CHS World Language teacher in Spanish Megan Probasco nominated Rafuls for the award, sharing their helpful colleague relationship.
Probasco said they designed a unit about the violations of human rights in both the Spanish and French-speaking countries and world when Probasco taught AP Spanish and Maylen taught AP French.
“She has just been one of the best coaches for me as a new teacher to Coronado High School.”-Spanish teacher Megan Probasco on Rafuls
“She has just been one of the best coaches for me as a new teacher to Coronado High School,” she said. “I can ask her anything. She has so many ideas.”
Rafuls considers growing CUSD’s world language program and valuing multilingualism something the state wants, as well as a fantastic experience that offers students more opportunities beyond the classroom.
Additionally, Rafuls, a CLTA member, is a professional development instructor during the summer at University of California, Santa Barbara, where she teaches Spanish teachers
‘Job is to learn’
Rafuls believes education is a craft requiring leadership skills and subject areas understanding for effective teaching.
She said she grew up “a big nerd” in Cuba until the age of 10 and while in Miami, she worked really hard throughout middle school and high school.
“Since I was a little girl, I remember I really always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “It’s a really difficult career, and anyone who’s a teacher should be admired.”
Acknowledging support from academic figures, she points to her parents as her greatest supporters.
“I’m very privileged that my parents really valued education.”-Rafuls
“I’m very privileged that my parents really valued education,” she said. “They said to me, ‘your job is to learn. You have no other job. That is your job.’”
Rafuls graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor in comparative literature and a certificate in translation. After college, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, working with young girls educational programs.
Working for a private school in Washington, D.C., she applied to Stanford University where she earned a master’s degree in Education for the teaching of Spanish. Now she is a PhD candidate in Leadership Studies at the University of San Diego.
Fighting isolation among teachers
Rafuls considers isolation the biggest issue among educators.
“Providing time and opportunities for teachers to collaborate is key to bridge a culture of isolation that exists in our educational system,” she said. “There are already some structures in place for that, but it can be really hard…However, it is very rewarding when we do get to collaborate because the learning is really magnified.”
Another rewarding part of her profession is seeing students succeed and believe in themselves, she said.
“I just had a student, a freshman, who was accepted on almost a full scholarship to go to France over the summer,” she said. “That’s amazing…maybe a year ago, he didn’t know he could achieve, and now he will be able to do that.”
A shared mission
Rafuls is passionate about improving education for all students.
“I’ve always been inspired by the mission of Coronado to champion every child every day,” she said. “I love how we care about our students, and we want them to go far.”
At the beginning of the year, Rafuls attended an Equity Conference with 24 other CUSD educators, which drew the ire of a small group of parents who questioned why the district was spending money for this.
“Equity work has been a part of my master’s program at Stanford, so I’ve done a lot of work that supports equity throughout my teaching career,” she said. “One of the things that we learned about in the conference and that I have been implementing in the past is equity-based grading.”
Rafuls said schools are no longer punishing students for not knowing something and, instead, giving them opportunities to grow.
She recalled one impactful student comment during the conference.
“And I quote, ‘grades are no longer a measure of social standing and now a measure of learning,’” she said. “We can’t fail students for not knowing what they don’t know. We have to give them opportunities to learn.”
She said this means implementing policies where students can remediate their work within the scope of a class.
Outside the classroom
Rafuls, soon to be married as Mrs. Sullivan, also makes time for the things she loves.
She said her hobbies include going to the beach, kayaking, swimming, and stand-up paddleboarding.
Spending time with her fiancé, Joseph Sullivan, and two-year-old baby, Joseph Guadalupe Sullivan, is something very important in her life, she said.
Still, she believes in never losing the drive to learn.
“Life gets in the way, so I know that it’s hard,” she said. “But if you’re always learning something, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day here and there, 30 minutes a day, it’s going to be very easy.”
Rafuls has completed many of the things on her life to-do list, but looks forward to expanding her multilingual knowledge.
“I’m taking it just day by day, year by year,” she said. “After my PhD, I want to learn German.”