Heading to Cobre, NM: Coffee Break With Edward Pena

This is part of a series of Q&As with New Mexico educators, parents, policy makers, wonks, leaders, and students. Find the entire series here.


 
 

Full Name: Edward S. Pena
Hometown: Hurley, NM
Current City: Hurley, NM
Grade(s)/Subject(s) Previously Taught: 9th - 12th Counselor and Science
School and District: Cobre High School, Cobre Consolidated Schools


Cobre New Mexico is nestled in the southwest corner of the state. Tell us a bit about Cobre and why folks should visit. And how is the coffee there?

This question is always interesting.  I am often asked where Cobre is, but Cobre is not a town. The term Cobre is the Spanish term for “copper”, through which our name is derived in support of the local mining industry. Cobre is the school district, which encompasses the neighboring towns of Hurley, Bayard, Santa Clara, and Mimbres area.

Cobre High School is located in Bayard, NM. We are about 20 miles southwest of Silver City. But, just to clarify, we are not Silver City. Our area is widespread and there are a lot of outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing, camping and a few good hometown restaurants. All of these are part of Grant County. We have the Tour of the Gila in May and The Blues Festival in May as well. We also have the Wild Wild West Pro Rodeo in June. There are many other activities through Western New Mexico University (WNMU) or the Mimbres Regional Arts Council. We are also simply a great getaway area to relax.

Funny enough, I don’t drink coffee, unless I’m at a meeting and didn’t sleep much the night before. I am more of a tea person; homemade iced tea, all day every day.


 
 

You’ve been working in education for quite a long time. Please share a bit about what brings you to the work you do and your journey here.

I actually graduated from Cobre High School in 1981. When I was in high school the guidance counselor called me in and asked about my future plans. I expressed an interest in medicine and she quickly asked what my father did. I replied that he worked for the local mine and she suggested that I should do the same. Needless to say, I didn’t.

College was always an expectation in my family. While I had originally planned to leave the area, I decided to attend WNMU. While there, an advisor asked if I have ever considered being a teacher.  I still needed to select a minor and decided to go for a double major instead. I graduated from WNMU in 1986 with a BA in Education and BS in Zoology.

While doing my student teaching I was mentored by an excellent former high school teacher. In fact, many of my previous teachers were there as mentors. My teaching career took off from there. I had a principal one year that told me he was not going to allow me to be a bystander. He told me that the next school year I would become the department chairperson. I mention this because it often takes those people in our life to push us to do more.

That brings me to the present. I have been in education for 32 years now; 15 in the classroom and 17 in my present position as a guidance counselor. I still love what I do, and I always say my goal is that each day I can get really good at my job. Joking aside, isn’t that what education is all about? We have to improve and stay current, because we are trying to get our kids prepared for their future. If we don’t know what is out there - and what we need to do - how can we really prepare them?


You are currently taking on several roles at Cobre High School. What does a typical day for you look like? What are your greatest aspirations for the school?

My typical day is never typical. While I always have lists and plans, I don’t always accomplish them in the order that I intend. I am not a morning person but school starts at 8am sharp for me. Usually as soon as I enter my office, there are either students, parents, or teachers waiting with a question or concern. So typical, for me, means trying to maneuver the day to get tasks done. 

I do a lot of computer and data work as our office is responsible for the majority of the data entry. I also love to visit classrooms as that brings me back to teaching. I take time to visit each grade level and discuss careers, success, plans and any other areas students may have questions. I visit with seniors often in reference to their exams, college, career and simply preparing for their future. Sometimes I am invited to visit elementary classrooms, which are always amazing and eye opening. 

My highest aspiration is that all our students succeed. I know that may sound cliche, but I get the greatest joy when I visit with students after they graduate and hear all the great things they are doing, have done, or plan to do. I want them to be able to say that they received a strong foundation in education so that they can do anything. Some of my favorite conversations are when a previous student says, “Thank you, for all we did in school. I should have listened more.” I want them to realize those things earlier but we always have to keep trying.


 
 

Over the past decade high schools have begun to focus more on college and career readiness. What has this looked like at Cobre High and what impacts have you seen for students after graduation?

I know that college and career readiness centers in large part around instruction. Thankfully, our school district is very open to professional development and encourages teachers to find something that works and helps them. I wish more educators, especially at the high school level would take advantage of these opportunities.

I also see that assessment is always an issue and concern, but I strongly support assessments. I often ask students, “How are we going to know whether you are learning and how are we going to find out areas that we need to improve?” Assessment and the use of the data is vital for understanding our needs.

With that also comes accountability and, hence, teacher evaluation. I think the evaluation is a true tool for improvement. I remember old fashioned, subjective evaluation, which for me was always discouraging. Not because I received poor ratings, but because I knew that some teachers down the hall received the same rating as I did and weren’t putting in the same effort. 

I always want to know where and how to improve. Unfortunately the old evaluation system forced me and many others to rely on self-evaluation and self-imposed standards.


 
 

Speaking of evaluation, recently it was announced that New Mexico has more highly effective and exemplary teachers (according to NMTeach) than ever before. What has been your experience with our teacher evaluation system? What works well in your eyes and what needs to tweaking?

I am truly happy to see that there are more effective teachers. It shows that teachers are teaching and working to ensure that students are learning with rigor and critical thinking. While many of my peers might not a agree, I think effective is a good starting point. As teachers develop, gather training, and gain experience, they should definitely strive to become highly effective and exemplary.

Now if you are there already, that is great. I truly hope that those teachers will mentor other struggling teachers and even those that are effective. If we have the knowledge shouldn’t it be shared? As a professional community, teachers have to be the voice and help each other grow.  We teach students but we forget to teach each other. Is it because for so many years we have not been given a voice? Well this current administration at the NMPED is telling teachers, “You have a voice, use it to make your profession stronger.”

I have been lucky enough to have training through the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network, NMTEACH and other professional development opportunities. I wish more teachers could receive this training, especially the NMTEACH Training. It makes sense to train teachers in what we are evaluated about. This is a missing part in teacher evaluation. Policy makers all too often forget that training is needed, because reading the manual isn’t enough. 

I also feel the evaluation system is important to let students, parents, and the community know that teachers are really trying and working for improvement. We want the to know that there is quality and rigor, and those are the norm, not exceptions to the rule.


Lastly, for those who make it down to Cobre, would they find you eating more green or red chile?

That is probably the hardest question! To me Green is just the chili that can be put on anything, and Red is a sauce.  My mom’s Red is AMAZING. I will go with my mom: Red!