One of the things I will do from time to time is reflect on my experiences and my work. This is the first of such posts. It’s been a hectic week that started out with a great Teacher of the Year awards ceremony where Robert Hand was named Washington Teacher of the Year. I’m excited for him and his community, and I’m sure he’ll represent us well. That’s him in the front of the picture.
TEACHER OF THE YEAR
If I can go back a little bit, to last weekend, I can include reflections on the Teacher of the Year retreat. It was interesting spending the weekend discussing education policy and learning about “decision makers” and how educators have to fight for a spot at that table. This was something I was aware of, so it was refreshing to learn there is an active network of educators organizing themselves to do just that.
I had the pleasure of meeting past teachers of the year including Nate Bowling and Mandy Manning. We met several past regional teachers of the year and learned from their experiences. It’s interesting to learn that many past teachers of the year fade back into their classrooms and don’t go forward into activist work. That’s a little disappointing, honestly, but I guess I understand it to some degree. I don’t like being in the spotlight, and it’s tiring work that regularly draws negativity from the haters. I’m happy I began activist work before becoming teacher of the year because I went in already knowing what it’s like, and the retreat was helpful in giving me new tools to crank it up a few notches.
One great tip was tweetdeck.com! If you don’t know about that, check it out. I only kind of sort of used Twitter before because it’s challenging to follow who and what I want, but tweetdeck makes that so easy to do! I’ll be using Twitter more often. If you don’t follow me already, do it now @TCastroGill. I do appreciate Twitter as a tool for activism because it’s such a public forum. If you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the activist waters, Twitter is a great place to start.
The awards ceremony at the MoPop was inspiring. It was a bit of a relief to know that I could not be chosen as State Teacher of the Year. I could enjoy the moment without the nerves my colleagues on stage were feeling. Even though I couldn’t be named State Teacher of the Year, my people came out to support me, and that was worth more than any title.
From the back row left to right are Jeff Treistman, Uti Hawkins, Dr. Gonzalo Guzmán, Dr. Keisha Scarlett, Dr. Concie Pedroza, and then coming around to the bottom row from right to left are Dr. Kyle Kinoshita, Marquita Prinzing, myself, my child, Elysia Hammond, and last – but not least – Alma Alonzo. I hope each person in this photo realizes how much they mean to me and how grateful I am they came to support and celebrate. Dr. Kinoshita is my new boss and a badass, which is why I couldn’t be named State Teacher of the Year. Not because Kyle’s a badass, but because I have a new job. I’m the new Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies Program Manager. More on that below. Marquita is my friend and colleague who organized the nominations for me to be teacher of the year. She is a powerful woman who truly believes in the agency of educators. I owe much to her. Alma and Gonzalo have been working with me on creating Ethnic Studies in Seattle, and thank goodness because they are both brilliant! Jeff is the librarian of the school I used to teach in who is now disappointed he doesn’t have a co-agitator in the building anymore! Sorry, Jeff… Uti, Keisha, and Concie are part of a power team of women of color who lead our Department of Racial Equity Advancement. In my new role, I will be able to partner with them to make Ethnic Studies an institutional reality!
There are many others who couldn’t make it because they were teaching their classes or had their own work to do. Those people include Rita Green, education chair of the NAACP and a personal idol for me; Jon Greenberg, who teaches seniors at the Center School and recruited me to the work of Ethnic Studies; Jennifer Charlton, an amazing and outspoken Latinx educator teaching at Nathan Hale High School; and so many more who nominated me for this honor including my friends and colleagues with Social Equity Educators. This group of educator leaders is behind much of the racial justice work that is happening in Seattle Public Schools.
Then there is Elysia and Brian. Elysia and I lost Brian to an unexpected heart attack last February. Though he wasn’t there with us in person, he was there in our hearts and thoughts. He would be so proud. He was still alive when the nominations started and when I started my application. I told him I didn’t think I would be chosen. He laughed and said, “You know you will.”
And poor Elysia, they have sat through so many board meetings, committee meetings, union meetings, conferences, representative assemblies, and even the teacher of the year retreat. They deserve much of the credit for my work because they have been so good about being dragged everywhere and being bored to death in the process. I’m so proud of them.
ETHNIC STUDIES PROGRAM MANAGER
After the awards ceremony I went straight to work, literally, promoting Ethnic Studies. I met with Jon and his principal at Center School which shares space with the MoPop at Seattle Center. I’m sad to leave the classroom, and I will miss the kids. In her speech at the ceremony, Mandy was in tears because she’s leaving her kids this year to tour the country as the National Teacher of the Year. I almost cracked then because I’ve gone through that in the decision to move into my new position. What makes it a little bit easier is I will now have access to structural processes and change that I didn’t from my classroom. Instead of having an impact on 130 kids each year, I have the potential to impact over 50,000.
This is where teacher leadership and activism has led me. This is where I will continue to fight for what I believe in and for what our community believes our kids need. Some people think “fight” is too strong of a word, and those are the people who have never had to do the actual work. I’m settling into my cubicle at the central office where I have Black Lives Matter posters and a picture that says “Smash White Supremacy,” and these:
I spoke with my son today who lives in Southern California. He’s a barber and had a client visiting from Seattle. Of course my son was like, “Oh, my mom lives there. She’s a pretty well known teacher.” (I don’t consider myself well-known, but he thinks I am because I was having ice cream with him over the summer while I was doing an interview for ParentMap Magazine.) To my son’s surprise, the client recognized my name and pulled up this blog site on his phone asking, “Is that your mom?” (I guess that does kind of make me well-known. Ha! I’ll have to rethink that.)
I’m glad to know people are reading and following, and I hope that my thoughts and reflections motivate you to act, even if it’s doing something as small as hanging a picture that says “Smash White Supremacy” in an office full of mostly white folx. Yes, that’s radical even in Seattle.