Credential: Single Subject Social Science
Major: History with U.S. History concentration
Special Programs: Martín-Baró Scholars Program
Program: 4+1 Dual Degree
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Question: What inspired you to become a teacher?
Antoinette: Probably negative experiences, really, as a high schooler. Especially in my history and government classes, which is why I’m teaching history. I had a teacher in my high school in junior/senior year that let his personal opinions and politics really meddle with what he taught as fact in class. He was a sexist and racist person who shared his own beliefs as if they were facts. So he would say like things like, “All Native Americans are alcoholics” or “Mexicans are not a good contribution to the country” or “Women shouldn’t be in Congress.” He made these statements as if they were things he’s teaching us rather than his own opinion. That made it really uncomfortable for me to share my opinions in class, especially because I had been put in this honors class and everyone else was a white male in that class except for me. So when I wanted to share what I had to say, I would raise my hand and the guys would kind of just start laughing at me, or the teacher would even support them, saying “We don’t want to hear what you have to say” or, you know, “Oh, Antoinette’s talking again,” things like that. And then I would just break down and not want to come to class anymore.
It really frustrated me because history is my favorite subject and I really wanted to get into meaningful discussions with [my classmates]. I wanted to hear their side. I wanted to hear what my teacher had to say and I valued it. But they didn’t value what I was saying. So it was really hard for there to be any kind of discourse about anything. And I realized that I’m probably not the only person that’s dealt with that. I know I’ve met plenty of other women or any identifying genders where they don’t feel comfortable sharing what they want to share. It’s not that they don’t have great ideas or great contributions, it’s just the environment isn’t right for them. I learned through my teaching classes how much damage a teacher like that can do, especially if [students are] younger and have less self esteem or self confidence, and they haven’t had the chance to build those skills.
So you might think you’re not good at anything. Or think, “My math teacher doesn’t like me. I guess I’m just not good at math and I’m never going to pursue math, even though I think it’s interesting,” and that’s it. There’s a whole another life path that you could have taken that you didn’t because your teacher stopped you from doing that. So I was thinking about all these things and I’m like, “Man, I do not want any more kids to have to deal with that.” I’m thinking about how many kids or students are out there that are missing out on those opportunities because their teachers are so close-minded and let their opinions affect what they teach.
Question: That’s actually one of my questions: when you have your own class, what will some of your passions or priorities be? What do you want to make sure students experience in your class?
Antoinette: I want them to see reflections of their values and culture and background in the classroom itself, like physically. So maps and pictures and drawings. I’ve been to a lot of classrooms where they’ll have a dedicated whiteboard for the kids to draw whatever they want to draw, as long as it’s classroom appropriate, which I always thought is so fun. In some classrooms that I’ve observed, kids will stay after class just to draw and talk to the teacher. So it’s like a space for them to communicate with the teacher and express themselves. As far as the course material, I want them to know that the discourse we have, the discussions we have—it’s up to them. I don’t want them to feel like I’m the one who’s telling you we’re going to have a conversation about this passage, about this specific topic or about this opinion. I want them to feel like they have some control, because I think when you have that, it’s a lot easier to find your passion.
Question: You presented a research paper at CARD this past spring that examined the popular movement against Critical Race Theory and other related curriculum topics. What are the some of the strategies you feel can combat this movement in your opinion?
Antoinette: Last year I was in a living-learning community, Martín Baró. In my second semester there, we talked a lot about Rogerian argument, which is the idea that arguments shouldn’t really be about one dominant idea over the other, but rather coming to a middle ground and seeing the value in both sides. So I think something that you can do to combat this kind of polarization and separation of people in your classroom is to say, “Okay, let’s hear from both sides in a respectful civil way. Why do you think this is and where are you coming from? How did you grow up? Why do you believe these things? Where are the patterns?” So making my classroom a comfortable space where you can have a die-hard conservative and a die-hard liberal actually be able to have a conversation about these things. Because whether we like it or not, people do believe critical race theory is the enemy. Whether I disagree with that or not, it’s there. It’s in the policies that are being made. So how do we have a conversation about that without just ignoring it or just completely saying, “Well, you’re wrong, this is what I want to happen in my classroom and I don’t want to hear about your opinions.”
It’s also important to make sure that your students know that they are advocates for themselves and have a lot of power over these things. They don’t think they do, but they do. I remember as a teenager, I had barely turned 18, I thought, “I can vote. I can actually make change in the world.” But even before then, I was able to do things like share things on social media. Even talking to you right now, I’m being an agent for change just by putting the information that I have out there. That’s true media stuff. So making sure students know that they have that in them and nobody needs to give it to them. Nobody needs to tell them, “I’ll allow you to share your opinion in my class.” Like, no, go share your opinion wherever you want to share your opinion. It’s a safe space or it should be a safe space.
Question: Have there been any highlights for you while in the UTEC program? Anything particularly about the program that you like or you feel is valuable?
Antoinette: I really enjoyed my first UTEC class, Introduction to the Teaching Profession with Irma Nugroho. I liked having a younger teacher who knows the kids we’re going to be teaching. Having teachers of color, women teachers, being my mentors helps a lot, because I don’t feel like they’re coming from a space that is so much different from mine. Initially I felt a little scared of getting into the program and not seeing a lot of familiar faces. We’re going to be interacting with a range of people, so it’s good to have professors of all ethnicities and backgrounds. I also really enjoyed having a class with Professor Cheryl Jones Walker.
I also really liked the racial affinity groups [the Teacher Education Department arranged last year]. I went to all of them.
Question: UTEC can be a challenging program, since you take undergrad and grad classes at the same time. If you had advice for somebody about managing the program, what would it be?
Antoinette: Definitely learn when to say no, because I’m working three jobs this semester. Don’t learn from me and don’t do what I’m doing! [laughs] Also, just know that there’s community within the program. Don’t feel because someone else is teaching a different subject or they’re not in the same age group as you [that you have nothing in common]. I know at the beginning [Single Subject students] can get a little separated from the elementary school students. At first I thought I kind of had to hang out with the high school people. But then I talked to the elementary school teachers and I thought, wow. We actually have a lot more in common than you think.
So students should recognize that UTEC is a great place to make community and friendship, more than a lot of other programs. UTEC is really nice because we know we’re all kind of going the same place roughly. We have respect for the education system, we have care for our students. If you have that, then there’s so much more to build on top of that. So definitely if it’s your first year, or coming into the program, find your people. You will find your people.
Question: This last one is kind of a fun question. What are your other interests besides teaching? Do you have hobbies or other things you do besides work?
Oh, that’s so hard because I really do just work. This summer I worked at a summer camp as a coordinator for a K through 5 literacy program. I was in charge of the whole site as a substitute teacher for whenever the teachers were gone. I got to teach a class of 20 kindergartners, which is a lot different from high schoolers. It was crazy, but I loved it. It had me questioning everything. I thought, “Am I going to be a high school teacher?” But then I came back and thought how I love being able to have such interesting conversations with high schoolers that I can’t have with elementary schoolers, because they don’t understand. I loved working with the little ones as a summer job, but middle and high school are my passion, my career.
As far as other interests, I like arts and crafts a lot. I like journaling, I like making bracelets. Lately I’ve been getting into makeup a little bit, doing eyeliner.
There was a low maintenance makeup thing I really got into over the summer. I was waking up at like six in the morning to go teach these kids and I did not have time to do much. So I would put these temporary tattoos on my cheeks, like different animals. The kids loved it. I would just paste it on and let it dry while I was brushing my teeth. The kids would be like, “Miss A, what are you going to have tomorrow?” And I’d say, “Well, if you guys behave today, maybe it’ll be…” And they loved that and would respond to it.