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#ELVS20 Sneak Peek: Showing Up For Students No Matter the Setting

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    EL Education

We sat down with Justin Lopez-Cardoze, 7th-grade science teacher at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, DC and the 2020 District of Columbia State Teacher of the Year about why identity matters in education, equity issues facing schools, showing up for students, and more.

Hear more from Justin Lopez-Cardoze when he presents at the “Teachers Speak” panel during the What Matters Most: EL Education 2020 Virtual Summit.

"For the first time, students are on the same playing field as their teachers. We are all learning to navigate a foreign space together. My biggest hope is that our students will see the power in this moment and teach educators how to be better. I hope our students will take pride in their power because they are the generation of students who will make it through huge challenges and come out as stronger learners and leaders."

Justin Lopez-Cardoze, 2020 Washington D.C. Teacher of the Year, Capital City Public Charter School

What does it mean to you to be the first Latinx teacher to hold the honor of being the 2020 District of Columbia State Teacher of the Year?

I still get choked up when I think about what it means to hold the title of the 2020 District of Columbia State Teacher of the Year as a Latinx educator. I didn’t grow up seeing myself in my teachers, so it’s more than an honor to be that person for the kids in my classroom. I’m doing everything in my power to build a platform that values their presence by creating spaces where they can be proud of their language, customs, history, and ancestors. I want them to look at me and feel good to say, “I’m here and I’m proud of who I am.”

One way that I’ve been creating that space is by making sure that students are comfortable with and proud of their full names. Growing up, I was so aware of the fact that my name was different that I began to hate it. There is so much pride in our names, so when students enter my class they know we call each other by our full names, every time. When one of my Latino students told me he hated his name, I made an extra effort to ensure he addressed me by my full name and I did the same for him. By the end of his 8th grade year, he came up to me and told me, “I really like my name now.”

What are the equity issues facing schools today?

When we think about where we are right now with the coronavirus pandemic, all inequities have become amplified. The structures and services we normally use to address inequities in our education system and our society are compromised. I’ve seen this particularly harming immigrant and Latinx communities. For our immigrant and Latinx communities, empowering them and involving them takes more than just providing translation. That is just the beginning. We have to work to provide them with access to spaces that are empowering and focus on family involvement.

How have you been able to show up for students virtually?

As most schools experienced, shifting to distance learning in March was a challenge. We went from this vibrant and collaborative in-person community to squares on a computer screen. The number one way I’ve chosen to show up for students is by entering into all spaces with a smile and a positive disposition. No matter what I’m going through or the challenge I’m facing that day, I’ve decided that they will get the best version of me. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have difficult conversations and hard days, but it does mean that I’m committed to creating a space where any trauma my students are going through can’t manifest itself in our shared space.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to other educators heading back to school during this unsettling time?

You need to have an understanding of what is in your control and what is not. I have a new teacher on my team this year. We were having a discussion about how it’s going, reaching out to students and families outside of school hours. The teacher was getting frustrated because they were doing everything they could, but still weren’t able to reach everyone. If you are doing your best to see your mission and vision as an educator realized, you have to give yourself grace and you can’t beat yourself up.

I’ve been saying for a while that it’s time for everyone to take the term “self care” out of their vocabulary because the meaning has become diluted. We all hear how important “self care” is, but half of the time we can’t get to it on our to-do list. Instead, replace it with “care about yourself.” If you’re going through your day and you stop for a second to say, “I’m going to care about myself by taking a short walk”, that can make a difference. They don’t have to be big acts, but they do have to be centered on you.

This month is Hispanic Heritage Month. What does that mean to you?

Whether you represent Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, or elsewhere, Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the many cultures we have and to honor our ancestors. It’s a time that represents community building where we get to invite others to experience the food and customs that make us who we are. In my classroom I’ve been starting each day with music I grew up loving and introducing Latinx scientists to my students. I want them to see the many ways our culture lives and breathes in our society

What’s your biggest hope for the 2020-21 school year?

For the first time, students are on the same playing field as their teachers. We are all learning to navigate a foreign space together. My biggest hope is that our students will see the power in this moment and teach educators how to be better. I hope our students will take pride in their power because they are the generation of students who will make it through huge challenges and come out as stronger learners and leaders.

You can hear more from Justin Lopez-Cardoze and other experts at What Matters Most: EL Education 2020 Virtual Summit, October 22-23rd.

*Views of panelists and presenters are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of EL Education.