Brigitte Zapata has been a teacher at Notre Dame High School in Riverside for the last five years. She currently teaches junior U.S. History, sophomore AP World History and senior theology. She is also a Teacher Coach for the school’s Mock Trial Team and helps with the video game club.
Before coming to Notre Dame, she taught fifth grade at Sacred Heart School in Rancho Cucamonga for three years. As part of our new series on teachers in the Diocese, Zapata sat down with the BYTE to tell us a little about herself and her life as a teacher at Notre Dame.
BYTE: What do you most enjoy about being a teacher?
Zapata: Besides sharing knowledge with the students, it’s building a relationship with the kids: getting to know them and kind of being there for them.
BYTE: What makes it unique to teach at a Catholic school as opposed to a public school?
Zapata: Here I can embrace my faith compared to a public school. And then also I feel like working at a private school is a bit more intimate ... you feel like you could actually make bonds and meet and actually get to know your co-workers and the students, while at a public school, there’s just so many people, you don’t get that same effect.
BYTE: Since you have taught both, what is the difference between teaching high school and elementary school, and do you have a preference?
Zapata: When I taught fifth grade, I had to have a lot more patience with students, and I had to know a lot more because I taught multiple subjects, while my credential and my degree is only in history. So I prefer the high school level, just because it’s more my area of focus.
And it’s easier to understand the kids when they’re at this grade level than when they’re fifth graders because then I have to try and remember that they’re really little kids. And so the expectations I have, I can’t always keep the same but with high schoolers I can.
BYTE: How was it teaching remotely during COVID, and how is it now coming back?
I was okay with the online teaching; I know the kids weren’t that thrilled with it, but I enjoyed it because I live an hour away from the school. So it was nice not to have the drive, but I did miss seeing the kids in person. Just like the kids, teachers felt that isolation as well. So now being back at school, I’m sad I have to drive now every day, but I’m happy to see the kids.
BYTE: Part of this is just to learn a little more about you. So what do you like to do in your free time? And do you have any favorite saints or a favorite Bible verse that you want to share?
Zapata: On my free time I like going to Disneyland, going to movies, reading ... My favorite thing to do is travel: visit places either I’ve been to before or never been to before. If I have time, I like to play sports. So whenever we have a teacher team here at the school, I typically sign up.
And my favorite saint is St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental illnesses.
BYTE: Obviously teachers are the ones teaching the kids, but is there anything that your students have taught or you or something that they have given you?
Zapata: They keep me human. Like, I know I have set agendas and everything like that, but I also do realize that these are kids going through a lot. It’s not just my class, they have other classes. So when I see them struggling or stressing out over a project or something like that, I’m willing to extend deadlines for them because I could see that they’re getting under the pressure. I just want them to take care of themselves.
BYTE: What makes you realize that you made the right career path to go into teaching?
Zapata: I guess seeing kind of like the feedback from the students. I remember one year I taught, and I didn’t think I was doing much but somehow the kids jumped another grade level in history. Then when it came time for like, Teacher Appreciation Week, the personal gifts I got from kids showed how much of an impact I made on them