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Angel Gonzalez is Working to Make Teaching a More Sustainable Profession

Alum Angel Gonzalez ('17) is working to understand the root causes of what makes teaching so hard and what we can do to fix it.

Kid's hands near a computer keyboard

By Whitney Stoepel-Brewer

September 20, 2021

Angel Gonzalez grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Chicago in 2015 for graduate school. In 2017, he started as a corps member and worked in special education, mostly teaching math. Over the years, his approach to teaching has changed as he has become inspired by abolitionist teaching practices and motivated to ensure that teaching is a sustainable pursuit. We asked him how he thinks we can reimagine the profession of teaching.    

What motivates you to work towards making an impact towards educational equity? 

My motivation over time has shifted a bit. When I started teaching, I was really focused on my impact in education. As I have spent more time in the classroom, I've come to understand that it isn't really about my impact, but rather the impact my community is making in upending the status quo within education. Recently, I've been very motivated by the book We Want to Do More than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Bettina L. Love. In the book, she talks a lot about reimagining what education can be, and systematically abolishing our current education system. I find that pretty exciting.

How has being an alum impacted your trajectory? In what ways have you engaged with the TFA or alumni network since finishing your corps experience?

It has been really helpful to keep in touch with people within the organization to learn about different opportunities that are available like the Rise Fellowship and Teacher Supporting Teachers. It also has been really nice to meet with other Teach For America corps members to discuss things like sustainability within teaching. I really appreciate the professional development which allows me to better lead teams of educators to improve the culture at my school. 

You have been leading the TFA/Chicago Foundation for Education-sponsored Teacher Sustainability Group for 3rd Year Educators of Color for the past 2 years. What do you enjoy about this work?  Why do you think it is important?

I love building fellowship with other corps members. When I was in my third year of teaching, I really wasn't sure how long I could continue doing this work. I felt really burnt out and lonely. But I really enjoyed participating in the teacher sustainability group during that year. It felt cathartic to spend time with other people who were also struggling to figure out how long they could work as teachers. I have learned a lot since that time, namely that teaching is often an unsustainable profession. The people who are able to continue this work are incredibly good at compartmentalizing and naming what they can be responsible for each day. I'm not sure this moves us towards educational equity and so we have to think about how we can go about shaping cultures in our schools and influencing policy to make our work more sustainable. I am eager to continue exploring this with my team.

What’s the next step in your development as a Teacher Leader?  What impact are you hoping to have this year?

My next step in my development is to delegate and invite others so we can reimagine what school looks like together. I think inviting people to problem solve is crucial so we can build a shared vision of change within our school. One thing I’m currently engaging in is helping my staff members adopt more restorative practices in the building. 

What are you most looking forward to in the 2021-2022 school year

I look forward to spending more time with students. I am starting an Outdoors Club in partnership with the Sierra Club, which is something I've been thinking about for a long time. Some of my best memories growing are going to camp every year. As a young person, I found a tremendous amount of peace and perspective being outdoors. I want to share that with my students.

What do you think we can do to diversify the teacher leadership pipelines in our region so that more students have teachers that are representative of the diversity of this region?

I don't think it's incredibly appealing to become a teacher right now. I think the teacher pipeline would be much better if we tackle root causes that make this profession so hard. Families in our schools need to have the economic security to be able to live in stable homes, thrive in safe communities, and receive access to adequate medical and mental health care. Teach For America cannot do all of this alone but we can continue mobilizing our corps members to ask why these systems fail our families and what are the levers that would lead to change.

What advice would you give to community members who are seeking to grow their leadership and impact in education and the Greater-Chicago Northwest Indiana Community?

I would recommend that they learn a little bit more about the organizations that do amazing work in Chicago. I'd recommend they check out ILEE, read a bit more about the CTU's work in the city in books like No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age, and attend meetings hosted by socially progressive organizations working in their community.

Ten years from now, what is something you would want people to remember about your work in education, with students, and with the community? 

I’d like to be remembered for being a good listener and a fierce advocate for young people.