#LatinosTeach, Recognizing Juan Jacinto Hernández


Juan Jacinto ‘Xinto’ Hernández is an urban elementary bilingual educator in his 17th year of teaching. He grew up in Oak Cliff, a neighborhood of Dallas, TX. His journey into his career as a teacher began as an undergraduate student at Southwest Texas State University, now known as Texas State University – San Marcos. He studied to become a teacher and received his bachelors of science in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on bilingual education in 1999. While teaching for the Dallas Independent School District, he began an afterschool program that would integrate parental involvement with student learning. Because many of his students were recent immigrants, the program was to promote literacy and explore the surroundings of their new home and country.

Juan received his Master’s in bilingual education from Southern Methodist University through a scholarship called ProjectMAS. He is currently a bilingual first grade teacher and is currently working on his PhD in School Improvement at Texas State University. He is in the proposal stage and his topic will be focused around bilingual education policy in Texas and how it affects pedagogy and practices of teachers in the classroom.

Why do you teach?

While growing up in a tough section of Dallas known as Oak Cliff, I was mostly shielded from the mean streets by being sent to a Catholic school near my home and strict parenting. When my father came into financial problems during my high school years, I chose to attend public school. It was the first time I witnessed the spectrum of what teachers and students face on a daily basis. I witnessed passionate teachers who found ways to connect with students and never gave up on them. I witnessed tiring teachers who were attempting to be creative in their methods, but could not get their kids to respond, so they would throw their arms up in despair. I witnessed tired teachers who gave daily worksheets, answers to exams, or would leave the room for the entire class because “we were a good class, and we don’t need any supervision”. Sadly, the latter group of these teachers is who inspired me to become a teacher. While attending public school, I saw students who were math whizzes unable to make a connection with their school and teachers and would therefore drop out. I met kids who connected their street smarts with their academics but could not connect their way of learning to their teachers’ methods, so they would drop out. I made a promise to myself. I promised I would go to college and return to my beloved neighborhood and teach with authenticity and passion.

I teach because our communities need more kids from our urban neighborhoods to graduate, go to college, and return to empower their communities. I want to be part of that journey. I want to be on that boat with them just long enough to share knowledge that connects and strengthens their resilience. Kids in our urban schools paddle upstream with determination often struck by the driftwoods of deficit viewpoints. As educators, we need to empower them with the oars of awareness and experience so they can navigate to their purpose with confidence. I teach to create an authentic space for students to connect and learn from each other. The impact of creating authentic relationships is a lifelong commitment in that one continues to create networks and bridges of hope and understanding long after a child has left your classroom. We must provide that space and open ourselves to it.

What do you love about teaching?

I have taught all grade levels between and including kindergarten through the third grade. I have purposefully chosen to teach at the primary grades because I have always envisioned these years as foundational and essential to the rest of their formal experiences in education. I love to see the growth of a child just being able to identify all the letters of the alphabet to fluently reading books by the end of the year. We become witnesses to this every year! We were part of this growth and the kids show their appreciation for it; whether it’s a poorly spelled, but readable letter on a folded up paper saying, “You’re the best teacher in the world!” or a hug after successfully reading a story independently. The facilitating of learning is just scratching the surface as to what I love about teaching. I truly love the relationship I build with my students and families. Finding ways to create a space where my kids feel like they can express themselves as authentic selves are crucial to their experiences in our classroom. When you can find that spark in a child, you are reminded why you do this. Some take longer than others, but it’s always there. When we are all able to express ourselves, we can become engaged learners and our days are filled with purpose and determination. The shy child feels comfortable enough to read their story in front of the class. The kid who is having familial issues at home can share what is happening with me, not be judged, and still have the resilience to focus on learning. The bully from last year learns how we are a family in our class and learns to channel his assertiveness in positive ways. And when you are invited to various high school graduations by students you had over a decade ago, you know you had something special with each of those kids. This is what truly learning for life is and it’s what I love about teaching.

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

I have had several inspirational teachers, but there is one who made me feel how I want to make my students feel in my classroom – Ms. Merdian, my fourth grade teacher. It wasn’t anything in particular that she did, but how she made each of us feel on a daily basis. She always acknowledged each of us and consistently sought and found what inspired us. Whether it was her bringing us homemade treats for no particular reason, or teaching us new games, we were always excited about going to school. Laughter is what made her. Her laugh was unforgettable and real. Throughout my entire K-12 schooling, I was an extremely shy student. I would rarely lift my hand to answer questions or volunteer to read, although most of my peers viewed me as the smartest kid in the class (I didn’t get my first B until 6th grade). But in her class, I felt comfortable enough to laugh out loud, join in on conversations, and participate in various challenges she would give us. It wasn’t just about what we were learning, but how we engaged in our learning every day and how it prepared us for everyday life. I attempted to locate her a few years ago, and when I finally did, I learned she died of cancer just two months before. She lives through my actions and will continue to live through what I share with my students.