By: Eleanor Dollear, WITS Program Coordinator
Eva Rodriguez is a third-grade teacher at Perez Elementary and a Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardee. In this story, she shares her path to becoming an educator and her holistic approach to teaching.
Eva Rodriguez never thought she would become a teacher. While she did well in school, she never saw herself in the position of educating others. “My grandparents did not even finish elementary school, and my mom finished high school and that was it,” she explains. Given the circumstances, she wondered, ‘how could I be a teacher?’
After taking time to consider her career options, she put herself through college and graduate school and became a teacher. She knew she wanted to work in Chicago Public Schools. “This is where I’m from…I want to be with kids that relate to me because they see someone that looks [like them]. There are not a lot of teachers of color.” Students having teachers that look like them truly makes an impact. A recent study found that when students have a teacher of the same race as them, students feel more cared for, more interested in their schoolwork, and more confident in their teachers’ ability to communicate with them (Egalite & Kisida, 2017).
Ms. Rodriguez relates to her students by opening up about her childhood and the challenges she experienced so that they can see that their goals for their futures are achievable, no matter what their aspirations may be. “I tell them about when I was a kid and they can’t believe it. They tell me stories about their home life and I relate to them on those things. I try to explain to them, it’s hard to handle pain and challenges as kids,” and she supports them through those challenges.
She encourages them to focus on what they can control, things like their schoolwork, and she makes sure that her students know that she’s there for them for when they’re struggling. Her favorite part of her job is building relationships with her students and seeing their growth academically and emotionally throughout the year. She emphasizes to her students that she cares most importantly that they are safe, happy, and healthy.
Part of why Ms. Rodriguez enjoys working at Perez is because Perez is a community school. Perez students participate in two WITS programs: Mid-Day Mentoring, where volunteers from Northern Trust and Axiom travel to Perez to read one-on-one with 3rd graders, and Workplace Mentoring, where students go to Jones Day on Mondays after school to read and get homework help from Jones Day and World Business Chicago volunteers. Perez also works with the Frida Kahlo Community Organization, where students can get homework help, and participate in folklore dancing, breakdancing, robotics, and more. Ms. Rodriguez hopes that her students seeing adults volunteering in the community inspires her students to do the same when they get older.
Through participating in WITS’ Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA) program, Ms. Rodriguez was able to feel greater involvement in the community at Perez and develop balanced literacy instructional practices in her classroom. When she decided to join the RLTA program, she was in the Annex Building teaching Pre-K and had limited contact with colleagues in the main building. “RLTA was a way to get to know other teachers better.” When Ms. Rodriguez moved positions and became a 3rd grade teacher, she had already built a network of teachers in the main Perez building she could lean on for support. She also valued meeting a larger community of teachers through the workshops she took at the RLTA Summer Institute.
Her commitment to her students keeps her incredibly busy, and it is hard for her to find time when she is not thinking about them and their well-being. When she does have free time, she enjoys reading, bowling, watching movies, eating good food, and travelling. She has been able to visit Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Hawaii. Perez is lucky to have an amazing teacher like Ms. Rodriguez, and WITS is grateful to get to work with her and her amazing students!
Egalite, Anna J., and Brian Kisida. “The Effects of Teacher Match on Students’ Academic Perceptions and Attitudes.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 16 June 2017, doi:10.3102/0162373717714056.