There are two things you can count on when walking into Celia Joya's classroom on the second floor of Boca Ciega High. Seeing her smiling face is the first.
“Buenos dias! Como estas?" Joya begins every class period by greeting her students.
The second is hearing student responses that are never as enthusiastic as the initial greeting.
But that is of no matter to Joya, who teaches Spanish 3 and 4 Honors as well as AP Spanish and who is one of four Spanish teachers at Boca Ciega. Grumpy students come with the territory, and Joya, who is a favorite of many Boca Ciega students, doesn't mind. She has worked hard to get where she is, and continues to do so.
Joya was born in the Cuban countryside. At the age of 10 she and her family moved to Miami for a better life, and she attended Miami Northwestern Senior High, where she graduated at age 16. She then left her family to attend the University of South Florida to pursue a degree in criminology and juvenile justice. She offers advice: "Don't do what I did and graduate high school early. You lose the chance to make some great memories and have some great experiences."
Though her first intention was to work in the field of juvenile justice, Joya found her calling when she was 18 and working as a substitute teacher at a school in Tampa. "I fell in love with being there and being able to help out," she said. "I had always wanted to work with kids." In 2006, Joya (who was at the time Celia Rubi) began her career at Boca Ciega High at just 19 years old. She became part of one of the fastest-growing minority groups going into teaching.
She says she enjoys the connections she makes with her students and co-workers. She also loves the excitement of knowing that they're going to come back to visit as successful, accomplished adults. She enjoys seeing where they go and what they do with their lives.
One of the worst parts of teaching? When she sees potential in a student but the student doesn't see it.
Joya recognizes her own potential, along with her ability to juggle a lot of work. A teacher of seven years and a mother of two, Joya, 26, is now working on a master's degree in Spanish from Nova University. Though she said she has considered teaching college, her main goal after the degree is to just be the best at what she does. She expects to graduate in early 2015.