Meet Amanda Calzada, an elementary English Language Program teacher in Chicago, and a teacher representative on our DonorsChoose Board of Directors. In honor of Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month, we asked Amanda to share some insights into her decade-long teaching career, and how her identity as a Latina educator helps her connect with her students.
Tell us a little bit about who you are, your teaching experience, and your students.
My name is Amanda Calzada and I am entering my 10th year of teaching in the Chicago Public Schools. For 9 years I taught Kindergarten and this year I was nominated to be the English Language Program Teacher (ELPT) for my school. Also known as the Bilingual Coordinator, this new position gives me the opportunity to work on program coordination for all of our approximately 400+ students who are English Language Learners and ensure they are getting the proper services and supports needed to meet their unique learning needs. I am currently overseeing our entire language program for students in preschool through 8th grade. This amazing opportunity has already allowed me to advocate for the needs of our bilingual students and work closely with teachers to provide them with resources and supports they need for their bilingual students to be successful.
Who inspired you to become a teacher?
Ever since I was a young girl I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. My parents were both young when they immigrated to the United States from Mexico and they always prioritized my sister’s and my education. They understood that having a strong educational foundation would provide us with opportunities they never had and they worked very hard to ensure we had them. My own personal schooling experience plays a big role in my desire to teach because I had amazing teachers who supported me, advocated for me, and saw potential in my abilities.
My own personal schooling experience plays a big role in my desire to teach because I had amazing teachers who supported me, advocated for me, and saw potential in my abilities.
When I entered school in Kindergarten, I spoke mostly Spanish at a school where my peers spoke mostly English. It was an intimidating experience at first but I received the help and support from my teachers who taught me to embrace my unique skills and qualities. As I went through my schooling years, I was privileged to be in the classrooms of wonderful, highly trained teachers who guided me in my learning journey. By the time I reached college I had no hesitations about entering the field of education. Ever since, I have been pursuing my career in education with the hope that I too can touch the lives of and inspire my students the way I had experienced through my schooling. This year marks my 10th year in the classroom and I am so very grateful for the lessons and experiences my students have given me along the way because they have forever shaped who I am as an educator and as a person.
How does your identity influence your teaching?
My identity is central to my teaching because I see myself in all of my students. I am my students. Just like me, my students are children of immigrants. They are the first generations to live and attend school in the United States. They are entering school with limited English-speaking abilities and are expected to assimilate quickly just like I did. They are adapting to the cultural differences just like I did. They feel the pressure from their families to take advantage of opportunities the rest didn’t have and be successful just like I did. They have hopes and dreams of one day going to college, starting a career, and living their life with purpose just like I did. And just like I had, I am striving to be an educator that can provide them with whatever it is that they individually need to reach their goals.
In a recent survey of our teachers, we found that Latina/o teachers are more likely to be asked to act as liaison to families of color or spend extra time serving as a translator. Have you had this experience?
As a teacher who is Latina, I have always been and continue to be asked to act as liaison to families of color to bridge language gaps in communication. While this may seem like an extra task or for some even a burden, I have always viewed this as an honor because it allows me to ensure that the families I support are receiving important and accurate communication regarding their child’s learning and wellbeing. As the daughter of immigrant parents, I know the difficulties parents face when they are unable to communicate regarding their child’s schooling experience. Oftentimes, so much of the stress of the inability to communicate falls on the child who in many instances is too young to truly understand. Being bilingual is a gift that I possess that allows me to help parents, students, and families take ownership of their schooling experience. I am proud to be Latina, proud to be bilingual, and proud to be an educator who can assist my students with all of their diverse needs.
What does it mean to your students to have you show up as your whole self in the classroom?
I try to show up as my whole self for my students each and every day. One of the things I have always aimed to do as a teacher is to be my authentic self with my students. I have learned that by being open and honest with them, I am able to form a relationship with them that is strong and meaningful. I open up to them about myself and I share personal life experiences with them. I am constantly reminding them that our classroom family works just like that — a family. We will struggle, argue, laugh, cry, and compromise as most families do. I remind my students that I am human and I too have things that I struggle with and need to work on. I make errors just like they do. I have bad days just like they do. I want to have fun just like they do! All of these things are reminders that our goals are the same and that we must work together to achieve them. I often share experiences of my own that they can relate to because my upbringing was very similar to theirs.
By being my authentic, whole self with my students, it allows our relationships to form with a strong foundation of trust.
By being my authentic, whole self with my students, it allows our relationships to form with a strong foundation of trust. Having their trust allows me to really get to know them and ensure that I am doing everything I can to teach them, help them, and shape them just like my teachers did with me.