by Martina Barrera-Hernandez
After the last school bell rings on Tuesday afternoons, Room 302 morphs from a place for students to learn biology to a room for teachers to learn spicy salsa moves.
Three years ago, science teacher and salsa dancer Maria Cunniffe decided to open her classroom doors one day a week after school to share her love of salsa dancing with other teachers.
“I sent out an e-mail to five to 10 people and just said, ‘You know, I thought maybe we could start some salsa lessons after school. What do you think?’” said Cunniffe.
Back then, she had between 10 and 15 students, but for a variety of reasons, the class disbanded.
“Now we’re in a different space three years later, so I just thought, ‘Maybe I’ll send out an e-mail again,’” said Cunniffe.
About eight teachers from various departments showed up this year.
“It’s hard to commit to after school, but our group has been pretty consistently meeting every Tuesday after school for about an hour, just boogying down in Room 302,” said Cunniffe.
Although Cunniffe has been teaching salsa for eight years, she was excited about teaching fellow Las Lomas teachers.
“It’s really fun to teach teachers because it’s almost sort of nerve-racking—even though it’s a new subject for them, and physical learning is different than academic learning. Your skills as a teacher are on display!” said Cunniffe. “I think the fun part for me is to kind of practice up my teaching skills and to enjoy that interaction with teachers who know the practice of teaching and can appreciate what we’re doing together.”
Despite Cunniffe’s early apprehension about the class, both she and participating teachers enjoy the class immensely. Spanish teacher Marlene Miranda loves Cunniffe’s teaching.
“She is amazing and I think more than anything just such a great encourager and … we all feel really empowered leaving her class …” said Miranda. “She’s really patient and repeating different steps that we don’t understand and so she’s completely exceeded any expectations that I had. Because I was a little nervous and now I’m not nervous at all.”
3D Art teacher Erica Amundson, another participant of the salsa class, enjoys the class because of both Cunniffe’s teaching style and her joy of dancing.
“Ms. Cunniffe explains the mechanics of the dance so clearly and with a sense of humor. It’s such a fun physical and mental release,” said Amundson.
The class has also served as a great team builder.
“We’ve bonded through making ourselves do things that we feel ridiculous doing,” said Amundson.
Despite feeling somewhat strange in the beginning, the teachers were comfortable enough to show their salsa skills publicly.
“We actually went dancing on Cinco de Mayo,” said Miranda. “We went to a place in San Francisco and it was really fun to kind of have that bond … It’s kind of humbling too because we’re all on the same level so it’s good.”
Aside from the class being a great bonding activity, Cunniffe believes that it is also a good way for teachers to relax and take time for themselves.
“It just reminds you that you have to take some time to do what fills you up—what makes you feel energized and connected,” said Cunniffe. “It’s been really fun to get to share that in a small way—I’ve enjoyed it.”
Although the class is small this year, Cunniffe hopes to open the class up to more teachers next year to encourage teachers to try new things and to go beyond their comfort zones.
“I picked this by accident, and it turned out to be something that has sustained me as a teacher and a person,” said Cunniffe. “I think that’s a pretty cool lesson, or reminder. You just never know where you might find something that you could take with you into the next portion of your life.”