Latino/a teachers are walking a tightrope: Their voices are needed more than ever, but many are battling lifelong feelings of being on the outside, compounded by the current political landscape. Many Latino teachers report experiencing a duality on a daily basis. For example, there is stress about hostility toward immigrant communities and elimination of diverse curriculums and there is joy in cultural celebrations and representative reading materials.
We asked dozens of Latino teachers about their perspectives, pressures, and moments of joy in the classroom. While their answers and experiences are strikingly different, a clear theme emerges: Latino students — and all of their peers — benefit from the life experiences, bilingualism, cultural understanding, empathy, and passion of their Latino teachers.
What unique perspectives does your heritage give you as a teacher?
“I can relate to my students and their families. I know what it's like to not speak English and having to figure out what the teacher is saying. I understand the feeling of not having help at home with homework. I can sympathize with parents that want to help their children with homework but the language barrier prevents them. That's why I use social media to upload examples in Spanish in order to help parents with homework.” - Cynthia, 2nd grade teacher, Texas
“I am very proud to be a Latinx educator who gets to work so closely with Latinx students. It has brought me the greatest joy to honor my culture and my people by continuing to better our community by teaching the next generation. We are a community of intelligent, capable, and talented leaders who are already making their mark on the world.” - Amanda, English language program teacher, Illinois
“For me, being a Latinx child in a very white community brought some tough learning experiences, prejudice, and a whole lot of feeling like an outsider. That experience has fueled my mission to make my readers all feel like a part of our library, all students should feel a part of the book world.” - Katie, Elementary school librarian
“Being a Latina teacher allows me to see the importance of representation in the classroom. Students need to see teachers who share their culture and traditions. Students need teachers who are able to communicate with their parents and embrace them as well.” - Maria, 5th grade teacher, Illinois
How has your experience as a Latino teacher changed in the last few years?
“Honestly, it's been heartbreaking to see some of the outright hostility towards my Latinx community. In particular for my students to feel so unsafe and unwelcomed in a country that for many is home. I've worked harder to make sure our library is a safe place in the chaos.” - Katie, Elementary school librarian
“Because the social and political climate has become more agitated, I am more proud of my culture but I am also careful not to broadcast my beliefs so loudly as I do not want to get pressured to change my book selection policies.” - Lupe, Elementary school librarian, Texas
“I have felt stressed by the movements around the country toward eliminating inclusive curriculum. This has made me more dedicated to making sure my students feel that their culture and heritage is valued.” - Jennifer, 4th grade teacher, California
“I have to be much more aware of what are the things I educate my students in —especially regarding pride in their identities, how to continue to be strong and go forward in the face of adversity, as well as to know that their potential is limitless regardless of what others may say or do.” - Maria, 5th grade teacher, Massachusetts
“In the last few years, my experience as a Latinx teacher has been filled with positive, humbling, and validating experiences that have strengthened my bond to my identity and culture. In my school and classroom, we are constantly looking for ways to honor and embrace our culture through academic content, celebrations and traditions, and building relationships with one another.” - Amanda, English language program teacher, Illinois
“In recent years, I've observed a resurgence of challenges related to the acceptance of immigrants, primarily towards people of my heritage, including discrimination from descendants of the same background. Despite these challenges, I remain committed to providing a supportive and inclusive learning environment for my students. My personal experiences have reinforced the importance of empathy, cultural sensitivity, and understanding in my teaching approach.” - Carlos, High School technology teacher, Texas
“When I first started teaching 33 years ago, there were not many Hispanic/Latinx teachers and I felt like a rarity. I am happy to say that there are many of us now and we are passionate about our teaching like we are passionate about many things.” - Rita, Kindergarten teacher, California
What do your students gain from celebrating Hispanic & Latinx heritage (and joy and culture) all year round?
“For my Latinx students, seeing their culture represented allows them to feel a part of our school world. For non-Latinx students, our activities and reading broadens their world, helping them build not only understanding but empathy for those that are different from them. Many students also find connections to their own cultures which again builds that empathy!” - Katie, Elementary school librarian
“All students are excited and motivated when our classwork is centered around something that is reflecting their heritage and culture, including reading books by Latino authors. Listening to stories about Latino characters is always a fun and engaging time in my classroom.” - Rita, PreK–2nd grade teacher, Texas
“I enjoy sharing how many Hispanic and Latinx individuals have been ‘successful’ in the world. Many students see movie stars and sports players as being successful. It is great to show how others are successful, and they do not need to be famous. It’s great to highlight those who have reached that success and let them know they will do it as well.” - Kathy, 3rd grade teacher, California
“Any moment where we overcome labels and stereotypes for the betterment of ourselves is meaningful. Whether it's winning an Esports tournament or celebrating high school graduation, these instances exemplify the unity and inclusivity we strive to foster in our classroom. These moments of shared accomplishment transcend cultural boundaries and demonstrate the strength of diversity in our learning environment.” - Carlos, High school technology teacher, Texas
“Reminding my beautiful 8th graders that their heritage matters, is important, and we are not going anywhere but up!” - Mary (Mari), 8th grade teacher
“By celebrating Hispanic and Latinx Heritage all year round, our students gain the confidence and pride to embrace their culture and their identity. These celebrations of our culture also help us strengthen our sense of 'we' as they allow us to build a strong sense of community within our school as well as the greater community in which our school belongs.” - Amanda, English language program teacher, Illinois
“Rather than merely celebrating, our heritage is an integral part of who we are. We honor our traditions, such as enjoying dishes like posole, marking significant milestones like quinceañeras, and appreciating our rich musical heritage from classics like "Cielito Lindo" to modern tunes like "Ella Baila Sola." By embracing our culture continuously, we cultivate self-acceptance and pride. This acceptance of ourselves extends to acceptance of the diversity within our community, fostering a sense of unity and respect among my students.” - Carlos, High School technology teacher, Texas
“They become more tolerant of other cultures and people who do not look like them! I teach second grade, and I have noticed that kids at this age (between kindergarten and second grade really) don't pay attention to color or skin tone difference, they just know that they love playing with so-and-so or working in a group with so-and-so. Helping children understand that people are different and it's cool to be so will make them a more worldly, cultured, sophisticated, and tolerant adult when they grow up!” - Kerry, 2nd grade teacher, Virginia
Is there a student that really benefited from celebration of their heritage? How did it help them?
“I remember a student who saw a book cover featuring a child with her skin color. She ran to the book, hugged it, and said, "Mama, look! It looks like me!" She has since investigated more books in the library and is a joyful reader now.” - Lupe, Elementary School librarian, Texas
“One year, I had a student who was Hispanic and had darker skin. Her mom had shared it had become a very big issue at home. I was able to get culturally relevant books through DonorsChoose. This not only helped her, but it provided an assortment of books for her to have at home to work through her feelings. Appreciating our different shades of brown brought us closer together.” - Gloria, 1st grade teacher, Texas
“With a particular reading unit we do using the book "Yes, We Are Latinos/ Si Somos Latinos" students have shown a great deal of interest in the learning from that book as well as the histories of their countries. Students glowed with pride sharing stories and many learned new things about their countries of origin. It even sparked conversations at home that were positive and educational.” - Maria, 5th Grade, Massachusetts
Want to hear more from Latino teachers in 2023? Check out Lessons from the Frontlines: 4 Things You Need to Know about Latino Educators.