Lessons Learned From Teaching Hispanic Youth
How a year in education changed my perspective.
In my first year of teaching, I gained insight into the ways that Hispanic youth thrive and sometimes suffer in the American education system. To be clear, this is not a rant aimed at the injustices done to minorities in the American education system. I simply want to share what I learned as a professional educator and how working at a mostly-Hispanic school changed my perspective on a few things. As a caveat, my experiences might differ drastically from someone in another Hispanic culture. Nevertheless, here are my observations.
1) Athletics normally take precedence over academics.
Sometimes, the only source of inspiration in an academic class is eligibility for sports. As most teachers will tell you (unless they also coach a sport), academic subjects must go to war daily with athletics to attain funding and recognition. Getting my Hispanic students to focus on a daily basis was a difficult challenge. If they weren't focused on playing a sport, they were focused on a past or upcoming televised event. If they weren't focused on that, they were focused on an athletic video game. I'm not saying that any of these things are bad! On the contrary, I think that a moderate amount of exercise is good for students' brains and overall development. What I am saying is that these students were particularly tricky to engage in an academic setting.
2) Friends normally take precedence over teachers.
As a teacher, it was difficult to teach these students because of the sheer amount of teaching that had already happened peer-to-peer. If I said something that went against what a friend told them, I was considered wrong. On topics such as video games, sports, or community events, I expected to be out of my element and therefore regarded as incorrect. However, I did not teach such things. I taught topics that related to my Bachelor’s Degree and teaching license and expected to be considered as correct. That assumption was trampled upon by the peer-to-peer teaching mentioned above. In general, the Hispanic community portrayed itself as confident and learned, sometimes to their own undoing.
3) Community normally takes precedence over individuals.
In the town where I taught, the school district recognized the community's culture where people do things together, not secluded. The school set apart a day for staff and administration to visit every house where a student lived before the beginning of school to welcome the community (not just the students) back to school. The administration pushed for parent contact and after-school programs that kept the people in the town together, not farther apart. When any event happened in the town, the goal was not to rally part of the community but rather all of the community. These events showcased the community’s efforts to grow as a collective unit.
I hope that you’ve begun to poke holes in my observations. I would have. I would have started exclaiming, "These aren't differences; all people, especially middle and high school students, act like that!" When is the last time you saw a majority of youth from any culture valuing a less exciting academic subject over a more exciting athletic event? When do teachers ever hold more influence over students than their peers? When does a community strive for less communication and cohesion? The answer to all these questions is a resounding, “Never!” These students do not learn differently from any other race. They are great people and can learn just as well as anyone if they put in the necessary time and effort. It’s time for schools to stop coddling differences and finding new adaptations for them. Schools should use the differences and micro-strengths of each community to better the students within their jurisdiction.