At the 2016-2017 Master of Arts in Teaching Recognition Ceremony, Joel Medina was awarded a Mary Roosevelt Honor Scholarship in Teaching and Learning for excellence in academics, demonstrated leadership skills, and dedication to improving the lives and educational opportunities of students. Joel is pursuing his MAT with a Single Subject Credential in English. Below, he shares his thoughts about his educational journey and his chosen career.
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. In other words, 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 it wasn't the right path for me.
I decided to take advantage of graduating a semester early to travel and volunteer somewhere. A friend recommended Wwoofing to me, and I found an art center in Peru that gave art classes to children in a small village in the Amazon. I contacted them, thinking that I could get a new perspective on education as a teacher, but they were building a new art center at the time and needed help with the construction. We agreed to work together, and I flew down for three months of grueling physical labor, but I managed to put together some semblance of an English class for local teens in my spare time and get my first taste of school from the other side of the classroom.
When I got back to California, I was set on teaching abroad. The job market was not good for teachers at the time, so I figured I could at least get some experience and an opportunity to travel and practice my Spanish. I took a TEFL certification course and got a job teaching in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. The original plan was to work for a year in Peru, then move north teaching my way back to the States, but I got sidetracked trying to start a non-profit for Environmental Education in San Roque de Cumbaza, Peru and then teaching in Cusco and didn't come back long-term to California until June 2015. My father's illness was my main reason for returning, but I decided to make the best of the situation and answer the questions I have as a teacher in a graduate school program. UCI seemed like the obvious choice to me to get my credentials and master's in teaching in a short time.
While preparing my application, I started teaching for Building Skills Partnership, a non-profit association that gives classes to janitors of the SEIU Union. I teach ESL, environmental and technology classes at janitor's work sites with them. 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 exaggerated point, I started substituting for Santa Ana and Orange Unified School Districts.
Though all of this work has kept me occupied, it hasn't distracted me from the glaring problems in public and adult education here. Discriminatory systems and inexperienced instructors create a cycle of poor education that keeps minority groups from advancing. I can see places where I can help, and I am excited to start my studies at UCI with the resources I need to achieve my goals as an adult instructor or public school ESL instructor.
All of this is why the award means so much to me. Teaching isn't an easy profession for anyone, but it is extremely fulfilling. To have someone recognize my work and profession is a true sign of appreciation. I'm starting the program this summer and can't wait to make an impact on UCI.
Thank you for the information about Mary Roosevelt. She is an inspiration to all aspiring educators everywhere.
Mary Roosevelt and Joel Medina