Student Spotlight: Zero Ramos Laforga


Year: Senior
Cohort: 2025
Credential: Single Subject English
Major: English
Program: 4+1 Dual Degree w/ Masters in Urban Education and Social Justice

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


Inspiration from Past Teachers

Question: What inspired you to become a teacher?

Zero: I really owe it to some of the teachers that I had in high school, who showed me what being a good educator could be like. I honestly didn’t start having good educators until I was in high school. One of the most influential teachers to this day is my French teacher, Madame Schroeder. She was really influential to me, as was my high school art teacher, Karen Thomas. I still talk to my high school art teacher at least once a month. I’ll see stuff when I walk around San Francisco and take pictures and send them to her. There are also other teachers who I am very grateful to have had in high school. I’m not as close with them now that I’m not there all the time, but I’ll visit. They’ll ask me how teaching is. That’s really satisfying, a full circle moment for me.

Experience in the Classroom

Question: Thinking on your undergraduate fieldwork experiences, what is it that you like about being in the classroom? Are there things that you’re discovering about yourself as a teacher?

Zero: I think the one thing that I love about being in the classroom is it always feel like I’m at home in them. Even if I’m nervous about how I think a lesson is going to go, I know that I’m in the right place. There’s so much to love. I love talking about literature. I love talking about all things that have to do with the field of English. But it’s also really fun to see how these kids think of the world. I really like the group of kids I’m with right now. I’m teaching 11th grade and it’s just so interesting to see how they come to their conclusions and what they think about the world. I think that’s also another really important thing to me—getting fresh perspectives on things from the generation below you. It’s refreshing and you don’t feel so entirely hopeless about your future. I really enjoy what they have to say. They also keep you in check, which helps. They keep you in line so you don’t get too idealistic or too pessimistic, which is nice.

Question: 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?

Zero: The biggest thing for me is I want students to know that they have a safe space and it’ll always be a safe space. I actually talk about this constantly because there are things that professors I have now do where I think, I would never do that in my own classroom. And a lot of it’s like nitty gritty details, because in the bigger picture it does matter. Like, as long as my budget allows for it, I want to have snacks available to students and little essentials that they need. I just want my classroom to be accessible. I have the space. A couch would be sick. Or a beanbag chair. Maybe both. Also, posters, and not just boring “how to write a thesis sentence” ones. I want there to be art.

There’s policy things too. I hate seating charts. If I’m at a school that requires a seating chart, then I will begrudgingly do it. But I want to give students as much autonomy as possible while they’re in my classroom. I don’t really want them to have to ask me to go to the bathroom. I want there to be a mutual understanding and respect that’s like, yes, I’m your teacher, but you also have as much say and power in your journey as a student as I do.

Question: It seems like you’re very attentive to power differentials in the classroom.

Zero: Yeah. It really weirds me out. I have the kids call me Mr. L. I feel like being referred to as Mr. Laforga is very formal and kind of jarring to me. It helps shorten a little bit the barrier between student and teacher, where it’s not as bad. I also feel like I’m too young to be called by my full last name. I’m barely 22.

Literature Research

Question: You have presented your research at several conferences. Tell me a little about your research interests and your conference experiences.

Zero: I’ve done two research conferences. The first one I did was at the Northwestern Undergraduate Conference on Literature, which was hosted by the University of Portland. I presented the paper that I’m currently turning into my undergraduate thesis, which is entitled “If We Get There: Poetics and the Queer Fantasy,” in which I explore the relationship between time and space and queer desire. I examine how homophobia affects both an imposed homophobia from society and also an internalized homophobia as a result. It’s very, very theoretical.

But presenting was really fun. I noticed that I presented a lot better than many of the panelists I saw. I know the norm at academic conferences is just to read off the paper you wrote—which I hate, by the way. Terrible, terrible norm. But the way I structured it was just the way I explain concepts to students. I pulled a lot from my specific background in teaching to be able to explain what was happening in my paper, because a lot of it is convoluted and has highly theoretical stuff in it. I also had slides, but most people don’t have slides. Why would you not have a visual aid when you have the opportunity? A lot of people were really engaged with my presentation. I had the most questions being asked of me at the end of the panel. I would like to think it’s because I have interesting ideas, but I largely think it’s because of the way I was interacting, through the modality that I chose.

The second conference I did was for the International Association of Byron Societies, which was hosted at the University of San Francisco. I presented on Lord Byron’s work and his contemporary, Madame de Staël. I love being able to get up there and go on a spiel about something that I think is interesting for a good 10-15 minutes. I really love doing research. It’s fun for me and I really like theory.

I definitely see research sticking with me. My students are going to need to do a research project at one point or another. I think that being able to conduct research—not just academic research, but there’s obviously going to be other things that students need to be able to research throughout their careers—is essential. And for me, being in the research process, I get exposed to so many different things, so many different sources and mediums. There are a lot of things throughout the research process where I think, oh, this would be really cool if I could teach this in the future. And although not all of it’s appropriate or feasible for high school, I do eventually want to get my PhD and teach college level classes.

Teaching Writing and Literature

Question: As an English teacher, how is it balancing teaching writing and teaching literature? How do they intersect for you?

Zero: I think they’re essential to each other. In high school, I honestly didn’t get enough opportunities to write in informal settings as well as formal settings. I feel like the breadth of the type of writing I was doing wasn’t versatile enough. I could really only do academic writing. I wasn’t very good at expository writing, even though we practiced that. I was really only good at academic English papers. But if you asked me to do creative nonfiction, although I am a poet outside of that, I didn’t know how to write things about events that have taken place in the past. That just wasn’t something I did. All I was writing about was literature. And that’s something I’m thinking about now, how to teach students to have the versatility of skills, because English is a very interdisciplinary field in its nature. To deny students the ability to explore different writing styles would honestly be a disservice to them, because it’s just not realistic. Some of them might end up as English majors, but I know that 99% of them will not be, and that’s completely fine. I don’t mind that. My biggest concern is they walk away with critical thinking skills, and through the writing skills that they’re able to develop, be able to communicate their ideas clearly.

A lot of students feel misunderstood, especially in adolescence. That’s a really common feeling. I think being able to give them the tools to empower themselves and use their voice is really important. So, for me, I don’t think of teaching them how to just write academic essays, but also informal writing. Like asking them to journal at the beginning of class or once a week or something like that—something that has nothing to do with academics. You know, tell me about your last week, what was something that you enjoyed? Or something that you didn’t enjoy, that was a rough moment for you? So exposing them to other types of writing, not just scholarship on a book we’re reading. I also want to expose them to writing that they don’t necessarily associate with English, like film. There’s screenwriting in that. That’s a modality of writing. I want them to be exposed to news writing; journalism counts too. There are so many different types of writing within the field of English. I want to be innovative and show that there is more than one type of writing and you might be bad at one type of it, but you might be really good at another type. That’s something I want to emphasize as well.

Urban Education and Social Justice (UESJ) Masters Track

Question: You’re pursuing the Urban Education and Social Justice Masters in your fifth year. What interests you about that program? Do you know yet what your thesis might be on?

Zero: I just feel like urban education suits me a little better. I plan on teaching within San Francisco Unified or maybe later on moving to Oakland and teaching there. I want the skill set because it requires a lot of cultural competency. Which is not to say that we don’t get that on the general education MAT track. But for me, I like the emphasis on urban education and especially things like critical race theory, which goes deeper than what you cover in MAT classes. I also can’t imagine being a teacher who doesn’t utilize social justice as a core component of my values. UESJ just aligned better with my values and the way I see my teaching philosophy developing. I honestly didn’t realize how important social justice was for me in the classroom until I took Learning and Teaching with Dr. [Patrick] Camangian, who is one of the heads of Urban Ed. I was just like, oh, this is what I need to be doing.

I also really love the people in the UESJ program. I love my cohort, they’re all so great. I knew it was place I needed to be. It is also nice because in Urban Ed, I’m surrounded by other radical educators of color. I welcome it, because it’s a really refreshing environment to be around other people who have as many radical beliefs as you, and also a lot of the same experiences. It’s gratifying to be with a cohort of radical educators of color and the common way we see the world. There’s honestly nothing I would trade the world for that.

In terms of my thesis, the thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is students of color and their literacy rates. I’m thinking of doing something about what happens when we give students of color the ability to read narratives that mirror their own, how would that improve their engagement with the text, their academic literacy rates? There’s not a lot of research on that specifically. There is a lot of research on academic literacy rates of students of color overall. But I haven’t seen much specifically tackling what happens if we give them these types of texts. That’s something that I would like to both quantify and qualify. I read a lot of white authors in high school. The first time I read a Black author was my sophomore year of high school. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I read literature written by a Filipino person. That was a first time of my life I’d ever been exposed to literature like that, and it was game changing for me. So, drawing upon my own experiences and thinking about how excluded I feel from literature, I imagine a lot of students of color definitely feel the same way. In the last half of my undergraduate education, I’ve been specializing in ethnic literature. I want to be able to use my background to inform my thesis.

Outside Interests

Question: What are some of your interests outside of teaching and school? I know you have a pretty rich artistic life.

Zero: I do a lot of things. I’m a poet. I’m an artist. I’m a musician. I’m kind of a filmmaker, although I don’t really claim it because I’ve only made one thing. I usually refer to myself as a writer and musician and artist. I actually didn’t realize how seriously I was taking writing until very recently. Wanting to be a somewhat successful creative writer is the perfect gig for an English teacher because you’re always constantly exposed to work. And the work-life balance is great. You have the time and the inspiration to write, which is nice. I just got published in a hard copy edition as well as online edition of a literary magazine called The Quarter(ly), which is pretty cool. I’m still waiting to hear back on other publications. But it’s cool because in my writer bio, I get to cite my credentials. A lot of people have an MFA in creative writing, but I’m an English teacher and I like that. I like that it sets me apart from other bios.

My creativity is also super-tied to the classroom. I recently worked with one of my kids, how he could write a song for the latest unit assessment. I was giving them feedback on what I think they should do, because I’m a musician. I would kind of put myself under punk and post-hardcore, that sort of thing. Although I’ve made music in a variety of genres before. I used to make electronic music and do a lot of singer-songwriter acoustic stuff. My music style has changed over the years.