"I can create a classroom where people love being," says Will Powell, a resource teacher at Chief Sealth International High School.
“I have a passion for dual language education and a love for teaching social studies." says Carlos Garcia, a fifth-grade teacher at a Spanish-English dual-language school in the Bellevue School District. “It is important for students to learn from multiple perspectives and get the full story when learning about our history.”
"Leading is like having a buffet of food. What is it you need? Let's eat together, let's grow together," says Salvador Gomez, who teaches Spanish and culture to middle schoolers in the Highline School District
Morton and Powell completed a master's in education in UW’s Special Education Teacher Education Program (TEP) and Garcia and Gomez completed a master’s in teaching in UW’s Elementary Education TEP program. In addition to influencing and inspiring students in the classroom, these leader-educators also changed the TEP programs for the better.
Welcoming, Hearing, Seeing
When Powell was a sophomore in high school, he finally had a class he loved. It was a Spanish class, and it wasn't easy. "I felt respected," he says. "I enjoyed the environment. The teacher had high expectations." It made him imagine what school could have been like for him and his friends if they had felt seen and valued in all their classes.
"I was put on this earth to motivate them," Morton says of his work with young people after describing being supported at home but doubted at school. When he ran after-school programs, enrolling hundreds of students, a teacher encouraged him to go further. "She saw more in me than I saw in myself," he says. First, he became a paraeducator, helping kids who struggled to understand math. Then he connected with the Academy for Rising Educators (ARE), going on to UW so he could do more. "I'm connecting resources, building relationships, making change and changing the narrative," says Morton.
"There's just not many teachers like us," says Powell. "By unapologetically coming into spaces, being ourselves and still using slang, showing a different perception of what it means to be a teacher, it switches the trajectory of what students can do with their own lives."
Gomez describes his desire to break free of assumptions about trauma being the same across racial and ethnic groups. He's also tired of so much emphasis on narratives of oppression and wants more focus on the many ways people are growing and prospering in community. "Leading doesn't mean I need to lead the discussion," he says. "I like to get to the core of being a human being with people. If we aren't okay emotionally, we're not going to be able to progress as a community."
After feeling like people were always making assumptions about him and his abilities in school, Garcia eagerly gives his students something different. "This month, I've been pushing my students to think critically about everything and to think about the conversation and who it impacts," he says. "There are different ways we can help one another."
Taking Care of the Teachers
It's precisely this intelligence, life experience, empathy, schooling, and wisdom that all students need in their teachers. Now, they need it even more, after the long pandemic years, meeting the moment and imagining how they might lead into the future. Like the stories of Morton, Powell, Garcia and Gomez, research shows that students thrive when they can see themselves in and relate to their teachers. But the teachers themselves also need support.
To attract, train and keep educators who reflect the demographics and needs of students requires attending to many parts in a complex system. Programs certifying teachers must be accessible through recruitment and affordability. Once candidates enter a program, they need relevant materials and welcoming faculty and classmates. When teachers become certified, there is also the piece of feeling welcome and having support in the educational settings where they work. Then the cycle must repeat and grow with more students seeing the pathway open before them as they become inspired to teach.