I am a minority.
With all due (dis)respect to Michelle Rhee-ing my own lips, after seeing the world premiere of the wonderfully-done The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, I am left thinking about where I stand in regards to the conversation about public schools, about teachers, and everything in between.
Teaching in a heavily Dominican and Mexican populated neighborhood, I teach in a school that reaches out to the new minority (and will become the new majority in a few decades). However, I am that new minority myself and, in some ways already, becoming part of the new majority. Let me explain.
• I was born into a single-parent household, which, unfortunately, is now becoming the norm as more than 50% of all first births were to single women.
• I am Puerto Rican, which makes me Hispanic. In the 2010 Census, there was a 43% increase in the number of Hispanic people/Latinos in the country (now overall at 18.3%)
• I am one of the few children (unfortunately) who is doing big things as well as getting the heck out of Paterson, NJ. I have God and my family for that.
• I was the first one in my family to graduate high school with honors.
• I was the first one in my family to graduate from a four-year university.
• All due respect to Jay-Z (“it’s a pity, half of y’all won’t make it”), I’m working in New York City, paying rent, paying all my bills, have a career, and am able to make trips and do what I like… all at the age of 23. I’m making it so far.
• On June 3rd, I will be the first one in my family to graduate with my Masters.
It excites me greatly to write that last bullet-point as my Tumblr friends, blog readers, family, friends, and even my students know how hard of a road it was to get to the point where I can write this blog post and not have a grad school assignment in the mind of my mind.
That’s not the point of this blog post though. These next two bullets are my points though.
• I am a Hispanic male elementary school teacher. According to the White House, less than 2% of ALL the teachers in the nation are black or Hispanic men.
Despite the fact that 35% of our students are black or Hispanic, there is a ridiculously disproportionate number of teachers who match the color of our students’ faces.
One of the keys to get your students invested in your lessons is to be able to relate to them as best as you can through many different facets. Sporting the same skin color as your students, being possibly one of the only strong male role models they may have, and sharing somewhat with how they grow up from your past all aid in relating to them and sharing a connection that only low-class Hispanic children and adults can truly understand through our collective experiences.
We have five male teachers in my school, only two are in the classroom, but all five of us are either black or Hispanic. That makes a huge difference, but personally, for me, this last point makes the biggest difference.
• I am a student who formerly used to receive special education services, but is now a special education teacher.
I received special education services in speech up to third grade and even a little beyond third grade at the Catholic elementary school I was transferred to by my family. Once it was determined that my speech was not hindering my education, it was taken away and I was able to accomplish all the aforementioned things earlier in the post.
One of the reasons why I became a special education teacher was to be the same advocate my family and my speech therapist were for me when I was an 8-year-old. With all the reasons already mentioned, I need to be that advocate.
Despite my age and acquiring experience and growth as a second-year educator, I feel I was afforded a God-given blessing to be able to relate to my students that many other educators may not be able to just strictly on the surface level.
I tell my parents of my students my background and, especially for the students who receive special education services, my history with special education. It makes me grin when I’m able to simply say, “These services are going to help your son or daughter acquire what they need to progress… I was in your child’s shoes before, look what can happen…”
It’s not really just a job for money. It’s not a cushy, “you-get-tenure-you-have-a-job-for-life” ridiculously inaccurate notion of a job. I don’t have any “white guilt” (since I’m not… white) and I’m not trying to “save the world”, push my idealism to elevate myself as a “more worthy educator” than more experienced teachers, or go the stereotypical “Teach for America” route and pad my resume for two years off the backs of my students (I plan to be in education for a long time) for a higher-paying job.
I just believe, deep inside, that it is my duty to fight for these students and parents who don’t have a voice and help them find that voice:
• for the parents who had the system unfairly speak for them and fight against them, instead for their children through numerous methods.
• who have had their schools unfairly taken away from them, closed down, “phased” into oblivion, and rooms/services stolen away from their children by charters, forced into public schools to “co-exist”.
• who have seen non-educators, politicians, and billionaires reduce the importance of education to what they consider to be ”basic skills”.
• who may not understand the educational jargon and lingo that filters into every facet of education, especially special education.
It all starts with each day of teaching and for me, when the life-blood of special education meet: at every annual review IEP round-table meeting I have with the parents of my students who receive special education services.
“Hi, Ms. _____. I wanted to first tell you the substantial progress your daughter has made over this year…”