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Native American & Alaska Native Teachers Reflect on Their Unique Classroom Contributions

Words of warmth and wisdom from five standout Native American & Alaska Native teachers.


Students of all backgrounds benefit from diversity in the classroom. And classrooms thrive when teachers can show up as their whole, authentic selves. Read on to hear, in their voices, what these teachers want you to know about their experiences:

Meet Crystal Madril, elementary school teacher, California

On her unique perspective as a Native American teacher:

“I am a mixed Jicarilla Apache and Filipino teacher. I understand the challenges to find spaces that reflect who I am and spaces that allow me to be my authentic self. Narratives of people like me were not something I was exposed to in my own schooling experience. Today, I can include (and highlight) these perspectives when I teach. I now have the ability to make space and hold space for students with varied backgrounds and experiences. The Native American community, the community where I live (and where I grew up) gives me so much support allowing me to be my authentic self and share with those I work with and those I educate.”

On what students gain by honoring culture and heritage:

“My students gain a more inclusive perspective of the history of this country and the local area that we call home when we honor Native American Heritage. My students gain respect for different cultures, land, natural resources and diversity in general.  They are able to identify and bring attention to incidents of racism and cultural appropriation.”

On engaging students in learning about diverse cultures:

I know that representation matters. As we read books and content that resonates with students, I can see their eyes light up. They sit at the edge of their seats wanting to share. Students come in days later sharing that their relative is also Native American. I always encourage them to be curious and ask further questions and learn about their family heritage.

Meet an anonymous preK teacher, Arizona

On relating to students and families:

I am a kindergarten teacher on a Native American Reservation located in Arizona. [My school] is predominantly a Native American school, which is what makes it unique. I love that I am able to teach in the place I grew up and that I can relate to my students and families. I feel the ability to relate to our students and families, both academically and socially, is a key ingredient to their success.

Meet Jennifer Gant, middle school teacher, Indiana

On her unique perspective as a Native American teacher:

“I always try to have my students look at multiple points of view for every story. This way, they can develop empathy and see that history isn't always so black and white but full of gray!”

On how her experiences as an educator have changed over the years: 

“I changed from teaching English Language Arts to Science. The narrative writing required has lessened, but it has allowed me to help my students find scientists of all nationalities!”

On incorporating diversity (of all kinds!) in the classroom:

“My newcomers loved Hispanic Heritage month. They were the experts and it really empowered them!”

Meet an anonymous high school teacher, Arizona

On facing challenges with their students:

I teach in a high school that is primarily Native American. The school is located on the Navajo Reservation. I have worked in many other places, but, this place is special to me. My students are the reason why I love teaching math. I would love for my students to have the all the tools necessary for them to succeed. However, my students are faced with many challenges; Most students here ride the bus to school and some students may spend 30 minutes to 2 hours on the bus one way.

These challenges may prevent them from getting ahead in life. Many of my students struggle with math, so I provide them time after school where they can stay in my classroom to get help from me.

Meet Tawnya Jacocks, middle school teacher, Connecticut

On her unique perspective as a Native American teacher:

“My [multiracial African-American, Native-American, and Caucasian] heritage allows me to truly celebrate the beauty and meaning that can be found in the cultural diversity of our school and our world. I am very inspired by teaching multicultural art lessons that help students become more open-minded and able to value cultural differences and connect through similarities. My heritage also has taught me to value nature, patience, perseverance and compassion all of which are reflected as values in my classroom.”

Meet an anonymous elementary teacher, Arizona

On helping their students:

I am an Indigenous teacher working at a K-8 elementary school on my reservation. The majority of my students do not see a future for themselves outside of our reservation. I have been trying to show them options by talking about my own travels, bringing other cultural items in and having them think about their future(s). I am hoping that by honing skills they wouldn't normally be exposed to, it will spark their desire to learn more about the outside world.

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