I was recently named the 2019 PSESD Regional Teacher of the Year thanks to the nominations of about a dozen of my colleagues. Being the regional ToY means that I am a finalist for State ToY. This weekend I am in Olympia where, today, I went through the selection process. The process included a panel interview and a mock keynote and press conference.
We won’t know who was selected until Monday at the awards ceremony, but either way I am proud of my performance, and I thought I should share what I wrote for the mock keynote. Here it is:
Hello, my name is Tracy Castro-Gill and I am the 2019 PSESD Regional Teacher of the Year. This label is the most recent in a long history of labels, each playing a role in the development of the person standing here.
I have worn the labels of
I was born to a Mexican-American father and white mother.
I am the oldest of three siblings. I have two younger brothers.
I received most of my K-12 education in Norwalk, California, a predominantly Mexican-American community.
Though I am multiracial, my outward appearance and surname signaled to others that I am Chicana, and that is the identity I embrace.
Traitor to La Raza
My paternal grandfather believed that full assimilation into “American” culture was the best thing for his family, and so my father and his siblings weren’t taught to speak Spanish. It was also illegal to speak Spanish in schools. Language is so integral to culture, and the fact that I didn’t speak it earned me this label. I didn’t fully fit in with my Chicanx peers.
On the other hand, many white peers rejected me because I was not white.
In trying to figure out exactly how I fit into a racialized world, some of the only Chicanx spaces I was welcomed into were violent ones. Many of my Chicanx peers had bought the narrative that prison and gang culture were synonymous with Chicanx culture.
Of course, this usually comes with the territory of violence and gangs. Plus, I was lost and would do anything to belong to a circle of friends that I could identify with. Drugs were often a common tie.
I had my first son when I was 17 and the second when I was 18.
I eventually married the father of my children.
Domestic abuse survivor
But because we married too young for wrong reasons, this title was forced on me.
After 17 years, I woke up and moved out. This was when I went back to school to complete my B.A.
My middle child gave me this title.
I graduated from the University of Washington shortly after moving to Seattle to be with the man that would be my second husband.
I earned my teaching certification and Master’s degree in 2013.
Racial justice activist
I sought out this title as soon as I became a teacher. Once I began teaching in Seattle, I was pulled into union organizing around racial justice with Seattle Education Association’s Center for Race and Equity. Through that work I was recruited to a grassroots effort to bring Ethnic Studies to K-12 classrooms in Seattle Public Schools.
This past February, I lost the love of my life unexpectedly to a heart attack. My husband was my biggest cheerleader, and after his death, I received notes from his co-workers, people I had never spoken to. One of them read, “Brian would always speak about how proud he was of you, and how you are a racial justice teacher.”
And now, Teacher of the Year.
Some would argue that labels are superficial, but for me, they are battle scars. I wear my labels and share them because it’s important for people to know what people of color face in our current education system, but sharing them opens deep wounds, and almost always, those wounds grow deeper when people respond to my labels. Almost always, the response is, “Wow! You are a fighter! You are so strong. What a story of resilience and overcoming the odds! You deserve all the success you’ve earned.”
But this is not why I share my story and my labels. It isn’t a story of resilience and victory. It’s a story of trauma and injustice.
Don’t talk to me about strength! Talk to me about justice.
It’s taken me years of therapy to cope with the trauma, anxiety, and PTSD from my experiences. To credit that to strength seems disingenuous. It’s taken a lot of hard work. Talk to me about justice, instead.
Don’t talk to me about resilience! Talk to me about equity.
I didn’t have any role models that looked like me, either Chicanx or multiracial. This lends to my Imposter Syndrome, not fully believing in my full potential even as I stand before you as Teacher of the Year. Where is the support for educators of color? Talk to me about equity, instead.
Don’t talk to me about who deserves what. Talk to me about our shared humanity!
Every human deserves the best opportunities and supports. Talk to me about humanity, instead.
I share my labels in an attempt to prevent other people from having to fight and survive like I did, but too many people completely gloss over those experiences because it’s uncomfortable for them. They don’t want to learn about why I went from student to gang member. They want to focus on university graduate or Teacher of the Year. They don’t want to hear how my experiences with white supremacy in schools and curriculum sent me down a road looking for my culture, and they especially don’t want to hear the story about how white supremacy has constructed a narrative about Mexican-Americans being gang members and drug addicts that led me to the same conclusion.
They don’t want to hear about how I narrowly avoided the school to prison pipeline by becoming pregnant in my junior year of high school. My oldest son saved my life in a lot of ways, because being responsible for another human being was an awakening and a calling to a higher purpose for me, but also sent me into decades of poverty and domestic abuse. Nobody wants to hear about that part of the story of my labels.
Education liberated me, but only because I had to fight for it. This should not be celebrated, it should be fixed! No student should have to fight for their education and success. No student should be celebrated for “beating the odds,” because THERE SHOULD BE NO ODDS TO BEAT!
This is why I have spent my entire teaching career dedicated to racial justice and the teaching of Ethnic Studies. Ethnic Studies is a liberating experience for me as an educator teaching it and for the students engaged in it. I have seen so many students re-humanized through it. They come to the understanding that they can change the course of our country, and that we all have a shared humanity and responsibility to care for one another.
I am not here today to celebrate my newest label of Teacher of the Year. I’m here to wear it as another battle scar and use this platform to lift up the stories like mine in order to bring change. I don’t want this label to be used as another feel good, “See… if this Latina can do it, anyone can,” story; the myth of meritocracy. I want people to know that our education system is broken, racist, and failing students of color.
The education system also marginalizes and pushes out educators of color who have been proven to have greater success of closing gaps of discipline, attendance, engagement, and graduation rates for all students, but especially students of color. Data shows us that educators of color are disciplined at similar rates of students of color, which in some instances have been recorded at eight times the rate of their white peers.
I am being recognized for my great teaching and leadership, and the impact I’ve made in my district, but I want to make it clear that the driving force behind all that I’ve accomplished in my life and in my career comes from the personal pain and trauma I’ve experienced and the pain and trauma I see on my students’ faces everyday. I work with a sense of urgency to liberate our education system from the grips of white supremacy and racial injustice. I work to empower educators and students to lead from their own experience so the generations behind them won’t have to “beat odds” to wear labels like Teacher of the Year.