Jose Rosario reads with one of his scholars.
I am a New York City native who grew up in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan. I briefly attended Catholic schools, but the long commute made it difficult for my family to get me to school on time. Ultimately, my family was forced to send me to a failing district school close to our home.
I had to work extra hard to overcome my school’s failings, but I did, and I went on to graduate from Fordham University in 2014. I studied political science because I believed I could give back to my community by helping reshape the political agenda. I originally wanted to go into policy because I thought politics would be a great way to contribute to society.
I fell in love with education. I believed if I started my career as a teacher, I would become a better future advocate for change. I began teaching at P.S. 333 on the Upper West Side. I heard about Success Academy from a friend who worked there and encouraged me to apply. Today, I am a second grade lead teacher at Success Academy Bronx 3 Lower. Many of the students I teach have special needs and the majority are Black or Hispanic.
I came from an education system in which many individuals like myself are not expect to succeed. We’re counted out. This system breeds negativity and fails to create opportunity. At Success Academy, we believe every single scholar can learn and that knowledge is a tool for freedom. We’re changing how people view education. Kids, regardless of race or background, can accomplish anything if we expect great things from them. We help them beat the odds.
My favorite moments are the ones when my scholars go above and beyond what I expected. Kids can do a lot more than most people give them credit for. Last year, one of my scholars started the year disliking school. After I worked closely with him to master the material, he said, “Mr. Rosario you’re my favorite teacher. I like coming to school because of you.” I knew all along that he had potential, but hearing those words made my day because I felt like I helped someone fall in love with learning.
I had a scholar last year who held a negative view of his reading abilities. He was an English-language learner and was very afraid to read. I sat with him and told him that I faced similar difficulties growing up because English was also my second language. Over the course of the year, I checked in with him constantly. By the end of the year, he loved to read.
The most challenging days come when scholars are drained from a long week and are not themselves. As an educator, you have to take a step back and assess what moves you can make to change the environment. You have to be an anchor for joy. You have to give children the feeling of stability and security, which they might lack at home. A lot of teaching is modeling behavior for children. Teachers have to show students that certain things are tough, but can be overcome. As difficult as things are out there, you must make your classroom a sanctuary for your scholars and for yourself as well.
You have to be willing to be a student yourself. You need to learn something new every day. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than my principal, Mr. Rojas. I know I can come to him with any questions. He knows what is going on in my classroom and provides real-time feedback that helps me become better at my craft. Mr. Rojas builds genuine connections with all of the kids. This a great quality that I not only admire, but use myself. As a teacher, you learn early on that every child is different and has unique needs. When a student acts out, it may be a cry for help. They might need more attention from you to compensate for support they’re not receiving at home. To be successful, you need to be willing to take advice from your coworkers and build relationships with your students.
It’s gratifying to look at my scholars and see a part of myself in them. Many of the same mistakes they make, I made, and in a sense I know how to support them. Just being genuine and transparent with them goes a long way. I make sure my scholars know that my upbringing and roots are important to me. Sometimes I speak Spanish to them or talk about my childhood and where I come from. That can help them find the courage to share their own stories. Not everyone in society views children of color as having the ability to be successful. That same stigma is attached to teachers of color, too. I think teachers of color bring more to the table because a lot of scholars can relate to us. They may come from similar backgrounds. We show them that they can truly be whatever they set out to be. We open doors for them, and we know that soon it will be their turn to open doors for the next generation.
Success Academy Charter Network is a Jopwell partner company.
Images courtesy of Success Academy