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.