Part of Something Bigger
Nidia Carranza (2016 Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana) is committed to building space and opening doors as a CPS Pre-K teacher who ran for state rep.
January 25, 2022
Nidia Carranza a lifelong Chicago northwestsider, CPS Pre-K bilingual teacher in the community where she lives (Belmont-Cragin), and a community organizer. In 2020, she ran for Illinois State Representative in the 3rd house district to improve public schools, keep working families in their homes, and defend immigrant families.
As a teacher, Nidia has worked with children with special needs, using her native language, Spanish. Nidia is a mother, a daughter of immigrants, native to this continent with indigenous roots in Mexico, and a first generation college graduate. She is also an Aspire Fellow and a member of our newly expanded DEI Council.
What is your background?
I am a product of CPS, kindergarten to high school. My parents came here from Puebla, Mexico, and we lived in an apartment with my aunts and uncles. There were about seven of them living in a one bedroom apartment, and I don't have much memory of those times, but I do remember that I had early intervention as a child for speech services. My parents remind me too, how we had speech pathologists come and help my parents. So, early on, early childhood education helped me and I am an early childhood educator now. I found Teach for America when I was at Northeastern University and since then I’ve moved to Belmont Cragin, but I’ve always been on the Northwest side of Chicago.
Can you tell me more about how you feel like your upbringing or experiences inform what you do today?
I think that's so amazing because I had fond memories of the speech specialists coming in, but nobody explained to me what was going on back when I was three years old. Maybe they did, but I didn't realize it until we talked about it with my parents as an adult. After the specialist came in, I went to pre-K and I was the first one in my family to go into preschool. My older brothers didn't go to pre-K. I think that changed the trajectory of my life; having early intervention and going to pre-K instilled a love of learning that I see in myself that I don't really see in my older brothers. They're amazing too but I think that's why I teach pre-K now.
So, you ran for State Rep. Was that something you had always wanted to do?
I think it came about my love for giving back. I have a passion for giving back to the community. Ever since I was a child, I would tell my mom, "Let's go volunteer at places" and she signed me up for Big Brothers Big Sisters. I have volunteered at shelters, making bags of food for the homeless, since I was five years old. My Bachelor's is in social work and I think through the network of Teach for America I learned about LEE, Leadership for Educational Equality, and found other people who wanted to do more.I got out there and started encouraging people to meet their state representative, their alderman, and reminding them we're all human. They’re not separate from us. That experience made it real for me and I became excited about it. I wanted to conquer the things that made me fearful, anything new, anything scary. I knew if I did something that scared me, it wouldn’t scare me anymore.
“I knew if I did something that scared me, it wouldn’t scare me anymore.”
Did running for state rep immediately strike you as the answer?
It struck me a little later. I didn’t know something like that was attainable. It seemed so far removed. My path wasn’t always clear. I almost dropped out of high school after I lost a friend my sophomore year through a health condition. I was in deep depression and I was seeking help. I ended up finishing high school but I didn't want to go to college at all. I thought I might join the military just because it was something to do. I thought it would make my parents proud. But after a recruiter told me I had to lose 20 pounds before bootcamp, I thought, you know what, I'm going to join the gym. I found my love for running but I never went back to the recruiter. Instead, I started working full time, and then realized I couldn't go into something I was passionate about without getting a Bachelor’s degree. I wanted to become what I needed when I was growing up. Which is why I chose to get a degree in social work.
That is a nice way to think about it: to become what I needed when I was growing up.
Thank you. I didn't see myself attaining much educationally, but I did while working full-time. And then I thought, let's keep moving on. I started counseling youth at Youth Outreach Services, a non-profit here in Chicago, and I saw myself in the students and my clients. There were students who wanted to drop out, and I became what I had needed for them. And then later I realized I could make a bigger impact if I'm in front of a classroom versus just one-on-one counseling, and that's where I found Teach for America, and my love for teaching started.
In teaching, you see a lot of things that could be better, starting with our infrastructure in buildings as well as social emotional learning. This is big for me because it ties in with my passion for social work. That’s why I ran for office. It was at a time when people who immigrated here from another country were not allowed to be here and couldn't take up space. I wanted to take up space and open up doors for other people to do the same.
“I wanted to take up space and open up doors for other people to do the same.”
Sadly, you didn’t win last time but do you think you'll try again?
I do have a passion for it but if I could be completely honest, I struggle with imposter syndrome.
That’s totally relatable, especially for women.
I’m learning how to really, truly unconditionally love myself. Hopefully one day in the future, I’ll run again because it's something I'm passionate about but I'm also completely happy helping others achieve that as well.
Where are there some overlaps between teaching pre-K and running for office? Do they inform the other? What skill sets do you bring from one to the other, and how do they help you do both or either?
You have to be really engaging in teaching and running for office. You have to know who you're talking to, know what interests them, know how to get them to where you're at. In both teaching and running for office, you need to put things in terms that your audience will understand. Also both are relationship-oriented. That's why I love teaching. The relationships you build with the students, with their families, with the community, with other colleagues. You have to do the same in running for office. You have to build relationships with other people running for office, with your audiences, your constituents. There are so many relationships to manage, both intimate and in a bigger space.
So the scale of the relationship is different but it relates to what you were saying earlier, about how that one-on-one counseling really informed the way you were able to scale up to the classroom, and then you were able to scale up to the community level. It’s pretty clear that you walked a path that increased the amount of people you were able to influence. That is a great trajectory that you built for yourself.
Even sitting here, I have to ask myself, did that really happen? Did I really run for office? Especially during the pandemic. It did happen. It's the imposter syndrome talking again.
I really appreciate you naming it and being honest about it because, like you said, you are opening the door for more and more people to push that fear aside trying something new.
Will you walk us through your journey as a corps member and about the role that TFA played in your. You're still connected to it in so many ways. How has it impacted you?
TFA opened doors by providing space to meet other people, not only in Chicago, but nationally, and through the network of LEE. It bonded me with other people who see systematic issues in our nation, in our states, in our cities to make me feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself, that I could actually do something. I am really grateful for Teach for America for helping me realize I could do things in my community.
“ TFA bonded me with other people who see systematic issues in our nation, in our states, in our cities to make me feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself.”
I find it interesting that you didn’t mention teaching when talking about the ways TFA impacted your life. You spoke more about staying involved in your community.
I didn't realize that. I feel like anyone who has a background with TFA brings a lot of drive. I don't know how else to describe it. It's hopeful. We see issues, we work on them, and we support each other. There is hope because we've seen change happen, and it's refreshing.
Do you think you'll be a pre-K teacher forever?
I thought I would, and now I'm a mom. I am a mom to a one year old and I don't know if this is sustainable. I thought it was amazing how teachers who are parents come and they're parents to kids in the classroom, and they go home and they're parents to their own kids. They're incredible people and I'm doing it right now. But in the long run, I would like to save some energy for my children.
Will you tell us more about your experience in the Aspire Fellowship?
The pandemic and remote teaching isolated me. I wanted to go back into a learning community. I heard about the fellowship and I loved it because I want to get my Doctoral in education one day and this was a perfect combination of everything. I have a mentor principal and I'm also mentored by my principal here at school. I'm learning a lot about our identity, our race, and how that comes into place with our teaching, our community, and why we do the work that we do.