Students Need Role Models Who Look Like They Do

by Hope Morales│Tuesday, April 2nd, 2018


This post first appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News and is republished here with permission from the author.


Born to a poorer family on the rough side of town, “south of Second Street” in Roswell, I was supposed to become a statistic. When I was little, I remember my first goal being, “I want to afford to buy my children Happy Meals whenever they ask.”

This was after running errands with my grandmother, who did not have extra money to purchase me the tasty kid’s meal. Later, my goals become bigger, but were they big enough?

Growing up, I remember having Latino teachers who looked like me. I also saw people who looked like me working at stores and restaurants where my family ate.

I didn’t often see people who looked like me as leaders or bosses. This, I thought, was normal. And because I didn’t see Hispanic leadership within my own schools and community, it is not something I initially saw myself doing. 

My family did not have higher education but they were all very hard workers. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles began working on the farm fields at a very young age and never stopped working. From them, I learned what good work ethic was.

My mother taught me that no matter what job you had, you did your best. Doing your best did not mean taking a shortcut or the easy way out. It did not mean running from a challenge or making excuses.

Rather, doing my best meant that I was to become the best person I could be, an example of the values I learned as a proud Hispanic woman. 

 
 

I was the first in my family to graduate high school with honors, the first to earn my bachelor’s degree, and the first to obtain my master’s. I’m proud of these accomplishments. I’ve been involved in education for over 10 years, working with students with an upbringing similar to my own.

Like me, many of them would start out with limited goals. They didn’t look outside of our community. They didn’t consider going to college outside our state, if they considered college at all. They didn’t see themselves as leaders. They thought they would do what others did: get  a job immediately after high school, have children and continue the cycle.

I knew that children needed an adult challenging them to meet new goals and supporting them in understanding the vast opportunities that they had available to them. I wanted to be the one to break that cycle. I chose education as my career path, because I knew this was where I could make a difference.

As their teacher, I pushed my students to challenge themselves. I wanted them to reach their full potential and realize the options they had. Cam thought of himself as an athlete. He was quiet in class, stronger in math and not fond of writing.

I challenged Cam to realize that he was a high-achieving student. Together, we recognized that the work he was doing was challenging, and he learned not to be afraid of the challenge. He began to use strategies I used with him, to teach his peers how to solve multi-step math problems. Cam became as confident in the classroom as he was on the field. 

I often talked about my college courses with my students when I was studying for my master’s degree. I wanted them to understand the process, the work and the possibilities. I wanted to earn that higher degree so that I could continue to thrive in education as a young, Hispanic, female leader.

My initial goal was to become a school principal. I understood the role of a building leader and how valuable a good principal was to the teachers and students within that building. I envisioned myself working and leading within a school, but also thought about the possibility of leading at the district level.

The more I achieved, the more my goals expanded. I was no longer setting minimal goals and I wanted the children I taught to see someone who grew up like them and who looked like them making a difference at a higher level. I wanted them to envision themselves in those roles.

I did not become a building principal. I still get to work in education, I still get to support teachers and students, and I still get to lead great work. I do this as New Mexico’s director of policy for Teach Plus.

I collaborate with educators and stand up in Santa Fe on behalf of amazing teachers.  I support Teach Plus Fellows in their work as we fight for a high-quality, equitable education for all our students.

I am the leader and an example for what many children in my community can become. 


 
 

Hope Morales - Director of Policy, Teach Plus New Mexico

Prior to joining Teach Plus in 2017, Hope taught 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 7th grades in Roswell Independent School District and was the district’s Teacher on Special Assignment.