Honoring Emily Grijalva


Emily Grijalva

High School English Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Emily Grijalva roots her pedagogy in social justice and love. The youngest daughter of Central American immigrants, she has been an English teacher for 9 years. Currently, she teaches at Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School in Boyle Heights. She holds a B.A. in Sociology with an Education Studies Minor and a M.A. in Education with a Teaching Credential from UCLA. She also has a M.S. in School Counseling because she realized that her students needed social-emotional support as well as literacy skills. Emily received the United Way’s Inspirational Teacher award in 2014 and is a UCLA Writing Project Fellow. Along with teaching, she is a Restorative Justice Lead teacher, Students Run LA marathon leader, and works to engage parents and community members in supporting students’ education.

Why do you teach? I came to teaching when I realized how little I knew of my cultural heritage. Throughout my K-12 education, I did not read a single Latino/a author. I had studied very view historical events that included Latino/as. It was almost as if we did not exist. When I had the opportunity to attend college and I took my first Sociology course, I was finally able to learn about Latin American history. I quickly enrolled in Ethnic Literature and Latin American poetry courses. I remember getting goose bumps when I read my first bilingual literary piece. To see myself, my language, my cultural heritage woven into words being taught in an academic institution was awakening and affirming. I realized right then that it was unjust that I had to wait to college to learn about my heritage and decided to become an educator who would strive to make her curriculum culturally-relevant, inspiring and reflective of my school community.

What do you love about teaching? I am fortunate to witness my students discovering their voices and realizing that they are important contributors to society. I love that as an English teacher, I can incorporate art, music, theatre, and personal experiences along with the written word, and thus find multiple ways to engage youth and have them express themselves. Also, seeing students dream and work hard to make their dreams come true is a blessing.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? My 6th grade teacher, Mr. Haberstock went beyond the classroom to make sure I didn’t fall behind. As a child, I struggled with Math- and in that particular year, I became ill and would need to miss many days of school. Mr. Haberstock made it a point to come to my house afterschool and tutor me. I was able to keep up with the work and advance to the next math level. Now, I strive to be like him and always be mindful of my students’ realities and find ways to overcome obstacles that may keep them from learning.