July 16, 2013

Teachers Talk Back: Carlos Leon

Carlos Leon was a first grade teacher at Emerson Spanish Immersion in Minneapolis Public Schools for the past two years. This fall will return to MPS as a math specialist at Green Central School. He joined E4E as a member of the Teacher Action Team working on the Minnesota DREAM Act, helping undocumented students access higher education. 

What inspired you to become an educator?

My decision to become a teacher depended a lot on two strong teachers I had in middle school. Up until middle school, I had been a fairly un-driven student who also happened to be growing up in poverty. The impact Ms. Montoya and Ms. Eichorst were able to have on me in the 7th grade transformed my life trajectory. These teachers helped me begin to see how academic success looked and felt like. As I got close to graduating from college and thought about moving forward and my future career prospects, I kept coming back to Ms. Montoya and Ms. Eichorst. These women were my transformational teachers, as I had not been challenged to think beyond the seventh grade and beyond my family’s economic circumstances until I was in their classrooms. Unpacking their influence was a strong impetus for me to understand and live the role that teachers can play in changing a student’s life path. 

What has your experience as a teacher in Minneapolis been like?

For the last two years, I have been teaching first grade Spanish immersion at a high needs public school in Minneapolis Public Schools. What stands out for me most was the diversity of my classroom, as we drew students of various races, linguistic backgrounds, and socio-economic circumstances; it was a powerful experience for me as, in my own schooling, I only had attended predominantly Latino schools. I believe the diversity present within Minneapolis Public Schools is an enormous asset that not many other school districts in Minnesota have, as it gives our students real world experiences of learning and living in diverse communities.

This fall, I’ll be transitioning to a new role in MPS. I’m excited about my new role, which will allow me to co-teach math at a K-3 level. It’ll be my first year as math specialist in an elementary classroom. I am a firm believer that having two teachers in a classroom can have a major impact on student outcomes and improve teacher practice when intentional and purposeful collaboration exists.

What are you looking forward to about next school year as we officially launch E4E in Minnesota?

I am most excited about being a part of E3MN next year as we will officially have transitioned to a national chapter of E4E. This move will help increase the feeling that we are part of a national movement of educators working in classrooms across the country, whether in Los Angeles, New York City or Minnesota, who believes in the same ideals. Given the current politically charged climate surrounding education reform in Minnesota, it’s uplifting to know that educators across the country are pushing forward and collectively persevering towards the goal of elevating the teaching profession.

Why do you think it is important for teachers to get involved with advocacy outside the classroom?

Senator Baldwin had a great point when she talked about being the first openly lesbian Senator. She said, “When you’re not in the room, the conversation is about you. When you’re in the room, the conversation is with you.” In a way, her observation holds true for educators: there will always be individuals speaking about us or for us, but there is something radically different when we as educators are the ones present and actively shaping the conversation around us. When you hear the voices of those who know our students and our schools speaking out about what is needed to transform our schools, it will lead to more equitable outcomes for our kids.