Master of Arts in Teaching Single Subject Candidate Rachel Riddick has received the 2017-2018 President's Educator Fellowship, presented by Sue Vaughn on November 7, 2017.
About Rachel Riddick
When I took the time to consider the life experiences that have inspired me to pursue teaching, it was impossible for me to separate those experiences from the ones that have inspired me to pursue working with underserved and marginalized populations.
For my entire life, my parents have been teachers at Title I schools. Growing up, I spent my afternoons at the middle school my father taught at. I became exposed to a world of students that were often poor and were largely first- and second-generation immigrants. As I sat in on math and language arts lessons, I found that these students had to face so much more than just their classwork. Many of these students, I realized, emerged from difficulties at home, such as family substance abuse, crime, and poverty. Nonetheless, theses students found ways to rise above the multiple levels of adversity that stood before them. These students became my friends, my classmates, and my teachers. At this middle school, I discovered educators who were committed to helping students succeed and enjoy learning. Teachers decided that because their students did not have much monetarily, they would give them as much as they could experientially. Not only did it impress me, it also inspired me.
During the summer of 2016, I worked as a legal assistant in an immigration law firm in Oakland. Within my cases, clients were victims of crime, were incredibly poor, and were desperate to support their families. My clients were primarily from Mexico and El Salvador and had made unauthorized crossings into the United States at some point in their lives. As a legal assistant, it was essential that I meet with clients to better understand the hardships they faced in the U.S. and their reasons for wanting to stay. It was my job to translate their stories into a personal statement in English. The declarations would be submitted to judge in the hopes of being granted a U-Visa. It was an emotional and draining experience to convey their hurt, their loss, their struggle. It was then that I secured my goal that I would someday be an educator for families undergoing similar conditions. In working with these wonderful clients, I once again observed a need in the community for helping people of color and individuals from low-income backgrounds.
When I returned to school after the summer, I immediately searched for a way to become more involved in teaching marginalized individuals. I discovered WriterCoach Connection, an organization that sends writing tutors into local schools to help develop the writing skills of struggling students. My own high school student’s writing never ceased to amaze me, as it showcased his own family’s hardships, his humor, and his improvement as a student. It was here that I really fell in love with teaching.
I remember before I entered this particular high school, friends and strangers, upon hearing where I was placed, tended to have a very similar reaction: “The students are going to eat you alive!” While this was always intended to be good-natured, it conveyed something very clearly to me: people often expect students of color to be unruly and unwilling to succeed. However, as an educator at a Title I school, I will aim to always have high expectations for my students. Still, I refuse to ignore the unique places that my students might be coming from. With this, I will encourage them to bring their backgrounds and cultures into the classroom. There, they will be met with texts and activities that I will always seek to make relevant to their own lives. I hope to create a space where they can feel heard and as though their lives matter. My goal is to create lifelong learners, who grow to read, write, think, and participate—even when it is uncomfortable to do so. I hope to connect with all of my students but to also create equitable experiences for students who are English Language Learners and students with learning or physical disabilities. If you cannot already tell, I am so excited for the future.