Ana Chavira column: Prioritizing cultural wealth in the classroom
“It is entirely possible that behind the perception of our senses, worlds are hidden of which we are unaware.” – Albert Einstein
Perspective is everything in life. But is perspective learned, gained, taught, inherited or influenced by? Or all of the above? Whether you choose all of the above, just one or another, I hope that for every one of us that perspective can be ever-changing and that we set off to learn of hidden worlds, like Einstein stated, “of which we are unaware.” You don’t have to venture off on a fancy voyage or take an extended sabbatical (although both sound tempting). Just turn to your neighbor, and you’ll find a different perspective. The Roaring Fork Valley, with its communities of color, is filled with hidden worlds of which we are unaware. I want to shine a light on mine, to acknowledge the importance of sharing our community’s cultural wealth.
It wasn’t until I read about Yosso (2005) critical race theory and Anzaldua (1990) challenge of oppression that I stopped seeing my cultural background from a deficit point of view, and began seeing it as transformative and empowering. I want to advocate for cultural wealth because of the multiple roles I hold and my demographics. First, I am the daughter of immigrants; second, I am a mother of one, and a teacher in this community who wants to play a role in transforming a deficit perception to empowering others. My perspective is all of the above — learned, gained, taught, inherited and influenced by — from one core, my cultural background.
Linguistic skills: I come from a cultural background similar to the students I teach here. Students identify with me. I see myself as a support system for language learners. I grew up in this same valley, learning Spanish as my first language at home, in church, listening to folktales, la Llorona, music, banda mariachi, hearing dichos, seeing novelas, Noticias, communicating and becoming self-sufficient in my native language. Until I went to elementary school, when I needed to learn English as my second language to share basic needs. I often felt excluded from my classmates who didn’t have to go to ELL; not understanding why I couldn’t communicate with others, I thought I had a “disadvantage.” Now, I continuously make an effort to bridge language gaps and challenge the “disadvantages” of minorities. My personal experience as a second language learner has allowed me to connect with diverse learners more deeply; I have developed a broad cultural intuition and sense of what explicit instruction each student needs. It is not a disadvantage; it’s an advantage.
Aspirational: As a teacher, I feel I must model good leadership for my students; I want to motivate them. Unfortunately, it is still rare for students of my demographic to see teachers that resemble them. My teaching philosophy aligns with the work of Gloria Anzaldua (1990); I often draw from my own experiences as a Mexican-American student in the public school system. These experiences have shaped my teaching and made me a passionate teacher, always creating an open environment. We use translanguaging (using multiple languages, Spanish and English) while establishing favorable rules and procedures in this classroom. An inclusive classroom is very much achievable if there is a welcoming setting and a clear vision in place; this leads to a productive learning environment for everyone. I am happy to have established my teaching with a clear vision and idea of what type of teaching I want to employ. As I reflect, I find my vision a culturally responsive vision filled with empathy towards others. I am aware that learning starts at home and that students come to school with different backgrounds and experiences. Having a culturally responsive classroom means I approach teaching holistically, seeing the student as a whole. My aspiration to provide high-quality, meaningful teaching to my students in the valley is just the beginning.
Navigational and resistant: Being a first-generation daughter of immigrants, not only have I learned to navigate higher education institutions, health care systems and professional settings in a second language for myself. But I have also needed to guide my parents unknowingly and always willingly through all of the above when I couldn’t know the difference between right or wrong. Luckily I have developed an analytical lens, constantly questioning if a system has everyone’s best interest at heart. I am voicing my opinions. I want to teach and demonstrate to my son that hard work and dedication pay off.
Family and social wealth: My background in a Mexican-American family has taught me strong family values and work ethic and the importance of helping those in need. I have found myself in need and have relied on strong support systems to achieve my goals. Support systems like family, friends, classmates, co-workers and college professors have paved my path. I now hope I can help someone in need, transforming their perspective, turning their cultural wealth into possibilities and never viewing them as a deficit.
Ana Chavira is a native to the Roaring Fork Valley and a first-generation daughter to Mexican immigrants. She has worked in public schools for seven years at the same schools she attended growing up. She currently works as a bilingual specialist teacher at Glenwood Springs Elementary School. Chavira is attending graduate school and will begin her third year as a certified teacher in August.
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