Latino educator emphasizes representation to future teachers

When did you first have a Latinx teacher or teacher?

For many people, the answer to this question is quite telling. Such was the case for Dr. Yuliana Rodriguez, clinical assistant professor in the School of Education at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Yuliana obtained her doctorate. in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In her 17 years of education – from kindergarten through her postgraduate studies – not once Yuliana was taught by a Latinx educator. “My answer to this question […] fueled a lot of my work,” she says.

For Yuliana, classroom representation really matters. And she has the research to back up that claim. “When a black student has at least two black teachers in the classroom during elementary school — any time during elementary school — it doubles their chances of going to college,” she explains. “There’s something about seeing someone like you take the lead in the classroom, in the community. I mean…it matters.

And this representation matters in all educational settings. But that representation is hard to come by: only 5% of college professors in the United States are Latinx.

During her six years of teaching, Yuliana’s students have always expressed their enthusiasm for having a Latina educator. It is because of this excitement that she shares with them on the first day of class her life journey and how she immigrated to this country as a child.

“I don’t mind this experience because I don’t want them to mind this experience,” she says. “I want them to feel a sense of pride, to be able to share their experience and bring those experiences to the classroom.”

As a mother of a 3-year-old and as an aunt, Yuliana is very aware of the role she plays in the lives of her students, as they may soon be teaching her son, nieces and nephew. “It has become even more urgent for me that my students understand the role they play in our society and the impact they can have, especially my students of color,” she says.

Yuliana’s advice to her students as future educators? “Keep believing that your experiences [and] your background [are] bring shine to the spaces you occupy.

Carol Bono

Carol Bono is LatinxEd’s Communications Manager and an award-winning bilingual multimedia storyteller.

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