Years in Education: 1-2
Chilean and Xicanx
High School ELL and Social Studies Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: At Foster High School, nine out of ten students are students of color but only six teachers are people of color out of a staff of about 60-70 teachers.
The young people I work with come from over 51 countries and speak 44 languages. There is no single story or experience that can be identified as "typical" or "common" among our students because of the hyper-diverse context in which we learn and work. Our students are undocumented, they are refugees, they are DREAMERS, they are immigrants, they are Seattleites, they are Foster High School Bulldogs.
What I have in common with a vast majority of students is that I am a person of color. I am an educator of color. I have been, and will always consider myself a student of color since I spent 18 years of my life in public schools and institutions of higher education. My experience as a student of color has shaped the way I teach, learn and engage with young people, particularly in the way I mentor students of color.
As a kindergartner I was given my first taste of public school. At 6 years old, I recall loving learning. I felt so deeply cared for by my kindergarten teacher Ms. Coglin, at Bryant Elementary in Seattle Public Schools. I remember her warmth to this day.
Unfortunately, 18 years of public schooling did not always reflect the love and warmth I experienced in the early years. As I grew older, my experiences began to reflect the undeniably racialized world in which we lived. I began to notice my cultural and linguistic traditions in a way I never had before. I began to notice how "different" my family was compared to the white children and families that I attended school with, and how my cultural traditions and ways of being in the world did not easily align with how I was "supposed" to act in school settings.
My elders and my community taught me to speak with fire on my tongue and passion in my heart. They taught me to live graciously, but to push boundaries if they limited us. I was taught to share my gifts with my community, and to never think in terms of individual gain. I hold all of this in common with my students and so much more.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: It absolutely matters that students and teachers have things in common! About 75% of the students in my classes are English Language Learners, many of whom speak Spanish. As a bilingual educator of color, I cannot deny the depth of connection I experience with my Spanish-speaking students. When I speak to my students in Spanish, there is an immediate level of mutual respect achieved. A shared language translates into a shared set of values. When students see their teacher speaking a shared home language, it helps them envision themselves as both learner and teacher. Schooling is no longer solely associated with a white, English-speaking, culturally irrelevant learning context, but a familiar, culturally diverse and engaged learning environment.
In addition to teaching, Stephanie is her school's Muslim Student Association Advisor, and she is a Teaching Fellow with the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice. Connect with her on Twitter @MaestraXicana.
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.