A Moment with Dr. Moore: Celebrating Our Hispanic Teachers

September 29, 2022

Ricardo Alcalá’s parents came to California so they could work in the fields. Back home in Mexico, neither of them had gone beyond second grade. Their two oldest children had dropped out of high school, and one was sentenced to prison for life. Ricardo’s prospects also looked poor by the time he was 13. Then, when he turned 14, he had a revelation that convinced him he could reach for more. A Hispanic teacher told him he was too smart for pre-algebra and should move up. “For some reason, that simple act and belief changed my perception of school and life,” he recalls. “The teacher was the first person who saw some good in me.”

Now Ricardo is a high school Spanish teacher who also looks for the good in his students, many from poor Hispanic families like his. And we need more teachers like him, especially for young learners, who are still forming their sense of identity and self-worth. Hispanic children who have Hispanic teachers tend to have more interest in school, fewer suspensions, better test scores and higher college attendance rates. It makes a difference when children have teachers who speak their language and come from their culture, extensive research shows. I saw this for myself because I once served many Hispanic families as an administrator at Head Start and as CEO of Plaza de la Raza, which fosters Hispanic culture and arts for families in East Los Angeles, California.

Having a teacher who looks like you gives children a head start in school and life, as Alcalá came to see. And that’s becoming even more important as the number of Hispanics in our country continues to soar. Yet the number of Hispanic teachers hasn’t kept up. More than a quarter of the nation’s public-school students are Hispanic, but Hispanic teachers and administrators make up less than half of the educator workforce. This imbalance points to the need to remove roadblocks that stop prospective teachers from earning the degrees and credentials they need.

So, we at the Council are doing our share to boost the ranks of Hispanic early childhood teachers. We make nearly all our content available in Spanish. We profile Hispanic early childhood teachers here in CounciLINK, including Javier Nicasio, a CDA instructor who is featured in this month’s edition. You’ll have the chance to meet him at our Early Educators Leadership Conference, where our sessions will include a talk on building career pathways to help Hispanic teachers excel.

Our efforts are making an impact, but we need more programs like the one in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Hispanic population has grown at exponential rates. So, the Charlotte Bilingual Preschool has partnered with Piedmont Community College to grow the number of bilingual teachers. Thanks to generous grants, family members of students are now able to earn early childhood degrees. And the program fills a pressing need because language barriers often cause young Hispanic learners to fall behind. It will also open doors for Hispanic parents by getting them qualified for the early childhood education field.

And this month, Birdwell Dual Language Immersion School in Tyler, Texas, opened doors for discussion when it kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month by having the students dress up in native clothes and join in a Mexican folk dance called the raspa. “We expect the celebration to spark talks about different family traditions,” said Lizet Zavala, a Birdwell teacher, “and help students feel proud of who they are.”

There is cause for pride, insisted Lilyan Prado-Corrillo, an immigrant from Guatemala and a bilingual specialist for grade school children. This month she was the keynote speaker at a Hispanic Heritage Month event hosted by Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center in Denton, Texas. During her speech, she described crossing the Rio Grande to get to the U.S. when she was five, a dramatic event she still recalls vividly decades later.

A rope was thrown to her family to cross the river , as Prado-Corrillo told the crowd. She depicted how high the currents were as her dad held her sister on his shoulders and she rode on the back of the man who smuggled them into the U.S. “If you get here as an immigrant, it requires bravery and ganas, or desire,” she said. “It requires sacrifices.” And her parents made them because they dreamed of giving their daughters a better future.

But coming to this country is just the beginning. Reaching the American dream also requires getting an education, and that depends on children having teachers who can communicate with them and understand their culture. So, we should celebrate teachers like this as we mark Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to reflect on folks who’ve made a contribution. And that includes Hispanic teachers, Ricardo Alcalá points out. “It’s really important for Hispanic children to look at a teacher and be able to think ‘you’re like my brother, you’re like my uncle, you’re like my dad.’ When children see someone who looks like them and has found success, they think they can succeed, too.”


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