E4E Teachers Talk Back: Maetzin Saenz
Maetzin Saenz works as a Multilingual Educational Assistant at Harding Senior High, St. Paul Public Schools. In this conversation with E4E-Minnesota Outreach Director Maggie Bruecken, Maetzin shares about her involvement with the E4E-Minnesota Teacher Policy Team on Teacher Diversity as well as her experience working in St. Paul Public Schools.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Maggie Bruecken (MB): What inspired you to become an educator?
Maetzin Saenz (MS): Years ago, I knew I wanted to work with youth because I have always enjoyed being around kids. I also feel really passionate about social justice. When I started my career as an Education Assistant at Wellstone, I learned that my passion for social justice fit well with my desire to work with youth.
MB: You were a member of the E4E-Minnesota Teacher Policy Team on Teacher Diversity. Why is this issue important to you?
MS: As an Educational Assistant, I see the interactions between teachers and their students and the different dynamics that play out on a daily basis. It is essential to have diversity in the teaching profession. If a teacher does not understand where a student is coming from, it may be hard for the student to make a connection and learn. As one of few teachers of color, it can be burdensome to have to speak for an entire race or ethnicity. It can feel isolating to be one of the few people of color and when teachers and staff do not feel supported, they leave the school or teaching altogether.
I once read a quote recently that really explains these feelings of isolation a person of color can experience: “Honestly, when people of color get to an age where they are able to deeply realize and internalize how intensely and directly racism affects them, as well as able to recognize the little racial microaggressions against them, it truly is depressing and painful and scarring. It can very easily make you lose the will to do anything or dream anything.”
MB: What is a solution you can offer to combat feelings of isolation?
MS: I think one solution is to have a support system in place for both teachers and for students. When there is more diversity there is more support for teachers and students of color. I think a key way of supporting staff of color is offering opportunities for an intentional support community, whether that means assigning mentors (of similar backgrounds) or being part of a cohort or affinity group.
MB: As an educational assistant, what are your thoughts on grow-your-own programs, one of the recommendations in the teacher diversity paper?
MS: Saint Paul Public Schools are looking into starting a grow-your-own program which is exciting for me because I want to get my teaching license. I have been working for Saint Paul Public Schools for four years, and it important for the district to have a way to support people in my situation who want to become teachers. I want to make a career out of teaching, so I am excited that the district may develop a clear path with supports.
MB: How do you think the recommendations outlined in the Teacher Diversity paper can help students?
MS: When we have competent professionals, student success is the result. Students need to have teachers they connect with and who are able to engage them in learning. When we diversify the teaching profession, students will have a greater opportunity to connect and succeed. For example, I have an understanding of values and cultural norms because of my Latino background that help me naturally and quickly connect and build relationships with my Chicano and Latino students. For other groups of students, I have to learn from colleagues and from trainings to ensure I am being responsive and engaging all of my students.
MB: In ten years, what are your hopes for education in Saint Paul?
MS: I would love to see Latino graduation rates rise—in fact, I would love to see the graduation rates rise for all students of color. I would love to see the district adopt an evaluation process that ensures that the racial equity policies are being taken seriously and faithfully implemented. We need to find a way train and support educators to be culturally competent and have policies that hold us all accountable. I would love to see a trained person evaluate educators on our ability to be culturally respectful to all of our students. Additionally, we need trainings in place that help educators who are not culturally competent. I would also like for everyone to stop treating trainings as a box to check off and, instead, embrace a culture of being self-reflective about how culturally competent we are.