A Change in the Equation

Math teacher Tatiana Briceno was originally on the path to a business career; then she moved to Kansas


photo provided by Tatiana Briceno

Math teacher Tatiana Briceno smiles with her father. When she was young, her father was shot in the leg in Venezuela.

Morgan Tate

Math teacher Tatiana Briceno lived in Caracas, Venezuela, her entire life until she was 15. That’s when her dad was shot in the leg and Briceno and her mother moved to America. 

Briceno had gone to the same private Catholic school her whole life, had the same friends, had cookouts with her father’s side of the family and hung out with her mom at work.

Her mother was the Caracas community outreach director and worked with the mayor, planning major community events. Her mother was also involved in a political party critical of Venezuela’s president.

“She was getting threats all the time,” Briceno said. “We would have police outside of our house all the time. She would get phone calls all the time. At her job, they would have to take her to her car.”

Both of her parents took part in peaceful protests against the government, but these protests often turned violent and the police tear-gassed protesters. Her college-aged cousin tended to fight back and Briceno’s father would try to keep him out of the fray. The threats and violence increased her mother’s desire to leave Venezuela. One incident escalated her concerns significantly.

“The police tried to get my cousin and my dad got shot,” Briceno said. 

Although Briceno’s whole life was in Venezuela, the shooting triggered an immediate move to the United States.

“I wasn’t aware that I was moving to the United States,” Briceno said. “I went to a gymnastics camp in New York for two weeks. When my mom picked me up, she told me we were staying. I was shocked and sad but also very excited to learn a new language and culture.”

Because Briceno’s parents were divorced, her dad stayed in Venezuela working as a mechanic. Her mother had a job and a boyfriend in Kansas. 

When her mom dropped her off at SM South, she only said, “okay, good luck.” 

Although the move got them away from the unrest in Venezuela, the change was scary for Briceno. Compared to her private school in Venezuela, Shawnee Mission South felt like a shopping mall. 

As Briceno started making friends in her English as a Second Language class, she got adjusted to SM South. The move to America let her pursue her dreams.

Briceno’s love of math was inspired by her uncle Toni.

“He would sit down with me after school and do the homework with me,” Briceno said. “With practice, I got good at it and I started liking it.”

Uncle Toni was very patient with Briceno and made math engaging for her.

“He would explain to me why things are like this,” Briceno said. “Why parentheses work that way. That would get me to learn more.”

But even with her newfound love of math, she had few career choices in Venezuela.

“You had three options: you become a doctor, engineer or a businesswoman,” Briceno said. 

She was pushed to select one of these three career paths, and chose to become a businesswoman. After arriving at South, she became the resident math tutor for her English Second Language (ESL) classmates.

“ had study hall together,” Briceno said. “They always asked about math. I would always be done with my math. My ESL teacher would say, ‘oh, Tatiana, could you help so-and-so with math?’ I was like, ‘okay. For sure.’”

Briceno enjoyed teaching math to her fellow students, seeing her classmates continue to improve at math, and, when one of her friends thanked her for the tutoring, Briceno knew she wanted to teach.

“‘Thanks to you, I passed math,’” Briceno said. “Yeah, I think that phrase will forever stick with me because they were like, ‘Thank you. Because of you, I actually understand math.’”

When she began college at Kansas State University, she was still on her way to becoming a businesswoman.  

“I started taking some business classes, and I was like, ‘Yeah this is not for me,’” Briceno said. “I switched to teaching at the end of my freshman year.” 

After college, Briceno started her career as a math teacher here. She still misses Venezuela, although she hasn’t been back since 2017. Despite the distance, she keeps up with those she loves. 

“I miss my dad a lot,” Briceno said. “I send him pictures all the time of everything I do. I make sure to text him.” 

Briceno knows if she still lived in Venezuela, she’d still be on the business path. She knows she wouldn’t be a teacher and, even though she’s not a businesswoman, her parents are very proud of her.

 “My mom tells me she’s proud of me every day,” Briceno said. “She asks ‘How’s my favorite teacher?’ My dad tells me that, too.”