Why I Teach Where I Teach: Representation Matters
This post is a part of an ongoing series, called “Why I Teach Where I Teach,” which asks educators in high-need schools to share what has attracted (and kept) them in the challenging environments they’re in. They share important stories and experiences that should remind us all of the power of strong school leadership, a network of supportive colleagues, and the genuine opportunity to have a say in schoolwide decisions. Listen up! They’re teaching us.
Ashley McCall is a third-grade bilingual teacher at César E. Chávez Multicultural Academic Center in Chicago, Illinois, and a Teach Plus–Illinois Teaching Policy Fellow. The student body at Chavez is predominantly Latino (95.5 percent) and low-income (99.2 percent). Almost half (47.3 percent) of students have limited English. Ashley has taught in both public and charter settings and this is her fifth year in the classroom.
The phrase “broken education system” misremembers the fact that the American education system was first structured around the exclusion and disenfranchisement of women and people of color and subsequent distortion of history — which logically produces inequitable outcomes.
I graduated from a top Ohio high school with a beautiful campus and an abundance of student opportunities. At the time, the population of Black students was about 3 percent and the Latino population was even smaller. My school was a protected, well-resourced haven of suburbia and yet, I think it failed its students of color and low-income students immeasurably: We did not see ourselves diversely represented in the curricula, teachers, or administration. Our attempts to engage our peers around issues of race and class went unsupported.
My commitment to teaching is explicitly a commitment to social justice, racial justice, and teaching truth to power. I teach where I teach because students of color deserve to be validated and celebrated. I’ve taught in three different neighborhoods, each with their own demographics, economic challenges, and cultural distinctiveness. Each neighborhood is also home to creative young minds eager to make their mark on the world. Every day in the classroom is an opportunity for acknowledgement, affirmation, and evolution.
I teach where I teach because a good teacher, a strong school year, and a memorable interaction can affect the hope in a child’s heart and the trajectory of child’s life. My students are equally as capable and worthy as children in any other neighborhood, and I teach to prove it.