Author Archives: Woody

Teaching Is An Extension Of Who You Are As A Person

Editor’s note: Teach Connecticut posted the following article by Dr. Miguel Cardona on its website as part of its Hispanic Heritage Month campaign to honor inspiring educators. The Alma Exley Scholarship Program honored Dr. Cardona in 1998 when he was a student at Central Connecticut State University.
Miguel Cardona

By Miguel Cardona, Ed.D.

Like many first generation Latinos whose parents came from another country, I had to learn how to code-switch early. At first it was with language, but it soon became necessary for other nuances of the cultures in which I was immersed.

Navigating the dominant cultural norms in dress, idiomatic expressions and music, among other things, I was always reminded to stay proud and celebrate my Puerto Rican roots.

So while my playlists growing up included popular American music, there was always Felipe Rodriguez, Los Condes, Eddie Santiago and, of course, Marc Anthony.

Despite being the only Latino in many of my college preparation high school classes and throughout my college courses, my ability to develop dual consciousness while staying true to who I am only helped me build confidence. It’s very difficult to explain that process — Lejuan James does it best! 

I remember when I got the call from the superintendent asking me to teach fourth grade in my hometown of Meriden, CT, a diverse community that my parents came to call home as young children. What a life-changing experience to teach in your own community!

Living Your Life’s Purpose in the Profession

I remember thinking then that teaching is not a job. It is an extension of you as a person.

If you keep that mindset, you can live out your life’s purpose every day in the profession.

After several years of teaching, I was fortunate to receive a master’s fellowship in Bilingual Bicultural Education at the University of Connecticut. There I met some mentors and models in education who motivated me to continue my passion for learning and teaching in ways that students enjoy.

After graduating, I made the choice not to teach in Bilingual Education, simply because I felt non-Bilingual Education students also need to see Latinos in professional capacities.

Devoted To Evolving the Thinking of the Next Generation

Like many, I remember what it felt like to be on the wrong side of a stereotype, and I felt it was my purpose in education to evolve the thinking of the next generation. Equity became a foundation for my passion around this time.

Miguel Cardona standing in front of the Board of Education building

Fast forward a bit, I get my administrative degree to become Connecticut’s youngest principal in 2003. The expectations kept mounting, but so did my passion for learning, growing and serving my purpose to teach and lead.

A Culture of Acceptance

Serving as a building principal allowed me to create a culture of acceptance, high achievement and community. Some of my fondest memories as an educator was when I was principal.

In 2012, I represented Connecticut in Washington, DC, as Connecticut’s National Distinguished Principal. It was around that time that I was finishing up my doctorate degree. I chose my dissertation topic, Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities, because that continued to be a passion of mine. Walking on the stage at the commencement ceremony and receiving my doctorate degree with a whole section of family and supporters in the stands was a moment I will never forget.

While the sacrifice of earning my degree seemed daunting, it was dwarfed by the sacrifice and commitment my grandparents and parents made: leaving a beautiful island to become strangers in a new land, living in the housing projects, and starting from the bottom. They earned my degree with me.

Miguel Cardona, with his parents, Sarah and Hector Cardona

Soon after I graduated, I was asked by the Connecticut Speaker of the House of Representatives to serve as the Co-Chairperson of the Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force in the capital city of Hartford. I remember sitting with the Lieutenant Governor, Commissioner of Education and various State Senators and Representatives, chuckling to myself because those same skills of code and culture switching I did as a young kid were serving me well.

Negotiating public policy on behalf of thousands of Connecticut students who reminded me of my parents when they emigrated from Puerto Rico made my experience worthwhile. It was during this time that I felt my job as Principal and Task Force Co-Chair was truly serving my purpose in life. I realized the importance of carrying that purpose on my sleeve.

Three Things To Remember

After 10 years as Principal, I moved to Central Office and now serve as the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning in the Meriden Public School System, the same school system my parents and I went through, and the one that my children now attend.

Lead by example

I am fortunate to be in Meriden, my hometown, and my passion for serving this community is part of the reason I choose to stay. Latinos are very familial. This community has embraced me as family, and I am committed to making its continuous improvement my life’s work.

Teaching is an extension of your purpose. Be prepared to defend your beliefs, challenge conventions and be a part of the change you want to see.

As Assistant Superintendent and adjunct professor of educational leadership at University of Connecticut, I combine my two passions: leading a diverse district and teaching tomorrow’s leaders.

Remember the three things I learned on my journey:

  1. Everyone benefits from seeing Latinos in a professional position.
  2. You must find and wear your purpose on your sleeve.
  3. Most importantly, you must remember that teaching is not a job, but an extension of your life’s purpose. Be the change you wish to see.

Find Your Life’s Purpose

If you’re ready to become a teacher—or if you know someone who would be a great fit for the profession—let them know about TEACH Connecticut, and encourage them to create a free career roadmap. It’s the easiest way to determine your fit for teaching and get actionable next steps for starting your career.

Miguel A. Cardona is an Assistant Superintendent and adjunct professor of educational leadership at University of Connecticut.

Recruiting Future Teachers From The Rank and File

An old idea is taking a new form in Waterbury and other major cities in Connecticut.

The idea was to recruit future teachers from the ranks of paraprofessionals working in the schools. This was the concept behind the Teaching Opportunities for Paraprofessionals (TOP) program, which Alma managed at the State Department of Education in the early 1990s.

TOP was an initiative to bring more persons of color into the teaching profession. The program enabled  paraprofessionals to return to college and pursue bachelor’s degrees. Most paraprofessionals in our big cities were persons of color. Many had some college credits, and all were committed to careers in education.

The program succeeded in bringing greater diversity to the teaching profession in Connecticut. Unfortunately, however, the legislature terminated the program in the late 1990s because of the cost.

Therefore, I was delighted to learn the other day that the idea of grooming paraprofessionals as teachers is alive and well.

The CT Mirror reported that Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year, appeared before the state board of education to endorse an initiative to increase diversity in the state’s teacher workforce.

Hayes, who works to recruit and prepare teachers for the Waterbury Public Schools, shared her experience with the Relay Graduate School of Education. The Relay teacher-preparation program has been enabling school employees from Waterbury and other major cities — primarily paraprofessionals — to earn their teaching certification.

Jahana Hayes of Waterbury Schools

Hayes is working with Relay because she believes in recruiting future teachers from among current employees of the school system. This replicates the concept behind the TOP program from over two decades ago.

Creative efforts are needed to promote greater diversity in teaching because the vast majority of students in the state’s teacher-preparation programs are white. In fact, 82 percent in the 2016-2017 school year were white, according to the State Department of Education.

Now, persons of color account for fewer than 9 percent of educators in Connecticut’s public schools. Meanwhile, over 40 percent of public school students are minorities.

Over the past three years, 14 employees of the Waterbury Public Schools have enrolled in Relay teacher-preparation programs — all persons of color. Now, 13 percent of the district’s staff are persons of color.

The state board of education approved Relay’s non-traditional teacher-preparation program in 2016 over the objections of college faculties and teachers’ unions, who objected to Relay as a “shortcut to certification.”

The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, has endorsed Hayes in her campaign to represent Connecticut’s Fifth District in Congress. But she has parted ways with the union on this issue, maintaining that the Relay program has had a positive impact in Waterbury.

The TOP program supported paraprofessionals in traditional teacher-preparation programs in colleges and universities across Connecticut. But all these years later, with persons of color accounting for a small percentage of Connecticut public school educators, perhaps alternative approaches are justified.

  • Woody Exley

Connecticut Partners To Increase Teacher Diversity

The Connecticut Department of Education has formed a partnership with a nonprofit group called TEACH.org to recruit more teachers of color.

TEACH.org will launch an advertising campaign and a website to attract teaching candidates.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is backing the initiative, said in a written statement, “Our education system is stronger when our teacher workforce is as diverse as the communities they serve, and the launch of TEACH Connecticut will only strengthen our schools.”

Only 8.7 percent of the state’s educators or persons of color, while about 45 percent of students in the state are minorities.

TEACH.org, launched by Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Education, is backed by teacher associations across the country.