Credential: Single Subject Social Science
Major: History with U.S. History concentration
Special Programs: Equity Interns Summer Program
Program: 5+1 Dual Degree, Urban Education and Social Justice Masters Pathway with Special Education and Bilingual Authorization in Spanish
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Question: You have more special programs and add-ons than almost any student I’ve ever seen! You are in our 5+1 program, where you earn a Single Subject teaching credential and you have been accepted into the Masters of Arts in Teaching in Urban Education and Social Justice [UESJ] pathway. You will also earn an additional Mild/Moderate Support Needs Education Specialist Credential and Master of Arts in Special Education. Finally, you are getting your Bilingual Authorization in Spanish. What are your inspirations for all these paths? What generally inspired you to be a teacher and to pursue the different pathways, such as UESJ, SpEd, and the Bilingual Authorization? Take your time!
General Inspiration to be a Teacher
Kathleen: I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was probably five years old. Growing up I always really liked learning. I’m definitely a very intellectually curious person, so I love to learn new things and acquire new skills. And I just love the classroom environment too. In high school, I became really involved in a lot of social justice [issues], in particular with the special education community that we had at my high school. I did a lot of activism and work to help amplify the voices of students with disabilities on my campus, because that had been a group that was ignored a lot in the past. And so for me, I really found my voice as an advocate to stand up for those students and create social and educational opportunities for them. I knew that because I had done so much work in public service and advocacy, in the end, no matter what career I pursued, I wanted to be an advocate for the rest of my life. And for me, that really resonated in teaching because I feel like teachers are advocates for their students. I think it’s not always seen that teachers are life-long advocates, that they help generate and build up the next generation of leaders. Behind those leaders is all the work of teachers building up and helping students believe that they can change the world in different ways. And so that really inspired me, as I knew I wanted to be an advocate not only for special education students, but for marginalized groups in the education system.
Teaching Single Subject History
In terms of teaching history, I have a personal belief that you can’t change the present without understanding the past. I think there’s no correct way to teach history, but there’s a way in which you can give students the skills they need to be able to formulate ideas for themselves and create their own perspectives and interpretations of history in our world. It’s super important to help students learn through history how to advocate for themselves and to amplify their voices.
Bilingual Authorization in Spanish
Spanish is my second language. I’ve been learning [Spanish] for about seven years. At first I just started Spanish because it was a requirement in high school. But there was a turning point for me during my junior year. I was doing a lot of work with special education students and for a lot of them, their first language was Spanish. So I kind of adapted where I was in terms of communication, learning a language. And it’s a skill, like a social skill. And for me, I found that the more I really worked on my own Spanish and learned, I was able to actually communicate better with special education students and make them feel comfortable. So that was my main motivation to study grammar on my own, which is something that a lot of people don’t want to do. I would practice outside of class. I really had this determination. It was because I wanted to form relationships with students with disabilities who felt a lot more comfortable speaking in their native language. Even now, after teaching in a Title I school in San Francisco, I’ve seen the importance of the Spanish language. It’s so omnipresent here in California. There are many Spanish speakers and a lot of kids that come from immigrant families. So to be able to have that skill is something that I value a lot.
A lot of [my interest in Special Education] actually stemmed from my upbringing. I had a unique educational journey from preschool to eighth grade. I went to a private, fully inclusive school, which means that the classrooms are integrated with students with disabilities and those without. So for me, growing up, the disabled community was my community. It was my friends, the people that I grew up with, my classmates. I grew up with a very different perspective on what differences were. I kind of just saw them as normal things because that’s what my classmates had growing up. The community is underrepresented in the education system and doesn’t always have the tools to amplify the voices of the students. And it’s a very high-need field in our current education system. So I want to make changes in that area.
Master of Arts in Teaching: Urban Education and Social Justice (UESJ)
Question: Now that the Urban Education and Social Justice Masters pathway is a possibility for UTEC students, what made you want to pursue that program?
Kathleen: It’s the area I really want to work in. I feel marginalized communities in the education system need the most assistance, and that is usually in urban areas. I’ve never really had an interest in working in private schools. I really want to help students that don’t have the resources. I’m doing all these [teaching] programs because I want to be the most prepared I can be to help students. I think that each one of these pathways is like adding a tool to my belt, where I can help students in different ways and form relationships with students from very different backgrounds.
What I think [particularly] inspired me about the urban education program is the emphasis on social justice. I think that as teachers it’s not always a given. We don’t always give teachers credit that they really change the communities around them. We don’t always reflect on the social advocacy aspect of being a teacher and how much they are change-makers in the community. I want to grow my leadership to apply what is done in the classroom to the community. I’m also very interested in research and being able to expand my knowledge in that area, and the program has an emphasis on that too. In our current climate, I think that social advocacy and having those skills is essential and fundamental.
Equity Interns Program
Question: This past summer you participated in the Equity Interns program [through USF’s McCarthy Center], where you spent eight weeks in a full-time summer paid internship supporting the YMCA of San Francisco’s Power Scholars Academy. Tell me about that experience.
Kathleen: The program actually started during the COVID-19 pandemic to support students from low-income backgrounds who had kind of fallen behind academically after the pandemic. For me, [the program] was very impactful. It really opened my eyes to the inequities that are present in the public education system in particular, because I worked with a lot of students coming from very high-need backgrounds, whether that be socioeconomically or linguistically. In my classroom, I taught in a first-grade class where 50% of our students didn’t really speak English. They spoke Spanish. So during that time I was able to use my Spanish to connect with students and understand where they were from, because a lot of the students had just arrived in the country from different Latin American countries. A lot of them had a lot of fear and a lot of hard experiences coming into the classroom. It really solidified for me wanting to grow in my own leadership skills. I could see the impact that I could make, and not on a small scale.
[The program also helped] me think beyond the classroom: what can teachers do to make an impact? I did a lot of relationship-building with the parents outside of school and talking to a lot of Spanish-speaking parents. During the internship we also got to talk with a lot of politicians and learn about different laws and legislation regarding education and see how things intertwine. Overall, it was a very amazing and eye-opening experience. There’s a ton of disparities and not a ton of support for teachers to work in these high-need fields. But after the program I decided that I wanted to do the urban education emphasis. It ultimately inspired me after working with students who come from really rich, diverse backgrounds. And so you just learn so much as a teacher.
Highlights of UTEC Program
Question: What are some of the highlights of your time in UTEC? What have you particularly enjoyed?
Kathleen: I feel like I have so many. I think something that’s awesome about the program is I can take classes that inspire my passions and further develop them. One of my favorite classes I’ve taken is Education for Bilingual Children. It was really cool because I learned about different theories about bilingual education and the connection between language and culture. Then I was able to apply that in my actual classroom because during that semester I was doing fieldwork in a middle school in an ELD [English Language Development] class. Most of the students came from a Spanish-speaking background, but also from other backgrounds like speaking Mandarin or Vietnamese. For me it was amazing to be able to implement schoolwork or stuff you learn in the class into an actual classroom and see it work too. For my final project I designed a program that was like a pen pals program that could be implemented in middle school. It connected students learning different languages to each other so they could practice those skills by writing letters. At the end of my field work, the Aptos Middle School wanted to actually use that program and continue it.
The UTEC community has been amazing. I like being in classes with other people that have the same vision of wanting to create classrooms that are holistic and care about the students, as well as changing the education system. I think the close-knit community is really helpful. It’s also awesome to pursue all these different programs. I wouldn’t have had this many opportunities to experience different communities or different areas of study anywhere else.
Question: What advice would you give someone who is balancing UTEC’s undergrad and grad classes at the same time?
Kathleen: It’s definitely good to consider how much work you’re willing to put in. In my perspective, you’re going to get out what you put in with the program. So while the program does take a lot of commitment, if you really are passionate about teaching, it’s the perfect program for you. I think the reality is [college is] not going to be a breeze for everyone. We all have a hard time balancing everything. But what I think is cool about the UTEC program is it’s so close-knit that everyone kind of understands each other’s experience. And so in that way we all support each other. You know, teaching is hard. It’s not easy. But there’s so much support [at UTEC] that I think isn’t always seen, whether it’s the advisors or just each other being teachers learning together. And the [Teacher Education Department] professors are super supportive too.
But I think for me what’s always helped is remembering why I started, you know, remembering my “why.” Why I joined, why I want to be a teacher, what inspires me. Finding those positives in small moments that are encouraging because teaching is hard, but it’s also an extremely rewarding career. There’s so much social change and amazing things that can come out of teaching. It always helps me when I’m teaching in different schools to see the progress of my students and how much of an impact I think the [teaching] career has. Teaching can change not only the lives of students, but change communities, too.
Question: My last question is, what do you do besides teaching? Do you have any hobbies or activities you like to do?
Kathleen: I’m a very active person. I Iove lifting weights. I love being outside, going hiking.
Question: Where’s your favorite hiking spot in the San Francisco area?
Kathleen: I honestly don’t have a favorite. I just explore different trails. Me and my sister love going hiking together and kind of trying out new places. I also love running in Golden Gate Park. I’m a really good baker, so I like baking different pastries. Pies are my favorite thing to bake. I love spending time with friends. I don’t always have a ton of free time, but when I do, I really do enjoy it.