Education is a Feminist Issue

By Mika Yamamoto

This blog post was prepared by Mika Yamamoto in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view or experiences of Chat with Teachers or Jennifer Khadir, the owner and host of Chat with Teachers. Guest blogs are a further expression of personal teacher narratives – which is the mission of Chat with Teachers in providing a platform for teacher voice.

Ruben, my sixth-grade student, tells me about the mountains. There was snow there, and he’d never seen snow before then. He couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. “Write that,” I say. For the rest of the period, he wrote. That evening, I searched through my poetry books and dreamed about nurturing a poet.

But the next day, he was not at school. Nor the next. The day he came back, he was present only in body. I decided to go home with him. Do a visit.

MikasBlogMost students walked to school. Ruben took the bus. I got on the bus with him. It took a long time, with several transfers. By the time we got to his stop, I had to turn around without doing a visit—already late for daycare pick-up. Alone on the bus, I felt despair. How could I help him, when he faced so much before getting to school? He didn’t come to school again the next day. A few days later, I got a notice that he was transferred out of the school. When I asked why, the office staff just shrugged. Children transferred in and out of school all the time, it wasn’t a notable event. Except, it was.

I was a Solo Mom by then, raising two young children with no support. I had left an abusive marriage—a dangerous thing to do—and lived in fear of his revenge. I lived in constant anxiety of predatory men too, as a small Asian woman in a city famous for objectifying women. I struggled to pay both rent and daycare. One day, I caught a cold, and began to cough. The cough wouldn’t go away, and at night I had trouble breathing. I had insurance, but it was an HMO. I couldn’t get in for weeks. By the time I got to a doctor, I had walking pneumonia and bronchitis.

Around this time, Child Protective Services was called on me, because my daughter, who was three, woke-up one night and left the apartment looking for me. The apartment manager found her. She brought my daughter back to me in a rage. What kind of mother are you? I had been dead asleep next to my daughter when she woke up. The door had been locked, but my daughter unlocked it. CPS advised me to put a chain lock on the door, which was sensible. But still. What kind of mother was I? This same daughter was in an accident soon after. She fell out of a window and was in ICU for two days. I sat next to her alone, crying.

That’s when I left teaching and Los Angeles. I was spread too thin. There were too many needs of my students that were not taken care of, there were too many of my own children’s needs that weren’t taken care of, there were too many of my own needs that weren’t taken care of. I loved my job, and I loved my students, but that was not enough.

A teacher’s passion is not enough.

I moved to a community that was affordable, with many social services. We had access to a mental health center that assigned us a case manager who helped me qualify for childcare and energy subsidy. We received free therapy too.

I took a job as an emergency department technician. Here, I had good insurance. The hospital also gave employee discounts. I never walked around sick again, nor did my children. We seldom missed work or school.

The director of the department was an amazing administrator. She accommodated my need to shorten my shift—then did everything in her powers to recognize my value and increase my pay. The result was that while I worked less hours, I made the department run the most efficiently it ever had. My boss also modeled caring of her employees as people, and my workplace was my family. When any one of us was in need, we all came together; we rallied for each other. No hardship was faced alone.

I was a Solo Mom for eight years. The years when I had the medical, emotional, community, physical, and administrative support—my children and I thrived. I was the same person the entire eight years, but I was a much more productive member of society when my support was great.

So what does this mean for education? If we want passionate teachers to thrive in the classroom, we must recognize that teachers are people, and they need to be taken care of. I had to leave the classroom because I was a woman who had to survive domestic violence and parent alone. I was a woman whose needs were not taken care of, and therefore I could not be the teacher I wanted to be. I am not the only one. When we consider that ¾ of teachers are women, it is not hard to see that women’s issues are deeply connected to educational ones.

In addition, when we know that one in four children will be raised without a father and 40% of them are living below poverty line (of which my own children were both), it is not hard to see that we need to care about mothers if we care about children.

If we have a society that respects women and makes them a priority, then children will be taken care of and educated. If children are taken care of and educated, society will flourish.

Click here to check out a teacher podcast interview with Mika.

Episode 18 – Jackie Rodriguez-Vega


JaclynImage“I mostly teach Raza, I mostly teach Mexican youth,” says Jackie Rodriguez-Vega as she explores the effect of the current political climate on the Latino youth she teaches, which also include young people from Puerto Rico, Honduras, El Salvador and more. “They already know what’s going on. They know that people in positions of power are not for them. And what do you do with that? You know, you’re in a U.S. History class and you’re talking about the beauty of voting… I’m personally trying to build young people who are going to be critical about what’s going on all around them. Especially politically, because they are influenced by it, right? They live in this country – everything that they go through is through that. So, I want them to see perspectives, I want them to see all these different sides so that hopefully when they do get older they want to participate in that process. But it’s kind of hard when deportations are happening, or that fear … all those things that are real.”

Fast Facts about Jackie

  1. Full name: Jackie Rodriguez Vega
  2. Years teaching: 6
  3. Grade(s) taught: Jackie has taught middle school through people in their late 60’s.
  4. Current position: History teacher at a neighborhood high school, Jackie currently teaches Latin American History & U.S. History.
  5. Current city: Chicago, Illinois
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Favorite resources: Jackie is a big advocate for Paulo Freire and believes teachers who want to inspire and do creative work in the classroom need to check out his work. Also, Funds of Knowledge, recognizing people of color come with inherent knowledge and it is our job as educators to unpack it and build upon it.
  8. Why teach: “I teach because my sole purpose is to heal with my community and I believe the act of learning is a healing experience. I work with Mexican/Latino youth because I believe they deserve the best educational experience possible. My mom would always tell me when I was a kid, our people need a good home, she was a real estate agent, and I believe my people need a good education and that is why I am a teacher.”

Noteworthy Outtakes from Jackie’s Chat

Ms. Jackie Rodriguez-Vega, an educator of 10 years in Chicago Illinois, teaches in the same public school system she grew up in, and in the same conditions as her students — she says she has decided to stay and give back to her community by helping to improve her neighborhood.

Jackie is also the daughter of a single Mexican-American mother, who she says always influenced her to give back to her “people.” She credits her mother for the work she puts into impacting her students every day.

“I just think all the women in my family are pretty amazing. They really inspired me, because growing up there was no fathers around. It was kind of an interesting situation. You know of course, I had to go through my traumatic experiences as a young person, but I got out of it,” reflects Jackie as she delivers a passionate account of how she is able to take what could have potentially been an excuse to make poor decisions in her life, and turned her childhood experiences into an opportunity to build relationships with her students.

“But I think that’s one thing that really connects me with my youth, I am just so open about how I grew up,” Jackie continues. “I was raised by a single mom and a lot of kids connect with that, because they’re raised by single moms, or they’re raised by their grandma, or they’re raised by their tia, their aunt. My father left my mother when I was five, and she was two months pregnant with my sister … my mom, she’s just a hard worker. She raised three kids on her own, and she just completely inspired me.”

Listen in as she shares more about her emboldened passion for teaching the Latino youth in her neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, or “Chi-town,” as she calls it — all while appreciating the need to provide hope for things like higher education, but also recognizing that every young person’s journey will be different, yet valuable nonetheless.

Getting to the “Why” of Teaching!

blog-9I recently had a heartfelt conversation with a colleague about how hard teaching can be. We talked about the current state of political affairs regarding education and how, as public school teachers, we wonder what lies ahead in the future. Part way through our conversation, I paused and had a moment of gratitude — gratitude for the work we do as educators and gratitude for the constant collaboration and growth mindset this profession forces us to have.

As teachers, we are often told that to engage our students and increase their “buy-in,” it helps to explain why they are learning something. In math we might tackle the question, “why does math matter?” We help our students understand the personal satisfaction of being able to solve a problem, or the practical importance of knowing how to figure out real life mathematical problems like, “You have a beginning balance of $150.00 in your checking account. You purchase groceries for $115 on Wednesday. How much money do you have left until your next check gets deposited on Friday?”

It is with this sense of common purpose, especially during this very politically charged time for educators and policy makers across the country, that we take a moment to reflect on why teaching matters. Here are some reasons some amazing educators I have had the pleasure of chatting with have given for the question, “why teach?”:

  1. “To bring equity and quality to education in our Los Angeles schools!” – Andrea Burke, teacher of 14 years in Los Angeles, CA.
  2. “I am an educator because I am passionate about educating all children, regardless of ability, socioeconomic status, or any other mitigating factors, because all children deserve a high quality school experience.” – Dana Graham, educator of 10 years in Oakland, CA.
  3. “I teach because I know it makes a difference.” – Melissa Ascencio, teacher of 16 years in Portsmouth, VA.
  4. “I teach because I want to help fight educational injustice and policies.” – Vanessa Donino, educator of 3 years in several cities including: Bronx, NY, Clark County, NV and currently in Oriskany, NY.
  5. “Every day is different, a triumph, a challenge, an accomplishment, and a chance to change the lives of children and their families.” – Elizabeth Isralowitz, special education teacher of 10+ years in Los Angeles and Riverside, CA.
  6. “Because I want to help enable our future to make better decisions than those from our past.” – Danielle David, teacher for 11 years currently in Fairfield, CA.
  7. “For the children!” – Connie Lam, teacher of 3 years in Oakland, CA.
  8. “I see them survive through the inherit grit that they bring every day with them to the classroom – a skill I don’t need to teach them. I see them dream and hope and love and create. I also see them fear and wonder what the future brings. These young people inspire me to be an active citizen – as the saying goes, we will never be truly free until we all share the same rights as you and me.” – Edwina Lucero, Music teacher for 13 years in the Denver Metro area.
  9. “It feeds your soul and grows others around you.” – Meredith Jacobs, teacher of the arts for 12 years in Plattsburgh, NY.
  10. “If we don’t, who will?” – Iain Lampert, High School speech and debate teacher for 7 years in Van Nuys, CA.
  11. “I always hope to inspire other children to teach – mainly other African American children.” – Barry Turner, teacher for 17 years in North Carolina and currently in Oakland, CA.

Why do you teach?

By Jennifer Khadir