Patricia Cortez is being honored as a Latino Educator Champion of Change.
On my first day of kindergarten, my mother and I walked to my classroom hand-in- hand and eagerly awaited our turn to meet the teacher. When we finally approached her, she gave us a warm smile and greeted us with words that were familiar and comforting. She spoke to us in Spanish, my first language and my mother’s only language. My parents had made the decision to place me in a bilingual classroom, not knowing that this decision would set the trajectory for my life’s work in the very same district.
It was 1976, and bilingual education was in its infancy in my school district. There were a small handful of teachers at this school who wanted to prove that bilingual educate could work. And I am grateful that these extraordinary teachers helped me develop my Spanish language skills, enabling me to nurture my cultural bonds with my parents and other relatives. The ability to communicate fully with them, I now realize, was a gift that kept me grounded in and connected to my cultural values and to my heritage.
I am proud to teach at a school where the expectation is that ALL students in our bilingual immersion program will be fully bilingual and biliterate. In addition to being a teacher, for the last five years, I have also served as the school’s resource teacher, facilitating curriculum development. However, it’s not just about the language. Students are also taught a sense of pride, understanding, and respect for their culture and for other cultures. Their ability to speak multiple languages connects them to the world. What an honor it has been to teach and support my students on this journey.
I often think of that fateful first day of school—and how the encounter with my first teacher inspired a feeling of trust that served as a foundation for what I do as a teacher almost 40 years later. My hope is to inspire my students to pursue their dreams and to always remember and honor their families and community so that they in turn may serve as an inspiration for future generations.
Patricia Cortez Hidalgo is a first grade teacher at Alianza Charter School in California.