Maestro Chicano

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A Brave New Venture

Posted by bengarcia01@gmail.com on April 5, 2018 at 2:50 PM

As Polonius put it in Hamlet ““Since brevity is the soul of wit / And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief…” which is sometimes a difficult task for me, but I will try. Thus, to quickly get to the point: why did I leave the classroom to become Southern Oregon Public Television’s "Teacher Ambassador" for the PBS Teacher Community Program, and how’s it going so far? It’s a long story, but the short and skinny of it is that after six years of teaching I got burnt out and actually switched careers entirely. I was six months into a new job, as an employment specialist, when the sirens call of education lured me back into the field. And I’m so blessed to have returned because I feel my current position is an opportunity of a lifetime. I get to do the incredible work of supporting local teachers, and maybe just maybe, I might even help put a tiny dent in that daunting burnout figure where about 40% of teachers permanently leave the profession within five years of starting. This isn't my only goal, and to borrow a few lines from our station’s sleek elevator pitch (designed by a professional PR firm!) about the program: “In my SOPTV Teacher Ambassador role, I’m working to address educator needs in our community in ways that are authentic and effective. My goal is to connect local educators with each other and with the station, which is a resource for them to network, access peer-to-peer professional learning opportunities and enhance their teaching practice.” But, before I get into the details of my work I will quickly relay some related background information about yours truly.

I started teaching in Portland Public Schools, in an all girls high school, and one of the first skills I quickly yet painfully learned was the art of building relationships with my primarily African American students. They weren't quick to recognize me as someone who deserved respect, and I was a bit too eager to offer them anecdotes about how as a Latino growing up in extreme poverty I knew what it was like coming up with unique struggles and hardships. It was a fight to earn their attention, and recognition as a human being who was worthy of dignified treatment, but by the end of the school year I felt I was a dynamic person in their eyes; I was more than the static “new teacher” character. With each new teaching job I felt I have fought this same fight over and over again, whether it was the super elite Chinese students I worked with in Guangzhou China, or ultra wealthy Mexican students I worked with in Mexico; I had to prove I was worthy enough to be their teacher at each stop. Even though I’m back in my hometown, and I know a lot of teachers and administrators here in the Rogue Valley via one or two degrees of personal separation, I’m again fighting this same fight: am I qualified enough, worthy enough, distinguished enough to be a PD trainer, a workshop leader, a conference organizer, an Ed tech integration specialist--or however it is that local educators see me and interpret my work as a “Teacher Ambassador”? I’m fighting not only for visibility, but relevance and validation.

This TCP undertaking is a beautiful struggle, and I’m privileged to support the noble work that teachers do every day as educators, role models, therapists--swiss army knife adults--and in general mentors to many young Americans. I experienced this first hand in my short six years as a teacher, but it’s a little bit different now that I’m in a support role and I get to experience education from a different lens. To get teachers to invite me into their classrooms was a hard fought battle. For example, a few months into the job I started to offer PBS LearningMedia 101 workshops--getting the word through any means possible--and of the handful of teachers who came to my first workshop a teacher named Geoff decided to gamble with his career, telling me after the workshop “sure I’ll take you up on your offer of support because I think that teacher ‘Lesson Builder’ tool could really be useful for me; I just need help learning how to use it and connect it to my Google classroom.” And thus a synergetic relationship sprung to life and eventually he was helping me form a PLN at his school and co-facilitating my quarterly PBS LM 101 workshop. So through some luck, and a little hard work, I’ve built a loose network of teachers who see value in the various projects that are now in motion.

The Southern Oregon Public Television (SOPTV) Teacher Community Program (TCP) is now in up and running, and there are so many stories I could tell about hardworking, overwhelmed and overachieving teachers that for some reason chose to work with me. I’m proud to say that all our work reaches groups of other teachers and offers tools, strategies or even inspiration that helps keep other teachers motivated and interested in their craft. My goal with these blog posts is to tell the stories of these heroes, and the work we are doing together to “support our shared goal of improving learning outcomes for the region’s students.” I hope this very short (insert wink emoji here) post has provided you with some insight into this grand experiment that is SOPTV’s TCP.

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