Honoring Mario Benabe

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Mario Benabe

High School Math Teacher  

Bronx, NY

Mario Benabe is the founding Math Teacher at the South Bronx Community Charter High School (SBCCHS), a school birthed out of the New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) and the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) School Design Fellowship. Prior to teaching at SBCCHS, Mr. Benabe spent two years as the Special Education, Mathematics Specialist at the Bronx River High School. Mr. Benabe holds a M.S.T in Special Education from Fordham University and a B.A. in Culture and Deviance Studies with cross disciplinary research training in Sociology and Latin America and Latinx Studies from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Throughout his early teaching career, Mr. Benabe has advocated for educational justice for youths of color. At Teach For America’s 25th anniversary summit Mr. Benabe spoke at the #StayWoke: Stop the Violence and Increase Opportunity program to an audience of over 1,200 people at the Walter E. Washington convention Center in D.C.. In 2015, The Entertainment Industry Foundation honored Mr. Benabe as one of three teachers selected nationally to be recognized as the 9/11 Day Teacher. Mr. Benabe has received the Robert Bob Douglass Hall of Fame – John Hunter Community Service Award for his dedication in serving youths through education for the National Association of  Each One Teach One program.

Mr. Benabe is the initiator of “Do-The-Right-Thing Pedagogy”, which frames the importance of examining the ways in which teaching and learning occurs in afrocentric and indigenous populations and using that as a Dialectical Opposites [Do] To Heal Education [The] that invites Reality, Immersion, Good-Hearted Teaching [Right] Through Historical Indigenous/Afrocentric and Native Grounds [Thing]. His role as an educator is to create conditions that allow young people to express their brilliance through their sense of what is vernacular for them so that they  can feel valued within the village of teaching and learning

Why do you Teach?

I teach as a response to a very powerful age-old adage that describes, “if the youth are not initiated to the tribe, they will burn it down in order to feel its warmth”. Often times because of our marriage to ineffective pedagogy, it creates conditions that allow young people to feel as though they are not deeply connected to the village of teaching and learning. I teach because it puts me in a position to heal and create conditions that never run counter to the spirit of young people. I teach because I understand that broken pedagogy cannot teach young people to be whole. Therefore, my work requires me to invest my efforts as an ally to the village of learners, to cultivate a teaching and learning context that is emancipatory, that invest in young people’s perception of self-worth and that builds a pedagogy of joy.

What do you love about teaching?

Prior to teaching I often guided myself to think critically about what brings out my inner peace? I felt this fear that was birthed out of a pain that maybe came from the gospel, that said, “there are many who die but do not rest in peace”. Even with all the roads in place, I stood at the border of  each pathway of opportunity thinking about why is it that life hasn’t allowed for me to fully crossover into my inner peace? It wasn’t until that special moment when I walked into a classroom as an educator for the first time where I felt like I could finally anchor my spirit, define my purpose in life, create a sustainable me, bring out my inner peace and guide young people to an education that is beyond a set of standards. I love teaching and learning because it has allowed for me to teach within a village of learners that celebrates our existing shared cultural capital as a result of me being Latino, having shared history and common experiences, speaking the same languages, and teaching within my direct community in the South Bronx, NY at the South Bronx Community Charter High School, so that when we exchange through transactions within dialogue, authenticity within the relationships shines through.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Absolutely! In 7th grade, back in 2002, I was blessed with having a math and science teacher who is now one of the nation’s most inspiring educators, Dr. Christopher Emdin. His work on #HipHopEd, Science Genius and Reality Pedagogy is at the intersections of critical pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy. I can’t imagine my world without the inspiration he fills within my vessel of passion for teaching and learning. If I could relive any moment within my life repeatedly, it would be that year when I walked into his class. I speak from the deepest parts of my heart with joy and a sense of caring about the value I have for him for guiding me to see that everything that is out there is already within me. I know that when I was most lost in life, he gave me direction. I am forever thankful for him, and his family.

Honoring Karla Gudiño Avila


Karla Gudiño Avila

High School Math Teacher

Detroit, MI

Karla J. Gudiño Avila was born in Sahuayo, Michoacan, Mexico. At the age of one, her parents brought her to the United States in pursuit of the American dream. They lived in California, worked double shifts to afford the rent, and barely had enough money for food and clothing. In an effort to improve the lives of their children, they eventually moved the family to Detroit, Michigan. They arrived during a snowstorm, did not have warm clothing, and lived in a house without heat or electricity. The family shared one mattress. On top of those conditions, Karla’s father was an abusive alcoholic, who often wasted their money on alcohol. As the oldest child, she assumed the role of a second parent. She wanted to help out economically, but no one would hire her because she was too young. Her parents separated when she was fifteen years old. The family still struggled economically, but there was emotional peace in the home.

Karla knew that the best way to help her mother and siblings was to do well in school, so she could get a good job to help care for the family. After high school, she attended the University of Detroit Mercy. There she earned a Bachelor of Arts and teaching certification in Mathematics, with a minor in Psychology. Her goal was to teach in the community where she lived. She remembers going into the middle school and high schools around the neighborhood to drop off her resume. Since her graduation occurred in December of 2008, she did not anticipate being hired to teach during that school year. To her surprise, a teacher was needed in April of 2009, and she was hired on the spot. Ever since then she has been working at Detroit Cristo Rey High School as a mathematics teacher. She has taught Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry to freshman, sophomores, and juniors. Detroit Cristo Rey is one of thirty schools around the United States in the innovative Cristo Rey Network. Its students work one day a week to pay their tuition. They train in the summer and have an extended school day and school year.  Karla is proud to be a part of the Cristo Rey Network, where every student lives below the poverty line. In addition to teaching, she is currently working on a Master’s Degree at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Why do you teach?

Since I was a little girl, all I wanted to do was be a teacher. I would pretend I was the teacher and my little brothers were my students. I love mathematics and helping others. Mathematics was the only language that I fully understood. I was able to explain math concepts to my classmates, and they encouraged me to become a math teacher. I know math is not everyone’s favorite or easiest subject. I want my students to enjoy math as much as I do and not be afraid of it. Math has given me a way to support my family and to escape the violence that occurs in Detroit. Most importantly, I love to teach mathematics because I know it is a powerful tool for students. It enables them to think critically, raise their ACT scores, earn scholarships, and attend college.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love about teaching is the feeling that I am making a positive difference in the lives of my students. I get to know many of them and their families. By sharing my experiences with them, they see that it is possible to achieve one’s goals despite the difficulties they face in their daily lives. I push them to do their best and not to quit. I have the privilege of not just teaching subject matter but teaching them about life. I get to see my students grow and become adults. I love when they come back to get college math help or just to talk about how life is going.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I had the privilege of having many great teachers and staff members who inspired, supported, and believed in me. I am grateful to Mr. Grams, Ms. Vega, and other teachers like them, who gave me advice when I needed it, a ride to school, helped me with my studies, or encouraged me with their words of wisdom. They showed me that through hard work and dedication anything is possible. My biggest supporters are my mother, Martha, and my husband, Sergio. They are my number one teachers, who support me on my journey. I hope that I can give to my students what others have given me.


Honoring Betzabe Gonzalez

Betsy Gonzalez

Betzabe Gonzalez

Middle School Teacher

Northridge, CA

Ms. Gonzalez grew up in an at-risk area, a small part of Oxnard, California called Colonia. She first became interested in teaching when I was enrolled in Ms. Lisa Villanueva’s world history class. Many from the neighborhood were enrolled in her class, a bunch of young people, like herself, who had been written off by others due to the location of our addresses; but Ms. Villanueva exerted herself, set high expectations for them, believed in them and helped them along the way. She would go out of her way, to talk to them about the situations beyond the classroom that were affecting them in the neighborhood and how they could escape them. Ms. Gonzalez saw the impact Ms. Villanueva made on her peers and herself and she wanted to be just like her, she wanted to make a difference.

While at Cal State University of Northridge (CSUN), Ms. Gonzalez got involved in political and human rights organizations, while she worked as a teacher’s assistant (TA). While she was in the classroom, as a TA, she saw many educational injustices towards at-risk students, who were just like her. This motivated her all the more to follow in Ms. Villanueva’s steps, and become an inspiration that she was to her and so many others.

Ms. Gonzalez has now worked as a teacher for LAUSD for eleven years, and they have zoomed by. Many warned her that after five years she would get burned out, she’s still waiting and expecting that it will never come. She loves what she does, young people are the future of this country and we need to build them up. In her teaching career she has experienced the stress of No Child Left Behind and high stakes testing that are linked to teacher efficiency, but there is more to a student than that.  She ask many former students who are at the university level now, who stay in touch with her, what teachers made the most impact on them and why?  Many of them named teachers who not only looked at their test scores, but also inspired them to do more than they themselves expected to reach. When they speak, she sees herself in them and they inspire her to continue to touch not only the minds but also the hearts of all students.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I want to make a difference in students’ lives, and what better way to do this than to become a part of the life long positive impact.

What do you love about teaching?

I love providing learning experiences to students that go beyond the class room.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?  

I had a teacher in High School, Ms. Lisa Villanueva who inspired me to follow in her foot steps and I attempt to emulate what she did in her class room with my students, to not only cover the curriculum but to create unforgettable learning experiences.



Honoring José Guadarrama

Jose Guadrrama

José Guadarrama

Elementary School Teacher

New Orleans, LA

José Guadarrama has taught in the Greater New Orleans area for seven years, the last six at FirstLine Schools. José is a founding member of John Dibert Community School, a turnaround school in New Orleans that grew from an F to a B in three years. He contributed to this growth by moving his ELA students 33 points on the School Achievement Index in one year, the highest growth in the FirstLine Schools network and the 92nd percentile of growth statewide. Mr. Guadarrama worked with a small team of FirstLine teachers to develop shared units across four schools. He has lead remediation for fourth grade scholars at FirstLine Schools summer program, has worked as a content leader at Teach For America’s Summer Institute in Los Angeles and was recognized by Teach For America as a distinguished teacher selected to attend the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies.

In addition to Jose’s contributions in the classroom and as a teacher leader, he has mobilized his school community in outreach to a growing number of Spanish-speaking families. José is the exemplar for joyful learning, and builds a community within his classroom that allows students to drive their own development and love of school.

Why do you teach?

Teaching is my way of contributing to the immediate and long term future of my community. I’ve seen kids become more curious about each other and their place in the world because of what we study in class. Fueling students curiosity and ambition is what keeps me in the classroom because it’s different for each student. Year after year I greet a new group of third graders thinking, “I’m going to figure out what makes you tick and use it to help you ask and answer questions about our community, world and your responsibilities and place in it.”

What do you love about teaching?

I love many things about being an educator. Foremost, I love my students. Every year students teach me how to me a more compassionate and loving person while not lowering expectations for excellence. I love that I’ve seen myself grow in the skills and knowledge base that teaching upper elementary demands. I love that my improvement as a teacher has no end, but always has more potential.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Just the other day I was thinking of Mr. Grey, my fourth grade teacher. He made the mundane magical. School work was never drudgery. Mr. Grey made me feel that the world held curiosities I needed to uncover through joyful discipline.

Honoring Jose Gonzalez

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Jose Gonzalez

Middle School Math Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Mr. Gonzalez was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico but moved with his family to California before turning two years old. After living in southern California for a few years, his family eventually settled in the San Joaquin Valley of California where he lived until he went to college at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. During his time at Penn, Mr. Gonzalez was a founding board member of Penn for Immigrant Rights (PIR) and led the PIR scholarship committee. They raised money for a scholarship fund open to all graduating high school seniors in Philadelphia pursuing higher education regardless of their immigration status.  To date, two students have received the scholarship and Penn for Immigrant Rights has continued working to further help undocumented students in Philadelphia.

After Mr. Gonzalez graduated, he joined the 2014 Teach for America corps. He teaches 7th grade math in Northeast Los Angeles at a predominantly Latin@ school with over 90% of students receiving free or reduced lunch.   He works on instilling a love for math in his students on a daily basis and aims to incorporate its relevance to their lives in his lessons.  For example, last year, students read about women and ethnic minorities in STEM, researched a STEM career they would be interested in pursuing in the future, and applied rational number concepts they had learned throughout the trimester to argue the importance of diversity in STEM related fields.  Mr. Gonzalez hopes to do more projects that show his students just how important their education is, not only for themselves, but also for their communities.

Why do you teach?

Being undocumented heavily influenced my elementary and secondary education. I didn’t share my immigration status with anyone including my teachers and administrators. Navigating the school system was difficult but the college application process was particularly grueling. I could not accept scholarship nominations, apply for federal grants, or, due to fear, ask for advice from counselors. In my classroom, I share my story with my students in the hopes that they’ll feel they have a safe space for them to share their own concerns and challenges with me.  I teach to instill confidence, resourcefulness, and love in my students.

What do you love about teaching?

I never thought I would go through a more stressful experience than my first two years in college but teaching proved me wrong. It is a 24/7 job that I can’t just turn off, because I am always thinking about my kids, their families, and how I can be the teacher I want to be.  Although teaching is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, seeing my students’ faces light up when they finally understand something they have been struggling with or listening to them lead their groups in math discussions makes the long, hard hours worth it. Despite stereotypes and statistics, my kids have an incessant hunger for knowledge.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

In college, I met the most influential educator in my life: Johnny Irizarry. His impact on my life and education began before I even met him face-to-face.  After jumping hurdle after hurdle to be admitted to Penn as an undocumented student, I still had no financial aid, no connections, and no one who could help.  My admissions officer introduced via email to Johnny, director of The Center for Hispanic Excellence: La Casa Latina. Johnny made it his mission to help me overcome major obstacles for undocumented students seeking higher education. He put me in contact with the one financial aid advisor who knew how to help undocumented students. And, perhaps more importantly, he introduced me to a community of supportive students, faculty, and staff. Johnny was more of a father figure and mentor than anything else.  I sought his advice for all my problems: immigration, academic, and social.  Then, I had the privilege of being in one of his classes.  The way he spoke about Latin@ art and culture with so much passion enhanced his students’ enthusiasm and encouraged engaging debates among my peers and me.  I lead my life as an educator following his example.

Honoring Ricardo Salcedo

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Ricardo Salcedo

Middle School Language Arts Teacher

Temecula, CA

Currently, Mr. Salcedo is an English Language Arts Specialist. He teaches English and ELD to 6th, 7th and 8th grade students in Temecula Middle School, in his hometown of Temecula, California for the Temecula Valley Unified School District.  Mr. Salcedo graduated from California State University San Marcos in 2000. He earned a BCLAD Multiple Subject teaching credential in 2001. When Mr. Salcedo was 21, he began his teaching career in San Ysidro, CA. Since he began his career, Mr. Salcedo has worked relentlessly teaching English Learners, promoting bilingualism, advancing language opportunities for all students, advocating for English Learners and promoting equality.

Mr. Salcedo continues to excel at his work in the role of English Language Arts Specialist. Currently, he teaches English Learners, models lessons for other teachers, elbow coaches, mentors student teachers, develops curriculum at the district level, provides training and is involved in various committees.

He has spoken at various events including, California State San Marcos MeCHA Conference, Casa Familiar in San Ysidro, Centro Cultural de La Raza in San Diego, Chicano Park Celebration, and in various local churches. During his free time, Mr. Salcedo loves spending time with his wife Marcela and his 3 children, Aurora, Beniah, and Elisha. He enjoys serving on the board of directors for God’s Grace Outreach Ministries and, if time permits, playing with his bulldogs, Cinnamon, Jewel and Nana.

Why do you teach?

Ever since I was a young boy, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. Learning comes naturally for me. As a child, even though I was experiencing success,   I saw many of my friends struggling in school and unable to make academic progress. They wanted to succeed, but teachers did not know how to help them. It was as if there was this great divide and they teachers had no idea how to move the students from point a to point b.  This stirred up a deep desire to teach. I chose to become a teacher. I knew I could do something the traditional teacher could not. I knew I could help unlock the potential our students possess. Today, not a whole lot has changed in education as a whole, but a lot has changed for my students. My students experience success. I may not be able to change education, but I sure can change the way children are educated in my classroom!

What do you love about teaching?

I love the interactions with all my students. I love being in a community of learners and being involved in the learning of my students. I love being able to teach powerful lessons and equip children with the tools, knowledge and resources they will use for their entire lives. I love being able to take regular lessons and tweek them to allow the learners to make meaning and produce application across disciplines! I love being able to empower students to unlock their full potential. In short, what do I like best about teaching? I love teaching kids! I treasure the opportunities and memories we create in the classroom as we dive deep into the subject matter and make it meaningful, produce knowledge and develop deep understanding!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Unfortunately, I never had a teacher that inspired me or that I looked up to. It just didn’t happen. I always hoped to one day have a teacher I could look up to, even relate to, but that never happened. Most of my teachers were Caucasian and though they meant well, they were never able to relate to me or I to them. Sadly, most educators today still have no idea how to relate or connect with English Language Learners.

Even though we are making vast strides (in education) and improvements (to how we teach minority children), back when I was a student it was rare to have a bilingual teacher. Most teachers were unaware of just how foreign and irrelevant school was to students like myself. The teachers talked about things we could not relate to or understand. Every song they brought in, anecdote they shared, experience they described was completely irrelevant to students like myself.

The knowledge we (Latino students) have is so immense, so profound, so deep; yet it goes untapped by Anglo teachers. It was as if I were caught in two different worlds, and the real world for me consisted of my Hispanic heritage, the traditions, oral histories and centuries upon centuries of rich Spanish language; that world was not valued or utilized by traditional teachers or the American public school system. Every day at school, I had to “step into their world.”

For a child this is confusing and frustrating. My mom would tell us stories to try to encourage us. She used to tell me this story about a family of turtles. I felt like we were the turtles in her stories. Like turtles, we carried everything that had value with us, and even though we walked through dry deserts, and faced incredible odds, what we carry with us gave us strength to keep moving.

Honoring Jason Torres-Rangel

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Jason Torres-Rangel

High School English Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Jason Torres-Rangel has taught High School English and Ballet Folklorico for 11 years, currently at the UCLA Community School at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex, and before that at Los Angeles High School. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Pomona College, and a Masters in Education from Harvard University.  He has served in a number of leadership positions at his school, including English Lead Teacher, UTLA Chapter Chair, School Site Council member, and Senior Council Advisor.  At UCLACS, he has helped develop the school’s unique Seminar elective program that includes classes such as Yoga, Electrical Engineering, Sign Language, Entomology, Sailing, and more.  Outside of school Mr. Torres-Rangel is a teacher consultant for the UCLA Writing Project and the California Writing Project.  He has also presented at a number of conferences including the California Association of Teachers of English, the Coalition for Essential Schools Fall Forum, and With Different Eyes at UCLA.  He has created curriculum for the Discovery Channel’s online Literature series and the Getty Museum.  He was selected by United Way as an Inspirational Teacher for the 2014-2015 year.  Mr. Torres-Rangel’s own parents were both LAUSD teachers at Wilson High School, and they serve as continual inspiration for him.

Why do you teach?

In the words of bell hooks, “The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.”

I teach because I believe that education can be a powerful vehicle through which communities, especially those who have been historically disenfranchised, can come together to strengthen the very fabric of our society.  It is through education that we come to understand and celebrate our differences, rather than be frightened by them.  It is through education that we build a more humane and just world.

What do you love about teaching?

The students! Teaching is a deeply human endeavor, and I can’t tell you how many times I have been inspired by a student who has that “ah-ha!” moment, or has helped me understand something new about the world.  The students are hilarious, too, and I can’t think of a more fun and fascinating bunch of human beings to be around than young people.

I should add that my co-workers are the other thing I love about teaching. I love being around a supportive group of educators who share expertise, help each other grow, and are there for each other through the tough moments (and the great ones).

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Besides my parents who were both teachers (and who were my own teachers in school), another great educator who inspired me was Ms. Konoske, my high school English teacher.  She helped develop my passion for reading and writing.  She introduced me to Sandra Cisneros.  She introduced me to Carlos Fuentes.  Most importantly, she introduced me to our class mantra that I now use with my own students, “Through reading, writing, thinking, and speaking, we study literature to find out more about what it means to be human.”

Honoring Sally Paz y Miño-Wilson


Sally Paz y Miño-Wilson

Elementary School Teacher

Annapolis, MD

Sally Paz y Miño-Wilson became an educator because of her desire to support and fortify the children affected by generational poverty in her hometown of Annapolis, Maryland. She witnessed the cycle of poverty with which her classmates struggled throughout her PreK-12 years in Title I and challenge schools.  She began as a Social Work major at the University of Maryland College Park before changing her career path to Elementary Education.  At UMD, Mrs. Wilson was inducted into the Kappa Delta Pi Education Honor Society.  At the time of her graduation, she received a nomination to be the University of Maryland Commencement speaker.

Mrs. Wilson began her teaching career in 2010 at the British School Quito (BSQ) in her father’s birth country, Ecuador. She served as an ESL teacher, as the Ecuadorian students of the school received all academic instruction in English.  In 2011, she brought the ESOL experience that she gained at BSQ to Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, a high-poverty, high-transience school of largely recent Central American immigrants, and students of low-income backgrounds with the goal of empowering all of her students through education.  There, she has continued her teaching career, working passionately to open the door of education to her students in order to accomplish the ultimate goal: to break the cycle of poverty and provide all children with the tools needed to become lifelong learners and achieve their goals for the future.  After completing her first year of teaching, Sally traveled to the Dominican Republic to serve as a bilingual literacy teacher with Outreach 360, an international nonprofit organization.

During her time with Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Mrs. Wilson has been an advocate for her students and the community. She has mentored many students over the years as a part of the school’s mentor program.  She has been a Saturday Kids’ College teacher in her district, whose goal was to build background knowledge through unique experiences for children in poverty.  She is a member of her school’s Community Engagement Committee, which seeks to build the school/home partnership in various ways including planning community events.  Since 2014, she has served as her school’s Intermediate Lead Teacher, as an instructional leader in the school.  In 2015, Mrs. Wilson founded the Teachers of Newcomers Think Tank, which brings together teachers of students who immigrated to the US within the last year, in which those teachers brainstorm strategies and best practices, in order to build teacher capacity to serve these high-needs students.  She is a member of the Maryland ELL Family Involvement Network, which creates and shares resources in support of ELL families in Maryland. Recently, she served as a volunteer for adult English classes for many of her students’ parents through her church.  Mrs. Wilson was recently appointed as her school’s Equity Liaison.  As the Equity Liaison, she will provide professional development to her fellow teachers in order to strategically close the achievement and opportunity gaps through targeted action steps.  Currently, she is pursuing a master’s degree in School Counseling in order to broaden her impact to more students and families.

Throughout her career, Mrs. Wilson has maintained her focus on breaking the cycle of generational poverty through bridging the gap between home and school, and recruiting families as partners in the learning process. She has planned various academic events for families to increase parent presence in the classroom.  She continues to act as an advocate for families in her community through planning and participation in family forums, community walks, and family partnership circles.

Why do you teach?

I teach to transform the community in which I live. I want to empower children to take charge of their futures, and believe that they really can live the life that they choose.  The work I do each day is centered on motivating children to believe that education is the ticket to a better life.

What do you love about teaching?

There is so much that I love about teaching. I love the magic that happens when a student who has struggled in the past begins to believe in the power of effort, and becomes more invested in her or her education. I love creating authentic lessons that get children excited about the content.  When a student makes connections beyond the classroom, and begins to carry skills to other arenas of his or her life, it makes me hungry to push on even harder in my efforts in education.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I had many wonderful teachers throughout my school career. The teachers who made an impact on me were those who showed passion and a love of teaching even in schools that presented unique challenges.  One stands out among them; Mrs. Patricia McQuade.  She showed so much compassion, love, and patience for each of her students, while maintaining high expectations to which her students rose.  She inspired me to go into teaching, and we remain in touch to this day.

Honoring Shajena Erazo Cartagena

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Shajena Erazo Cartagena

High School English/College Prep Teacher

Washington, DC

Born in New York, but raised in Miami, Shajena Erazo Cartagena is the child of immigrant parents from Honduras and Puerto Rico. She has had many influential teachers in her life that helped change the game for her, which inspired her to go into the classroom. A graduate of the University of Miami (UM) in 2009, Mrs. Cartagena received her Bachelor’s degree in English, with minors in Psychology and Religious Studies. After graduating from UM, she decided to do a year of service through an AmeriCorps program called City Year, where she served as a tutor, mentor, and role model to 28 first graders in Southeast, DC. It was that experience that solidified her desire to go into the classroom, where she is now beginning her seventh year as an English/College Prep teacher at Ballou High School, just nine blocks away from where she served her AmeriCorps year. Mrs. Cartagena has a Masters in the Art of Teaching from American University, and she is the 2015 American Express DC Teacher of the Year. She was also a 2013 Finalist for DC Teacher of the Year and a Finalist for the White House “Champions of Change” Award, presented by the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I believe that education has the power to change the life outcomes of my students. I am a first-generation American, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico and Honduras. And it was because I had teachers that cared greatly for me, that the trajectory of my life was forever changed. Education is the greatest gift I could ever give someone, and I love that I get to do that every day with my students.

For me teaching is more than a job. It’s ministry. It is about more than just teaching standards and meeting benchmarks. For me, teaching is also about developing the character of my students. It’s about showing them how to love, how to forgive, how to handle their anger. This is especially important when teaching in a low-income, high needs school, where students are constantly dealing with trauma. It is my hope that by being my students’ teacher, that they will not only get into college and careers, but that they will have the character that sustains them through challenging times.

What do you love about teaching?

My favorite part of my job is building relationships with my students. Each kiddo is so unique and has so much to offer the world. I love that I get to see them grow from insecure-and-timid freshmen to college-bound seniors in four short years. Of course, I am proud when my students improve their reading Lexile or raise their SAT scores. As an AVID (college prep) teacher and AVID Coordinator, I have the chance to explicitly teach my students the soft skills they need to be successful in college. So, I especially love it when their college acceptance letters start arriving to their homes. But truthfully, the part I enjoy most is getting to know my students and having the opportunity to shape the character and minds of America’s future, all while laughing and “getting to do life together.”

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I’ve been so blessed to have so many incredible teachers that inspired me along my education journey. Because my mom passed away when I was three, and my dad became a single parent at 26 years old, responsible for my younger sister and me, education was a way that I was nurtured during that tumultuous time. If it were not for educators such as Ms. Mobilia and Mr. Falcon in my elementary school years, I wouldn’t have known what it meant to be challenged and pushed in elementary school, which is foundational for a positive experience with academia. Mrs. Young helped me navigate the awkward middle school years with her wisdom and social-emotional understanding of youth. And it was Mr. Muchnick who taught me about the about the world through courses in Global Studies and World History. He is the reason why I love learning about the world and truly value being a global citizen. My English champions and the ones who inspired me to get my Bachelors in English—an irony because Spanish was my first language—were Ms. Termine and Ms. Louis, whose love of literature allowed me to get lost and found in books. And it was Ms. Bailey who taught me how to refine my craft of public speaking in her Speech class, as well as my leadership because she served as my advisor during my tenure as Student Government President of my high school.

If it were not for these teachers, who willingly chose to teach in some of the toughest schools in Miami-Dade County, I would not be the person I am today, nor would I be the tender-but-tough teacher that I am now with my students in Southeast, Washington D.C.

Perhaps one day one of my students will say the same thing about me. And that, in itself, is the greatest honor one can receive—to learn that someone else’s life is different…better…forever changed because of…you.

Honoring Francisco Parra


Francisco Parra

High School Science Teacher

South Gate, CA

As a graduate of Pacific Palisades High School in LAUSD, Francisco Parra was well prepared for completing a biochemistry degree at Loyola Marymount University. The education he received has taken him from working as a cancer formulation scientist, to Columbia Law School, and finally to what he believes is his true calling, teaching. Currently, Mr. Parra serves as the AVID Science Teacher, Leadership Teacher, AVID Site Team member, Instructional Team member, and as School Site Council Secretary for a third year at STEAM Legacy High School in South Gate, CA.  Mr. Parra finds his work rewarding everyday.  He hopes to help provide an educational experience to our students such that they too can find their way to feeling self-actualized.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I believe our students deserve excellent public schools; I am driven and fulfilled by seeing my contributions towards this goal everyday.

What do you love about teaching?

Being part of the excitement my students feel when they are empowered to be successful at anything they set their mind to.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I was fortunate to have many dedicated teachers in my life. One, Ms. Matthews, was first to call me Mr. Parra. Years later I feel she saw in me what I now believe to be true, my true calling is teaching.