Becoming a Teacher in My Community Means Being a Student of My Community

My teaching career began 20 years ago, in an affluent private school in Guatemala, Central America. I now teach in a working class neighborhood, at a public school. Regardless of socioeconomic privilege, or lack thereof, all kids have a similar thirst for knowledge and a sense of belonging, and all parents have a power to influence their children’s education, some just don’t know it, yet.

While I had not the faintest idea on how to teach academics, in English, to Spanish-speaker 1st graders, I jumped at the chance to do so. Aside from endless advice from fellow teachers, I only had a basic idea of what teaching actually entailed. I opted for finding a positive connection with the students, and making sure they had fun with me, so as to keep school administration away from my classroom. As it turns out, making academic content fun actually worked! Those kids might not have learned all the content designated for that academic year, but they still remember the fun activities we did, and some even claim to have had their best school experience with me, the novice teacher.

Returning to Teach in My Neighborhood                                                                              Fast forward 20 years, and I find myself teaching in a Southeast Los Angeles small city, half a block away from the place where my family found refuge when first migrating to the United States of America. When I came to this country, as a twelve year old, I was faced with the challenge of having to learn a new curriculum in a new language. I can tell you that Ms. Valdivia, Mr. Barcelo, and Mr. Galvan did more than teach me a second language. They connected with me, made me feel I was part of this new school community, and made me believe in my potential to be a successful scholar. These teachers planted a seed of human kindness which can help a child achieve more than any elaborate lesson on grammar, or mathematics. This is the bank of knowledge where I draw my teaching style from. Children in our most underrepresented communities need to know that they can become successful and return to their communities.

Those teachers from my past helped me become the kind of teacher who looks for the best in each child and is able to communicate this information to our number one ally, the parent. In my experience, whether the parents are college graduates, or illiterate, their success as parents comes from their advocacy in the school site, on behalf of their child. Parents who are actively involved in their child’s school community, have given their child an edge on other children, and have challenged the teacher to perform to the best of his/her abilities.

Teacher Culture, Respect and Accountability                                                                                         My Latina culture has taught me that we treat teachers with the utmost respect, and we never question their decisions, but there has been a significant paradigm shift in recent years, making teachers more accountable to parents.

I welcome this accountability, as I am molding a very important asset to these families and the future of our society. If a parent feels the need to question my teaching practices, there are two reasons for this: 1. That parent needs to better understand the reasoning behind my instructional decisions, or 2. I need to better understand the reasoning behind that parent’s decision to question me.

I have to admit that I have changed certain aspects of my teaching, because of feedback from parents who were confident enough to voice their opinions, in a respectful way. I identify myself as a public servant, working to meet the academic and socio-emotional needs of my students.

What do you think?

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Sharon Guzman-Melgar

Sharon Guzman-Melgar

Sharon Guzman-Melgar is a teacher in the Southeast Cities where she immigrated as a preteen. A native of Guatemala, Sharon learned English as a Second Language. She graduated from Huntington Park High School and graduated from UCLA. She has been an elementary school teacher for the last 20 years. She is committed to bring excellence in education for all of LAUSD students.

2 thoughts on “Becoming a Teacher in My Community Means Being a Student of My Community

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    Rosalina Navarro

    Dear Sharon, thank you for sharing your story. It is impressive the way you serve your students and parents, with respect. You are my new inspiration. I am working hard to become an outstanding teacher. Being a mother, a wife and a college student can be quite challenging but I am confident that one day I’ll be in a classroom empowering the minds of children.

    1. Avatar

      Sharon Guzman

      Dear Rosalina,
      It has been a while since I’ve checked this website. I recently became an assistant principal, and the picture in this profile was used to introduce me to my new school community. I am glad I came to reflect on what I wrote so many years ago.I believe my commitment to create a safe learning environment for all students, and their families.
      I hope you became the outstanding teacher you set out to be, all those years ago. Please reply and let me know how your educator journey is going.

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