Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why I Entered Teaching

Today's prompt from Big Time Literacy's Blogging Challenge is to write about why/how I became a teacher. I already sort of covered that in a previous post, but I will expound on it here. As I have mentioned before, I never planned on becoming a school teacher (although I always loved school). I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up so that I could help people. Luckily, I have found a profession where I can still help people--just in a different way.

I sort of stumbled into teaching via subbing in CPS and the surrounding suburbs while I was in between jobs. It was fun to be in a different school everyday, and to get to see the different cultures in each building. Now, I don't mean "culture" as in the demographics of the different schools; I mean the "school culture" as in how the adults treated each other and their students. I could tell what kind of day it was going to be based on how the secretary or administrator greeted me when I walked into the office. Some schools were completely cold and dysfunctional, while others were warm and inviting. I quickly learned which schools to go back to and which ones to run away from (or rather, to not pick up the phone at 5:45am when the substitute line called).

Each school was different, and you couldn't tell from the outside how it would feel until you walked through the halls. But the one thing I noticed that all of the schools I worked in had in common was that the demographics of the student body did not match up with the demographics of their teachers and administrators! All of these public schools were overwhelmingly non-white schools in low-income communities, but most of the adults who worked there were not from the community and did not look like their students. This is a problem that we as a society must address. According to the latest numbers that I have seen,

"...by 2020, the percentage of teachers of color will fall to an all-time low of 5 percent of the total teacher force, while the percentage of students of color in the system will likely exceed 50 percent...."

Even though I didn't have the numbers back then, I knew that I wanted to teach kids in my community because I used to be one of them. I wanted to serve as not only a role model but also as a mentor to Latino kids and to help their families build a bridge with their local public school. When I was growing up, all of my teachers were white and spoke no Spanish, except for one. Ms. Robles was fresh out of college and still living in our community on the Southwest Side when she became my 5th grade teacher. It was so nice to have a teacher who could pronounce our names and speak to our parents after school. We all invited her to our houses for birthday parties or just to visit, and she actually came! I will always remember her because she was a great teacher AND she looked like me.

After that, I moved to the suburb where I now teach and I never saw any teachers of color. To this day, there is only a handful of Latino and Latina teachers where I work and most of us are in bilingual classrooms. Once our students exit the bilingual program, it is extremely rare for them to see someone who looks like them standing at the front of their classroom.  This was the case in the 1980s and 1990s when I was a public school student, and it is still the case today. I want to change this, and that is why I am a teacher.

So I'm curious, what does your school look like? Do the students see themselves reflected in their teachers? Do the families feel welcomed into their local public school? What do you do to address this disparity in your classroom?

Thanks for weighing in,


  1. You bring up a very good point. Our student population is definitely more diverse than our staff. It's also important for white students to see teachers that DON'T look like them. I'm not sure what can be done to address this issue. I'm glad that you are able to be a role model for the students in your school.
    Not very fancy

  2. I'm getting my ESOL endorsement and taking a class on Cultural Diversity right now - and this is something that has been discussed in our class. I don't know what to do either, but I love teaching.

  3. Awww. I don't have any color to add, but I agree with you. Children should be taught by people who live/lived/grew up in their community or that can build a community with them. And they should be taught to embrace their heritage. Hooray for you making a difference. I am coming out of a district that has a very "professional" image they expect of teachers. But it puts a barrier between the teacher and the students and the students' families. I just wanted to shout.... what about the jeans and t-shirt families? what about the macaroni and cheese and hotdog families? what about the tattoed families? What about the families living in utter poverty? This is their school too!!! And I think that about ethnicity and race too. Our schools are divided in so many ways. It makes me sad. But I am excited to find more and more people like you, making a difference, one teacher at a time.


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