September 30, 2014
By Ivana Cusick
This Hispanic Heritage Month, I have had the privilege of celebrating with 156 preteens — my Spanish I students at Loch Raven Technical Academy in Baltimore. Every year, it’s a powerful opportunity to establish a culturally responsive classroom community — one that allows me to share more about myself, to expand my students’ perceptions of what a Latina woman looks like and to learn more about the unique cultural orientations they bring to our work together. Through sharing our different pasts, we orient toward the future.
Growing up in this state, I experienced the full range of educational possibilities, attending private and public schools across the state. During my time at this university, I began to understand how this range fit into a much larger national story — the reality of deeply unequal educational opportunity depending on demographics. During my junior year, I attended a Latino leadership conference hosted by Teach For America and soon recognized my own opportunity for impact. I joined the organization to become a teacher in the city I call home. That’s when I met my class.
At the school where I teach, students come from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and most of my students don’t share my race.
At the beginning of the year, they are surprised to learn that because I am multiracial, I identify as both white and Latina. This revelation opens up a conversation about broader issues regarding race and culture.
In our discussions, we’ve explored so much — the power and danger of stereotypes, the importance of identity and the relationship between identity and leadership. Four principles guide our conversations in the classroom: positividad, entusiasmo, respeto and comunidad. Every day, my students grow further in these values and I strive to live up to their examples.
The opportunity gap facing low-income students in this country is staggering, as is the underrepresentation of Latinos in the teaching profession. Although about one in four U.S. residents under age 18 identifies as Latino, just 8 percent of teachers identify as such. Addressing this underrepresentation is critical, both so more Latino children have Latino teachers they can look up to and so both parties get to have the types of conversations we are having in my classroom. I hope and believe my students are developing, along with knowledge of verb tenses and vocabulary, meaningful commitments to multiculturalism — ones that will inspire and empower them through their lives.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve my students alongside more than 1,000 Latino Teach For America corps members and alumni and thousands of others from a range of backgrounds. As you consider what you are going to do about the injustices that surround you, I hope you consider joining us.
Source: The Diamondback