My professional philosophy is rooted in the belief that scholarship, teaching and community engagement must always be interconnected. My experiences coming through the educational pipeline heighten my awareness of the need to bridge cultural gaps without invalidating the uniqueness of the diverse communities of the United States.
For these reasons, I actively incorporate service learning and community-based scholarship in my courses. This approach supports my belief that teaching can be grounded in research and also a means to self-discovery and empowerment. Yet, developing these opportunities is not always easy—even when the institution is located in a community with diverse needs. However, by using an assets-based approach to education, we as educators can help uncover and tap into the many strengths our students bring to the classroom every day. In all of my classes, I aim to inspire my students to think critically and creatively by promoting their engagement in the learning process and treating them as intellectual equals.
My priority as a classroom instructor is to affirm the students' knowledge while providing them the opportunity to create and acquire knowledge both within and outside of the classroom. I continually assess the needs of the students and adapt my teaching and content to maximize student achievement while also expanding the base knowledge in Latina/o Studies. Students, therefore, are not just repositories of knowledge, but creators of knowledge—participating in community-based research projects. My scholarly approach to teaching encourages students to become keen researchers who can apply that knowledge to real-life situations.
My students have played a key role in documenting and disseminating the history of the bracero and migrant farmworker in the Río Grande Valley as well as the story of Chicana feminist author and theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, a Valley native and graduate of our institution who is largely unrecognized by the local population. My students have presented at conferences, published their work and organized conferences, exhibits, public mural projects, and much more.
In addition to the scholarly impact is the personal impact that the courses have on students. The overwhelming majority of the students have never had the opportunity to see themselves reflected in their studies. When they do, they can have transformational experiences. On a recent evaluation of my "Introduction to Mexican American Studies" class, a student wrote, "Finally, I feel I am in the correct place, that I have a voice and I deserve to be here." In "Cosecha Voices" (a class dedicated to migrant farmworker students), one student noted that, "Before "Cosecha Voices," I was uncomfortable with who I was. I was ashamed of where I came from. Thanks to the class, I can say that I am proud of who I am... I have found in "Cosecha Voices," the motivation I need to not give up."
This type of work is grueling and often times not supported—because of a lack of resources or, even more so, a lack of understanding. I have often wondered if I should give up. I have pondered that perhaps I should be a "traditional" professor: lecture, give exams, hold "regular" office hours. However, reflecting on my own education, I recall the urgency of the task ahead of us to educate this generation of diverse students, and how we cannot continue to implement the same practices that have failed so many students. It is also during these times that I remind myself of my deeply held belief that the most important aspect of teaching is a professor's willingness to take a sincere interest in her students' success.
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