December 6, 2016

Teachers Talk Back: Erica Silva

Erica Silva is in her fifth year of teaching, and she currently teaches at Macy Intermediate School in the Montebello Unified School District. In this conversation with E4E-Los Angeles Outreach Director Jen Baca, she shares her experience as a co-author of “One School of Thought: Moving Toward the Common Core,” a set of teacher-written recommendations on the Common Core (CCSS) transition and implementation and her advocacy efforts to make the recommendations come to life.

Jen Baca (JB): What inspired you to become a teacher?

Erica Silva (ES): I had the incredible opportunity to work for a student-led scholarship at the University of Southern California as the outreach coordinator. My three years in this role allowed me to help close the college-access gap for students in the area. All our students needed resources, information and a strong academic background to get them to college. I saw the need for my students to learn this information early, which inspired me to teach both at the middle and elementary school level.

I believe that the idea of attending college begins early and in the classroom. Providing students with a strong foundation will help ensure that they will have the tools they need to succeed in high school and college. Many of my middle school students did not believe that they could go to college, but by the end of the year, their mindsets had changed. Through college field trips, I have taken each class of students to visit USC or UCLA so that they can see that they also deserve a seat at a university.

On a personal level, my parents made huge sacrifices in order to provide their children with quality education, and I wanted to be able to do the same for the families in my own classroom. I truly believe that education has the ability to transform the trajectory of a child, family and community.

JB: Why did you join E4E?

ES: Teachers are a powerful voice and advocate for our students. There are so many outside factors that influence our work in the classroom, which makes it imperative that we, as teachers, advocate for what we know our students need and deserve. Every classroom is unique, but we all face the same challenges on a macro-level. By engaging in dialogue with policymakers, we can enable them to make informed decisions that will affect our lives and the lives of our students on a daily basis.

JB: What compelled you to join the policy team?

ES: I saw the incredible work of my colleagues on the 2014 policy teams and the opportunity to impact and improve our profession with teachers from across Los Angeles. We are at a pivotal point in our transition to CCSS. It is imperative that teachers have a strong voice to advocate for quality instruction for our students – they deserve the best education we can provide for them.

JB: How has this experience changed your practice in the classroom?

ES: Our students are capable of amazing things, and CCSS enables us to push our students even further than we thought imaginable. The text complexity of the CCSS pushes our students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers, and the types of problems our students engage with on a daily basis not only focus on finding the correct answer but understanding the reasons why.

As we shifted to reading complex texts and technology integration, we introduced our students to the novel Peter Pan. They were incredibly invested, and their text-based responses have moved from one- or two-sentence written responses into multiple paragraphs in a few short months. Our CCSS push towards technology integration, problem solving and text analysis has enabled our students to integrate a variety of skills and they have had so much success in doing so.

JB: Which of the CCSS recommendations written by you and your colleagues would bring the most benefits to the teaching profession and your students?

ES: Our mission as educators is to prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow. CCSS provides the structure for our students to engage with a rigorous curriculum that is anchored in deep knowledge of content. Because of this, our recommendation advocates for access to adequate student data to inform instruction, keep community informed and monitor progress toward student, school and district growth. Data-informed instruction allows us to make adjustments in our own practice in order to meet the needs of our students and hold ourselves accountable to the highest academic expectations for our students.

JB: What have you done with the recommendations since the Teacher Policy Team’s paper on Common Core was published?

I have continued to collaborate with my colleagues to advocate and engage with policy leaders about our recommendation. I met with Senator Connie Leyva and Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell to discuss and begin a dialogue about our proposal in One School of Thought. I also wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Daily News outlining the importance of access to student performance data and technology in schools. In addition, I recently traveled with my E4E colleagues to provide testimony to the State Board of Education on the adoption of performance metrics in California. Being a part of E4E has given me a platform to advocate for the issues I am passionate about and work with leaders in the field to find solutions to improve the educational experience of our students.