BELIEVE IN THEIR ABILITIES
Maria Rios Castillo, New York City
“THEY CAN TAKE THE PATH THAT I CHOSE — THE PATH THAT IS MORE DIFFICULT, BUT ULTIMATELY FAR MORE REWARDING.”
There are many reasons why I became a teacher. For a better understanding, I need to go back to the beginning. In the middle of my 8th-grade year, my family and I moved from Venezuela to Florida. I started a new school, with a new language, and a culture that was foreign to me. I didn’t speak English other than the “Hi, how are you? My name is Maria, I’m 13 years old.” That I had learned in basic English classes. However, knowing the enormous effort my parents had made, I knew I couldn’t just give up and do the bare minimum. I had to do my best.
I’m not going to lie, it was probably one of the hardest times in my entire life. I cried almost every night trying to do homework. Feeling frustrated and angry that I didn’t know what was going on. There was a day where I did problems 12 to 72. That’s 60 problems. Turns out the teacher had said she only wanted us to do evens. I didn’t know what evens meant. I ended up excelling at math because, thankfully, it was numbers. Now you know why I love math so much. By the end of 8th grade, I tested out of ESL. By the end of high school, I had taken multiple honors and advanced placement classes.
Throughout this entire time, I had a super heavy accent, and I wasn’t too confident in my English. Many teachers supported me, while many others made negative remarks about me and my ability in their classes. I didn’t take it to heart; instead, I used it as fuel to get me going and reach my goals. I took those risks and challenges because I felt I had something to prove. I wanted to prove that despite the negative opinions of immigrants and English language learners, I could do well. I’m not sharing this to brag about my experience but to show you how hard work and perseverance truly pays off.
Success doesn’t always come easy. In fact, most things that are worth doing require hard work and most importantly perseverance. In my case, I was an illegal immigrant, or as my parents would call it “pending residency,” throughout high school and college. It was a time where there was no DACA or Dream Act. I was only accepted into my university because of, as the office of admissions would put it, “Extraordinary academic performance, school involvement, and fabulous teacher recommendations.” I was able to pursue a career because I worked hard and refused to give up even in the face of obstacles like rude remarks, racist comments from my teachers, etc. Yes, they hurt me. I spent many nights crying myself asleep. But I would have hurt myself more if I had listened to them.
I want my students to know that nothing is going to come easily to you. True success stems from hard work, grit, and perseverance. I want my students, in particular those girls and students of color, to know that they can take the easy way out, and do the bare minimum to graduate. Or they can take the path that I chose—the path that is more difficult, but ultimately far more rewarding.
Young ladies are faced with the more complex task of finding their own place in the world both as young women and as students of color. From my own experience, I want them to know it won’t be easy. As women, we are constantly judged by ours looks, what we wear, what we don’t wear. And then our intelligence is defined based on criteria set out by men, who to be quite frank, could not possibly understand what is like to be a woman, nor more pertinent, a woman of color.
I want my students to learn how to ignore societal expectations and instead indulge in their creativity. I want to inspire them to be themselves. To push forward when life gets difficult.
One of my favorite quotes is “this too shall pass.” I keep going back to this in moments where I feel like giving up, and I tell my students that in moments where they feel like they can’t anymore, to know that the hardships will pass, and after everything will be far more beautiful, they will be more knowledgeable, and far more successful. I want my girls to know that as the new generation of young women, they believe in their abilities, strengths, and ingenuity.
Maria Rios Castillo teaches 8th grade math at Girls Prep Bronx Middle School.