Fort Worth ISD Teacher of the Year Empowers Her Students
October 14, 2016
I know what it feels like to struggle and fight to learn something new. I grew up in a mixed-race household where my parents didn’t speak much Spanish, so I spent years in classrooms and traveling abroad working to develop my bilingual ability in order to help others harness their own linguistic strengths. Studying Foreign Language Education at the University of Georgia a decade ago, I never envisioned teaching bilingual education to 5th graders in the largest metropolitan area of Texas. As my education progressed at the University of Texas-Austin, I fell in love with the state and its diverse culture and was thrilled to remain in the state when I was accepted to join Teach For America.
Teach For America is an organization that recruits leaders to make an enduring commitment to educational equity, beginning with teaching for at least two years in high-need urban and rural schools. When I joined as a corps member after graduating from college, TFA served as my springboard into the world of underserved schools, where I first saw the daily struggles students in my classroom face. Now entering my fifth year in the classroom, after being named Fort Worth ISD’s Elementary Teacher of the Year, I reflect my desire to make an impact on the lives of my students at Versia Williams Elementary in Fort Worth, TX.
I firmly believe that education is all about empowerment. My goal is to shape the next generation and provide them the pathways to find validation in who they are as part of society. Whether because of socio-linguistic factors or access to opportunity based on income, my students are overcoming immense challenges in order to succeed in school and in life. More than anything, they need and deserve strong role models, high expectations, and constant encouragement.
I see my classroom culture exemplified in Mary*, who had previously bounced around from school to school, and who came to me hating reading due to her struggles with dyslexia. She was defeated, downtrodden, and lacked self-confidence. Last year, Mary and I worked one-on-one during lunch to build in extra reading time beyond her dyslexia pullout class. I watched her outlook change as she became more confident because she was able to see her own reading growth. This year, I checked in with Mary’s mother, and she shared with me that her daughter loves reading now! Does she read fluently? Not yet. Does she read on grade-level? Not yet. But now she sees that she is capable of success and is empowered to continue working toward her goals.
It’s important to me to instill a sense of pride in my students’ heritage. Many of my students are considered “next generation Latino”— third generation Mexicans who identify as Latino but speak no Spanish, or mixed-race students who understand Spanish because their abuelita (grandmother) speaks it to them. Others are first-generation Latinx students themselves; as their families navigate a new country and different systems. I love that I have such a diverse combination of students because it gives me the chance to validate each of their unique heritage and language of origin. Being of mixed descent myself, I can identify with my students and their desire to find a label that truly expresses how they see themselves and use it to their advantage.
In my classroom, we have an open community of children who learn to respect one another, master collaboration, and strive to meet high expectations that we set together. My students push themselves outside of their own comfort zones to better themselves and achieve more than they initially thought they could. As a teacher, I work every day to help close the achievement and linguistic gap. I do this through building confidence in children so that they set achievable goals, see their triumphs and relish them for what they are: their own accomplishments.
Being named Teacher of the Year has been a humbling experience. I have had the chance to reflect on what makes a great teacher. I know that it takes compassion, hard work, and determination. However, in the end, I have concluded that any teacher who wants to help their students must ask one question: How can I empower my students towards pride in who they are so they can best work towards a better future?
Miranda Tacoronti (DFW ’12) is a Teach For America alum and currently teaches bilingual 5th grade at Versia Williams Elementary School in Fort Worth ISD. She was recently honored as the 2016 Fort Worth ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year.