From The Education Post
By Jose Romero
For 10 years—the first decade I was in school—all my teachers were White women. As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.
When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s okay, he was just playing.”
From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.
In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home.
My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.
But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.
If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.
NO ONE TO TURN TO
Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way—and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular.
I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.
In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all White. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood—an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me.
Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.
My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me.
I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly talk about their struggles growing up in New York and give us advice in any area of life—including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.
It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong.