“I see places where I can help, and I engage.”
Joel Medina bridges two of the multiple cultures present in Orange County. As a “tween” he is uniquely positioned to help individuals, create targeted programs, and influence policy. Joel chose UCI’s Master of Arts in Teaching+Teaching Credential to give him the resources he needs to achieve his goals as an educator.
My lived experiences have nurtured my interest in education. I grew up in Orange County. My father moved here when he was 17 to send money home to his family in Guerrero. He met my mother, an elementary school teacher, when she was waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant. Hence, I grew up the son of an interracial couple in one of the most conservative school districts in California.
Looking back now, I am more cognizant of the discrimination I experienced in school, but my parents put a lot of importance into education, and I did well enough to go to a four-year-college (UCSD) to study Political Science. Initially I wanted to become a lawyer and work in Educational Law, an emerging field at the time. However, when I graduated in 2011 with the intent to go to law school, something held me back. Something in me told me this wasn't the right path for me.
While considering my options, I decided to take advantage of graduating a semester early to travel and volunteer somewhere. When a friend recommended Wwoofing to me, I discovered that there was an art center in Peru that gave art classes to children in a small village in the Amazon. I contacted Wwoofing, thinking that I could get a new perspective on education by volunteering as a teacher; however, they were building a new art center at the time and needed help with the construction. We agreed to work together, so I flew down for three months of grueling physical labor. Once on site, I did manage to put together some semblance of an English class for local teens, and I had my first taste of school from the other side of the classroom.
When I returned to California, I was set on teaching abroad. At that time, the domestic job market for teachers was limited, so I reasoned I could at least get some teaching experience and an opportunity to travel and practice my Spanish by going back abroad. I took a TEFL certification course and secured a job teaching in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. My plan was to teach for a year in Peru, then move north teaching my way back to the States, but I was sidetracked starting a non-profit for environmental education in San Roque de Cumbaza, and then teaching in Cusco.
I didn't come back long-term to California until June 2015. My father's illness was my main motivation for returning, but I decided to make the best of the situation and pursue answers to the questions I had developed while teaching by enrolling in a graduate school education program. UCI’s 14-month Master of Arts in Teaching + Teaching Credential seemed like the obvious choice for me to get my credentials and master’s in teaching in one combined program.
While preparing my UCI application, I continued to seek opportunities to apply my skills and expand my experience. I started teaching for Building Skills Partnership, a non-profit association that gives classes to janitors of the SEIU Union. In this position, I teach ESL, environmental, and technology classes to janitors at their work sites. I also started teaching GED classes for Rancho Santiago Community College at a center for students affected by mental illness and GED classes in Spanish to local immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Just to keep myself busy to an extreme, I started substituting for Santa Ana and Orange Unified School Districts.
All of this work has kept me occupied and has deepened my awareness of glaring problems in K-12 and adult education. Discriminatory systems and inexperienced instructors create a cycle of poor education that keeps minority groups from advancing. I see places where I can help, and I am excited that my studies at UCI are providing me with resources to achieve my goals as an educator.
Last fall I was selected as a Mary Roosevelt Honor Scholar in Teaching and Learning. This is a high honor and an inspiration. Teaching isn't an easy profession for anyone, but it can be extremely fulfilling. To have someone recognize my work and respect my choice of profession is a true sign of appreciation. Mary Roosevelt is an inspiration to aspiring educators everywhere.