Years in education: 4-6
First in family to graduate from college
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: When I was in school as a child in Seattle, I moved a lot and my mom did everything she could to save money for a house. We were mostly in survival mode until I turned 12, and finally bought a home in Puyallup.
In Seattle, I had a very diverse group of friends whose parents valued their cultural roots. My best friends were Swedish, Venezuelan, and Polish. I didn't use Spanish at school, but I got the message that being different and having different cultural traditions was the norm.
When we moved to Puyallup, it was a whole other world. Everyone was white. Although adults were nice and respectful, the message I got in school here was very different. Kids here had a specific association with Latinos, and it was very negative, so I stopped using Spanish all together.
Especially as a teenager, when it is so important to affirm a child's identity, I wish I had come across adults or students who were curious about my culture. I wish I had come across people who thought it was an asset to speak another language, or who expressed positive views about those I identified with.
Instead, I worked very hard from 12-18 to hide things about me that made me a Latina so that I could be socially successful in school. The more my mom tried to force me to use Spanish at home, the more I rebelled and refused to use it. I still had a great experience in school and I can look back on with fond memories, but I wonder all the time where my language skills would be if I hadn't stopped using Spanish for 6 years.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: When I was doing my student teaching, I became close to many of the Latina girls in my 5th grade class. Since my Spanish isn't 100% on point anymore, I tend to use it in Spanglish style, switching between languages depending on which one lends itself better to the message I'm trying to get across. The girls communicated in a similar style, and we clicked right away.
I think there's a huge need for bicultural models in my generation and in the generations after. The immigrant generation (parents) provide guidelines on "who we are" and "where we come from," but are not always able to help their kids navigate an American world.
With this group of 5th grade girls, I felt like I could encourage part of their identities that made them Latinas, but I could also talk to them about college and careers and parents.
One event that struck me most about our interactions was when one of the girls asked me to be her Godmother for her Quinceañera. I was excited and honored, but when I asked her what I needed to do to prepare for such an important day, she laughed and said, "You know! You've had one, right?" I shook my head. "No! I'm Peruvian."
We have a lot of Latinos in our school district, but most are Mexican. We were able to share with each other what kinds of things bonded us as Latinos, but also the differences we have between countries. It was a great moment of learning, but also served as a lesson for us both. You can always learn from each other, no matter your position as teacher or student. We were equals in that moment, and I hope that I can create more moments of that kind of equality in my classroom as long as I teach.
Jill is a 2017 Washington State Teacher Leader. Follow her on Twitter @LlamaLovesK.
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.