It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week: One Family’s Multigenerational Legacy of Latino Educators

This post is by guest author Lindsay Aranha. Aranha is a proud Latina leader committed to continual learning in the classroom and organizational development, with deep business experience in financial services and health.

May 4 – 8, 2020, is National Teacher Appreciation Week — a time to honor the men and women who give their passion, skills, and often the contents of their purse to educate our children. Teaching is a vocation, and also a profession. It is an occupation requiring certification, training, and, given the historically low salaries, dedication.  

In 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded the 81st Congress to proclaim May 7 that year National Teachers’ Day. The Parent Teachers Association (PTA) expanded Mrs. Roosevelt’s idea and established Teacher Appreciation Week as the first full week of May. The National Education Association then voted to make the Tuesday of that week National Teacher Day.

Here’s a startling statistic: According to a report published by the Campaign for College Opportunity, only 12 percent of Latinos attain a four-year college degree. As we approach graduation season, I have been reflecting on the impact teachers made on my family and me. We are a family where education is an expectation — my generation tips toward college degrees and vocational training for any passion-driven goal. In thinking about this, I realize the influence of our parents and the heritage of our grandparents. To delve deeper into this, I asked my cousins why they had become educators. 

My cousin Danielle mentioned the example her mother, aunt, and grandmother set: involvement  in the education system and community. They embodied the idea of being a good teacher. Danielle set out to become a psychologist, and she received positive influence from a professor at Pepperdine, Dr. Tomas Martinez. The outcome: Danielle is now a professor, educating others and modeling for young Latinx students where they are unlikely to find many teachers of color. According to Pew Research conducted in 2019, only five percent of college professors are Hispanic, while nearly three-quarters are white.

Another cousin, Michael, is a high school teacher. Danielle and Michael’s mom, my Tia Rosie, was an elementary school language teacher of English and Spanish. When I asked what inspired Michael to choose teaching as a profession, he mentioned tagging along with his mom and witnessing her teaching from “behind the scenes.” He discovered his calling while working on his bachelor’s degree and decided to make it his career. Michael is teaching young people, helping them develop new skills, helping them become proficient and advanced in their studies. Michael is an art and CTE teacher. He’s also a coach for boys’ wrestling and girls’ cross-country.  

I reached out to two other cousins, also connected to education. One was a teacher of English Literature and High School Department Chair, and also taught Social Science. Another is part of the superstructure of education, as I call it. He supports students via tutoring and test prep, both important mechanisms for pursuing one’s best self and higher education. 

When you consider the efforts of Hispanics to get to college, the work of professionals like my cousins is critical for our social success. According to a recent education report from USA Today, more Latinos than ever are trying to get their college degree. The impact of education is shaping our culture. 

When I asked my cousins about their superpowers as educators, they were characteristically modest and consistently forward-thinking. Michael said he tries to set a good example and let kids know that he cares about their development. He tries to teach his students, particularly the men, to be respectful. In an era where it matters, Michael wears a button-down shirt and tie in his classroom. Danielle declared that her superpower is her authenticity. She is a Counselor Educator, working with grad students. By being herself, sharing her experiences, and her challenges, Danielle makes herself accessible and models a perspective that education is reciprocal: we get out what we put in.

I have thought a lot about the educators in my family as we approach National Teacher Appreciation Week. I learned what inspired my cousins, and I learned something else: Our grandmother had an 8th-grade education. She raised five children and inspired over a dozen grandchildren to pursue continuous learning. Even now, we carry on our legacy, contribute to our heritage. Part of what has inspired my thoughts this week is that my Latino son will be embarking on his college journey in just a few months. It was never a question of “if,” we focused on the “when” and “where.” Whether we have college or vocational degrees, we all share a common understanding: to learn is to live. A love of learning, I think, is our shared superpower and one we can use to supercharge our culture.