El Estoque

History teacher Viviana Montoya-Hernandez shares her oversize souvenirs

M-H+shows+her+oversized+items+that+she+keeps+around+the+classroom.+Her+collection+is+an+accumulation+of+student+gifts+and+personal+purchases.+Photo+by+Smitha+Gundavajhala.+%0D%0A
Back to Article
Back to Article

History teacher Viviana Montoya-Hernandez shares her oversize souvenirs

M-H shows her oversized items that she keeps around the classroom. Her collection is an accumulation of student gifts and personal purchases. Photo by Smitha Gundavajhala.

M-H shows her oversized items that she keeps around the classroom. Her collection is an accumulation of student gifts and personal purchases. Photo by Smitha Gundavajhala.

M-H shows her oversized items that she keeps around the classroom. Her collection is an accumulation of student gifts and personal purchases. Photo by Smitha Gundavajhala.

M-H shows her oversized items that she keeps around the classroom. Her collection is an accumulation of student gifts and personal purchases. Photo by Smitha Gundavajhala.

Yashashree Pisolkar

pull qoute m-H

On the first day of school, AP U.S. History and regular Government and Economics teacher Viviana Montoya-Hernandez pulled out her oversized pencil to take attendance, hoping to “break the ice” with her new set of students. Even though students initially felt a little discomfited by the showcase of larger-than-life pencils, calculators and scissors around her classroom, M-H believes that the students have come to share a common interest.

 What exactly is in your oversize collection?

When I first started teaching eight years ago, I was looking for some ways for students to feel really at home in the classroom, trying to find some ways for students to see me as approachable. So I was looking for things to put in my classroom [such as] posters, that kind of stuff that teachers do … I was walking through the store one day with my younger brother, and they had these oversize Tootsie Roll pillows, so he picked it up and smacked me with it, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really cool. This is exactly the kind of fun thing I want for my classroom.’

Once I had that, kids just started giving me stuff. So every time students go somewhere and they find something giant, they add to the collection. What I have here is a collection from different students who have given me things overtime. My latest edition to my giant — literally — collection is my Iron Man huge PEZ dispenser that I got as a birthday present from Mr. Hoffman.

M-H shows her oversized items that she keeps around the classroom. Her collection is an accumulation of student gifts and personal purchases. Photo by Smitha Gundavajhala.

M-H shows her oversize items that she keeps around the classroom. Her collection is an accumulation of student gifts and personal purchases. Photo by Smitha Gundavajhala.

What does it mean to you to have this collection?

So there are two pieces, the first is definitely about having that element of fun. I understand that school is a stressful place; being an adolescent is a very stressful time. It’s really important for me that students feel that when they need somewhere to go, when they need a good laugh, when they need somewhere to be playful and youthful, that this is a place they can do that when its appropriate. So having these novelty things definitely reflects my personality and my view of what my job is as a teacher, and the other thing, of course, is that I love that it’s something that comes from all my students over time. I have things from the Class of 2007, 2008, 2009, so it really represents to me the collective of all the students I’ve ever worked with.

What do you think your collection means to the students?

Students come in, and they always want to play with it. I think it reflects my personality, and its fun to come by and laugh about or just marvel about … It is out of the ordinary, and I think that all people regardless of their age enjoy doing things that are childlike sometimes, and being able to laugh and smile a little bit, and for some reason, oversize items remind us of when we were little kids and everything was huge.

What is your favorite item, and what is the story behind it?

My oversize universal TV remote — just because not only is it oversized, but it is also no longer useful because I don’t have a TV [inside the classroom]. We are in this new place where technology has advanced, and when I started teaching, I used a TV, and I didn’t have a projector so the students bought it for me so that I could use it for the TV. It was four or five students that bought it for me as an end of the year gift. So the fact that it was collected from a lot of students and the fact that it’s funny to look at I just think adds to the fun of it.

What do you think these objects say about you?

I think it says I’m not afraid to have fun and that I’m okay with being a little bit silly. Sometimes there are things that other students think are a little embarrassing— [like] using a huge pencil to take attendance — but for me the most important thing is for students to know that when they are in here, this is a place where they’re not going to be judged and that it is okay to say things that are a little uncomfortable. I want there to be a culture of safety inside my room, and I hope that’s what students understand when they see these items.