An alum explains how she engages students via culturally responsive teaching – Orange County Register

By Mayra Castro Orozco

Contributing columnist

I was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, the youngest of eight children.

When my family immigrated to the United States, I was only 5 years old and entered elementary school without knowing a single word of English.

In those days, I was known as an “early bird” because I would come to school 30 minutes before the fluent English speakers. The goal of the school’s program was to help students learn the English language and assimilate into the U.S. culture. Well, in some respects you could say the program worked.

Throughout my entire academic career, I was not known as Mayra; instead, everyone called me Myra, because Mayra was too difficult to pronounce. I began to feel okay with being called Myra, it sounded better than May-ra or May-da when people couldn’t roll their R’s.

Mayra Castro Orozco — Photo courtesy of the author

In junior high, I was finally reclassified as an English-proficient student and went from the English-learner track to the honors track. It was during those years that I became a citizen of this great nation. You can’t imagine how proud I felt to finally be American. And even though my school “forgot” and perhaps never considered acknowledging my culture and language, my family kept me grounded in my Mexican roots. Still, I felt as though I was living two lives — Myra, the English speaker at school, and Mayra, the Spanish speaker at home; honestly, it was at times confusing to know which was the “real” me.

Fortunately, in high school, thanks to Ms. Jaimeson Sonne-Didi, my Spanish teacher, I was introduced to the League of United Latin American Citizens, a community-based organization that identified me as a strong Mexican American woman who had the potential to make a difference in the community. And thanks to LULAC’s belief and support, I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from a four-year university and became a dual-language educator.

Why share this background? Because very few teachers in my early years made an effort to get to know me and my culture. I did not see myself in the lessons or the curriculum they taught. For the last 10 years as a bilingual educator myself, I thought that I was different. I was engaging my students by making sure that I at least changed the story problems in math to have names that sounded like theirs, by calling them by their actual names, and by providing them with background, so that they could understand the…

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