The power of a teacher’s gaze

What is the most important part of a teacher? 

What about her gaze?

Bullying starts in silence. In subtleties. It’s glances, murmurs, a passed note, a brushing-by in the hallway that’s a little too rough. Sometimes this is invisible to teachers, but not to Niña Lidiabeth. She could see that the other kids didn’t like the new first-grader: already una nerdita, overly eager to please and excel, cursed by a Panamanian accent after four years spent abroad for her father’s work. La Niña Lidiabeth protected her over-achieving charge just as silently and subtly. An authoritative glance. A well-placed word of support. A little chineo, a tiny singling-out: not enough to increase the ridicule, just enough to warn off the vultures. Those jaws of bullying, poised and threatening, never closed down on the little girl.

So small and precise, impeccably dressed, with large, beautiful earrings framing her face, la Niña was full of sayings: The lazy and the mean must do everything twice. Do it slowly, because we are in a rush. These truisms, such throwaways on someone else’s lips, were transformed by the steady gaze of la Niña Lidiabeth into standards that would shape her students for life. 

One day, she pressed a set of papers into the little girl’s hands and issued an order: run for student body president. “But Niña, no one even likes me!” “You’ll do it, and you’ll win.” What did she see, deep inside the girl who somehow won that election, whose voice now seemed to matter? 

The nerdita had never held a proper camera or learned to take a photo, but with Niña Lidiabeth, she learned more than math or reading. She learned the power of the gaze. What we choose to view. What we leave out of the shot, ignore, obscure. What we do with what we’ve seen. Will we look and leave it be, or will we, like the greatest of teachers, find a way to act?

As published today in El Colectivo 506. Image courtesy of El Colectivo 506 and Mónica Quesada Cordero. Text by Katherine Stanley Obando, inspired by photojournalist Mónica Quesada’s love for her teacher, Lidiabeth Leitón García. Is there a Costa Rican teacher who looms large in your mind? Tell me! Our weekly #MediaNaranja series this month is dedicated to teachers.

El Colectivo is the new, bilingual media organization I co-founded with two friends last year. Our Sunday #MediaNaranja series collects short love stories with a Costa Rican connection: romances, friendships, love of humans, animals, things, places, ideas. To share your own ideas for stories to be featured in this space, write to me at

Celebrating teachers in Costa Rica – especially Batán de Limón

Last week, I talked and wrote about champions of kids. Today, during Teacher Appreciation Week, here’s a little more information about one of the stories I mentioned: the teachers in Batán de Limón, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope, who have turned to radio in hopes of reaching all their students, no matter what their connectivity at home.

Here’s what the Ministry of Public Education shared using #vocaciondocente, the hashtag that will lead you to all kinds of inspiring teacher stories:

Music teachers at the Vocational High School in Batán, Limón, created an internet radio station to communicate with their students… it became the ideal tool to educate kids at a distance in the Caribbean region.

“Radio Batalents” is the name of the station, led by teacher Bladimir Alvarado Álvarez with the support of Zuricka Gómez Obando and Álvaro Herrera Vázquez. The station brodcasts classes with shows like “Let’s talk about music,” which uses lectures, examples, concepts and activities to address the curricular demands of every year of high school.

The station also offers community news, greetings that students send to the station, and classes with teachers of other subjects, as well as a blog.

You can read more about Radio Batalents here, or give it a listen here. Thank you to Bladimir, Zuricka, Alvaro, and all the teachers who are showing not only dedication to their students, but also amazing creativity as they seek to reach the kids without internet at home, or who are facing other challenges in conecting to teachers.

Remember, search #vocaciondocente on Facebook anytime you need a lift. Join me tomorrow at 8 am CR/10 am ET to talk for a few minutes about shopping local.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all!

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookIf you want to learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section, updated regularly – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

Celebrating our kids’ champions, part I: Daily Boost Live

Join me for a little cafecito and some inspiring stories from people working hard on behalf of kids! Tomorrow’s post will include more info and links on some of these projects. Breathe in, breathe out: you’re doing enough. Even when you’re not. (You know what I mean.)