A lot has been written in recent months about the large number of teachers who are thinking about leaving the profession.
I am not one of them.
I understand why many of my colleagues feel burned out after two years of teaching through a pandemic, feeling under appreciated and stressed by all the trauma that surrounds us.
But those are some of the very factors that have led me to decide that this is where I belong, making a real difference for my students with special needs.
My strong feelings about teaching stem from my background. I came to teaching by as untraditional a route as you could imagine. I am in my second year as a Teach for America corps member, teaching in the small, rural Marsing School District.
I am not what most people would think of as a typical TFA teacher.
At 34, I am older than most of my TFA colleagues. I grew up in South-Central Los Angeles, not the nicest of areas. College never seemed like an option as nobody ever presented as a choice. People around me lived paycheck to paycheck. At school, I had no positive male role models. As soon as I was old enough to work, I did to help my parents. I got married young and started a family. Bouncing from job to job working full-time to support them.
After my sons were born, I decided that I had to go get a degree to be the example I didn’t have. While working full-time, I started taking one class at a time at a local community college, knowing that to support my family I needed more than a high school education. Eventually, I transferred to Cal State Long Beach where I received my bachelor’s degree. But I still didn’t really see teaching as in the cards for me.
Then TFA came along, and its message of educational equity really resonated with me. I saw myself as being that male role model in school that I never had, someone who can help students who look like me begin to believe in themselves and their futures.
In Marsing, I have been a strong advocate for keeping my special education students in general classes, instead of being pulled out for SPED services. I believe strongly that this is how best to serve these students, but that was not how things were being done when I arrived.
In my two years in Marsing, I have begun to see the impact of my advocacy for this inclusion model, where we go into a classroom and work with the special education students, who need that extra help and more explicit instruction, or to work at a slower pace.
This approach is what gives special education students a fair chance in the fight, rather than just being written off.
So that is part of what motivates me to keep teaching. My students need consistency, and there has been a great deal of turnover in special education teachers. I am their fourth teacher in five years.
Another thing that keeps me committed is the simple fact that my students need someone who looks like me teaching them. Many of my students, like me, are Hispanic, yet by and large their teachers have been white. It’s not that white teachers can’t teach Hispanic kids. It’s that the visible role model is very important.
Where I grew up, all the men around me worked in hard physical labor. That is honest, honorable work, but I never imagined that I might ever become a professional, because I never saw anyone take that route.
It’s similar in Marsing. Most of these kids’ parents are farmworkers. Again, that’s honorable work, but kids need to see they have other options.
Finally, I am motivated to keep teaching by one of my own children, who has special needs. He was born with Syngap 1, a rare genetic disorder that leads to intellectual challenges. He is also on the autism spectrum.
My son and his own educational journey, and the challenges we have faced with his schooling, fuels my passion, and motivates me to push change. I feel that my students are an extension of my son, so how can I advocate for him and not show up for my students?