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Keeping Latino Teachers in the Classroom
Mariella Magaña was a 2010 Los Angeles Corps Member. She now teaches 2nd grade at KIPP Comienza Community Prep in Huntington Park, CA.
Last weekend, the National Council La Raza (NCLR) convened in New Orleans. During a panel discussion, actress and Latino rights activist, Eva Longoria asserted that a major barrier for Latino education is the lack of Latino representation among teachers and school boards. Longoria’s comments touch on an important issue in Latino education: There are not enough Latino teachers in the United States to meet the needs of a student body that continues to become more diverse.
Currently, 22% of all public school students are Latino, but only 7% of teachers are Latino and only 2% are males. Even more concerning is that while the number of teachers of color has doubled to 640,000 over the past 20 years, this victory in recruitment has not translated in retainment. Minority teachers have turnover rates that are 20% higher than turnover rates among white teachers.
Retainment is the key lever in ensuring that Latino students have the kinds of teachers that meet their needs. In order to keep Latino teachers in the places that need them the most, they, like all teachers, must be given the creative license to teach, and not be stifled by district pacing guides and curriculum. But this creative license is critical in providing meaningful instruction to Latino students and keeping Latino teachers fulfilled in the teaching profession.
Latino teachers have a level of cultural competency that they need to be able to use in the classroom to meet the needs of Latino students, especially those for whom English is not their first language.
As a first-generation Latino college graduate and second-grade teacher, I am speaking from experience. I grew up in South East Los Angeles and went through the same public school system that my students are going through. I understand their struggles. It is this understanding that I carry with me everyday as I adapt, supplement, and scaffold lessons for my second graders.
I often have to get creative to make learning meaningful for my students. For example, when beginning my lesson on story structure I use my knowledge of Latino culture as a hook. I ask my students to tell me about all the parts of a telenovela. (Mexican soap operas are part of daily life in most Latino families.) We talk about the protagonists, the problem, and how they always have a happy ending. My students already had the knowledge of story structure, and with the example of a telenovela they were able to make concrete connections and transfer this knowledge to the lesson that day.
The hook proved to be engaging, fun, and accessible. Terms like protagonists, antagonists, resolution can seem daunting to my students when English is their second language, but providing telenovelas as a cultural reference proved to be an effective scaffold . But I was only able to do that because I work at a school that respects me as a teacher and encourages me to be creative when it comes to designing lessons and being the teacher I need to be for my students. Designing and creating lessons that make learning meaningful for my students is not easy, but it these very challenges are what make teaching fulfilling for me.
Not all teachers are afforded the opportunity to be creative in their classroom and this creates problems when it comes to keeping the teachers who will be role models for Latino students in the classroom.
The ability of Latino teachers to build on student’s cultural and linguistic backgrounds and relate to their students’ struggles manifests itself in higher expectations and deep personal belief that the challenges are surmountable. Latino teachers must be given the creative space to make learning accessible to their students, especially when it comes to language. If given this freedom, it is my belief that that Latino teachers will be more likely to stay in the classroom and be the role models that Latino students need.
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