Looking back, it’s a good thing Chary Salvador failed at becoming a pharmacist, because this brilliant and energetic woman was born to be a teacher and educational leader.
Growing up as the daughter of immigrants from the Philippines, she was sensitive to her parents’ hopes that she too would opt for a career in the medical profession as they had — her mom as an RN and her dad, who was a dentist back home, working as a respiratory therapist.
When asked how she decided to become a teacher, Chary responds with her trademark candor, saying, “I failed at what I thought I should be.” As an undergraduate at the University of Florida she began studying Pre-Pharmacy. “And it took one class to tell me: Girl, you’re not supposed to be here.” Uh-oh, now what?
“In my path to figuring out what to do in that failure, I decided to put my energy into volunteering for underprivileged middle school students and realized, ‘Hey, I can teach. And I could teach something that I like. And I actually love this, so why not?’” she recalls. “And here I am, 20 years later.”
Today, Chary teaches at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, California. Since January 2021, she has also been working to earn her Master of Education degree, online through the University of San Diego. She recently agreed to an interview to share her insights about teaching and about her decision to become a student again.
The Joy, and Challenges, of Becoming a Student Again
Chary’s passion for her profession is evident, as her colorful and entertaining speaking style that makes it obvious that teaching brings her an immense amount of joy.
She teaches AP Language Arts to 11th graders and a course called GOALS World Literature to 10th graders. She explains that GOALS stands for Growing Our Academic and Literacy Skills, and says the course supports students of immigrant families who “may struggle a little with personal organization or literacy. My job is to build their confidence so they can tackle general education classes after they leave me.”
“I have about 120 students. And if you can imagine teaching English, that’s a lot of reading. That’s a lot of writing. That’s a lot of reading and writing. It’s a lot of talking,” she says.
That’s also a lot of work to balance while trying to carve out time to earn your M.Ed. “I have a family full time. I work full time,” she adds. But like so many teachers, earning that master’s degree is a goal that connects to their passion as lifelong learners – and their desire to continue becoming even better at the work they love. As Chary expresses it, “What can I do to better myself?”
“A master’s is something I’ve been looking forward to doing for a very long time,” so she was determined to find the right program amid an educational landscape where not all online Master of Education programs are created equal.
M.Ed. at USD is “Like a Spa for My Mind”
In the University of San Diego, she found a well-established M.Ed. program with a strong national reputation that also focused special attention on educational issues that are important to her, specifically “social justice courses, and what they are doing proactively to lead the discussion around social justice.”
Chary is specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, the most flexible of USD’s six M.Ed. specialization tracks. She is on track to complete the 20-month program and earn her diploma in Spring 2022.
“I love it. I mean, it’s like a spa for my mind,” she says. “The academic experience has been very reflective, fruitful, inspiring and empowering. I have yet to find a lesson that hasn’t influenced me in the way that I see the world that I’m working and living in, or how I am presenting material to my students of all levels.”
As an educator, she is a believer in teaching her students to become critical thinkers with a strong understanding of media literacy and how to “lean into the hard conversations and not be uncomfortable with it.”
Earning her master’s degree online rather than on-campus helps make the whole thing possible for Chary as she balances a full-time teaching schedule and family life with her husband and 4-year-old daughter. “I like it because it enables me to work at my own pace and I’ve been able to balance my life with the online format. I know the deadlines. I know what’s expected of me.”
The USD program is structured to not only engage each student with experienced, expert instructors, it also emphasizes robust interaction among fellow M.Ed. students. And though it is physically based in San Diego, the USD M.Ed. program has wide impact nationally and even internationally. Chary emphasized how much interacting with her online colleagues added to her USD experience.
“I have classmates who are from all over the world, even some who are taking this class in different countries,” she says, as well as teachers working in “elementary school all the way through to military school and beyond, in schools that have a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.”
And as to the quality of instruction, she says, “The professors in this program are top-notch in my opinion, because they care about the same things and have the same passion that I do. And it’s evident in the assignments that they post.” She credits the USD instructors with personalizing their courses and ensuring that they are dealing with real-time issues in education. In many ways, “they are a model to me on what I should be doing in my classroom. They inspire me, so I want to give a shout-out to the instructors of our USD SOLES [School of Leadership and Education Sciences] program.”
For Lifelong Learners, “Never Too Late” to Earn M.Ed.
So, what does the future hold for this future M.Ed.-credentialed lifelong learner and educator? “In my 20 years of experience, I’ve had varying teacher leadership roles. I have been a department lead, I have been a mentor, I have been an instructional coach, I have taught low-level reading courses up all the way through AP (Advanced Placement). With all of this experience, combined with my work at USD, I just ultimately want to be a better teacher. I know that sounds nuts; I could go out and be a principal or have an administrative position. But at this juncture, I really, really like teaching. And whatever I can do to help my colleagues become better teachers together, that’s where I’m at right now.”
She is excited that treating herself to her M.Ed. experience also dovetails with her determination to help bring about positive change in education. As a teacher-leader, she has a special interest in working to create more cohesion and collaboration between classroom teachers and administrators for the ultimate benefit of the students. Part of the goal is to deliver thoughtful, practical educational experiences that meet students where they are and empower them to be active, aware citizens amid the realities of their individual lived experience. Her own daughter provides powerful inspiration for her as well.
“My daughter is 4. She sees her mom and her dad with the computer open a lot and she’s just become accustomed to understanding that when the computer’s open, mommy and daddy are working. Sometimes she just wants to sit next to me and just be there with me. She’s even got a computer to pretend that she’s mommy — ‘I got to talk to my students today.’ So I’m like ‘OK, you talk to your students.’ And we all work on our computers.” Chary adds, “I’m glad she’s seeing her mother hustle. I need her to see her mom hustle like that, to empower her to know that we all do our thing, that it’s not handed to us.”
Chary is also highly motivated to inspire fellow educators to be the best they can be, well aware that, for some, this might mean following the dream held by many in her profession to earn a master’s degree. Now she’s looking forward to making the 470-mile trip to San Diego to receive her diploma at USD’s on-campus commencement ceremony in Spring 2022.
Regarding that master’s degree pathway, she offers encouragement for career teachers who may feel like, “Aw, it’s too late for me, I’m not gonna go back.” She responds to this type of thinking by pointing to her own example. “I’m 43 years old. So if that’s inspiring to anyone,” she says. “It’s never too late to do this.”