SIOUX CITY -- Viridiana Curiel admitted it feels strange to be walking through the halls of West Middle School these days.
After all, she was a student at the school there not so long ago, before graduating from West High in 2015.
Now, Curiel is beginning her career as a first-year teacher for the Sioux City Community School District. She will be teaching sixth grade and eighth grade history at East Middle School this year. (The interview for this story was conducted at West Middle.)
It wasn't quite like coming home for the 24-year-old Briar Cliff University student, but she was seeing plenty of familiar faces.
"When my old teachers see me, they can't believe I am now an adult," Curiel said. "Then, it makes them feel old and they think of retiring."
"Please don't retire on my account," she added with a laugh. "I still need you."
Initially, Curiel didn't want to become a teacher. Instead, she was considering physical therapy as a major in college.
"Some of my former teachers saw something in me that I didn't see," she explained. "They saw a compassionate side in me and some leadership skills."
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It was then that Curiel began reconsidering her options.
"I loved history when I was a kid," she said. "Most students thought history was boring because it dealt with names, dates and old stuff, but I loved it."
Because of that, Curiel decided to major in secondary education, with an emphasis in history.
Education was very important to Curiel, since she is the first person in her family to graduate with a four-year degree.
"Spanish was usually spoken at home," she said. "That's pretty common for many families."
Since Curiel is fluent in Spanish as well as English, she wants to bring that into the classroom.
"One of the reasons kids struggle with history is because they may not understand it," she said. "If language is the issue, I'll teach it so it's relatable to my students."
This is how Curiel builds connections with the kids.
"You connect at their level," she said. "That's how kids learn best."
Curiel ought to know. She quickly credited the teachers at West Middle School and West High School for igniting her passion in education.
History, she said, is a subject that's often taught by male teachers.
"For some reason, there have always been more male history teachers than female history teachers," Curiel said. "I want to show that girls can love history as much as the boys."
A few weeks into the school year, most of Curiel's students are still acclimating themselves into their new classes.
She knows the feeling.
"Yeah, I've been in their shoes before," Curiel said. "As a brand-new teacher just acclimating myself to new surroundings, I guess I'm still adjusting to things myself."
Already, she is looking at ways of making history relevant to her kids.
"My students are, literally, living in a very historically important time," Curiel said. "They are currently surviving a pandemic. That's the type of thing which future generations will be reading in history. Kids, today, are getting first-hand experience."
But she also wanted to instill in her kids a sense of accomplishment.
"I loved school at a very early age," Curiel said. "I want my students to share my passion and I want them all to succeed in whatever they choose to do."