Age: 37

Hometown: From Brussels, Belgium, and lives now in St. Paul

Job: Third-grade teacher at a French immersion school.

Teacher salary range: $34,000 to $60,000, depending on education and experience.

Education: I went to college in Belgium for travel and recreation. I worked in a bunch of hotels: assistant manager in a youth hostel in Brussels and then a year or two at hotels in New Mexico. Then I started working in travel agencies for three years and opened my own business as a travel agent. I'm still a travel agent, but it's almost like a hobby now.

About seven years ago a friend of mine called me [and] said "Oh, they're looking for an assistant in this French immersion school, I think you would be a good candidate."

I was like "Why not, I'll try it!" At the time I had my own business but it wasn't enough of an income, so I thought I would do it as a side job. [Over] the years I was less and less travel and more and more education. My first two years here I was a teacher's assistant and then four years as an educational assistant in gifted services and school enrichment. Now I've joined the Twin Cities Teaching Fellows program, and this is my first year as a classroom teacher.

How did you first come to the U.S.? When I was 18 I was an exchange student. I went to Duluth for one year as a senior in high school. There I met a girl and we moved to Belgium together, we lived over there for four years, and we got married and had kids and moved back here. I got divorced 10 years ago and I'm still here because I have kids here. And because I like this school, too.

What motivates you to come to work every morning? When they arrive in the morning, that's the best time: You check their homework and they walk in, "Hey, Mr. Beni!" and they're really happy to be there, that's nice. But every day is super different, I never know what's going to happen. It's definitely not a boring job. What really motivates me is just seeing each child's progress, when they make big progress in one day ... it makes me feel useful. It's a pretty important role. But it gets pretty crazy sometimes. I wish I had a class of like 20 students; with 28 students, they're all so different, [it's hard] to fill all of the needs.

What are your favorite things to do at school? I like everything: I like singing with them, I like to teach math, but it's challenging because they have [learning] levels all the way from first to sixth grade, all in one class. Basically, I like to teach third grade. They're at the age where they still really like their teacher.

Are there unique challenges for you as a teacher from a foreign country? This is definitely very different: When I was in elementary school in Brussels, we had a lot of kids in my class, but we just had our desk, in front of the teacher and there was no talking. If you were [caught] talking you would just write 1,000 times: "I'm not talking...." Also, making sure you have groups by levels or different needs, that's something that's still pretty new in Belgium. Over there it's still almost like a lecture. The kids are quieter and more respectful. It's very old-fashioned.