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  • Synopsis: Introduction, ethnic identity, and early education
    Keywords: ethnic identity; principal; elementary school; Mexican; bilingualism Mexican-Ameican
    Transcript: AYDE FLORES: Okay. All right. We're going to be starting this interview...

    MARIBEL TABOADA: You want to push the door all the way in and out. Yeah. Yep. If they see it cracked open, they will come in.

    FLORES: Okay. Well, I'm going to start the interview first by introducing myself. My name is Ayde Flores and I am interviewing the principal of Melrose Park Elementary School for the NIU Latino Oral History Project and I'm going to begin by asking my narrator to introduce herself by asking her four simple questions. First is what is your name? Your age? Where are you from? And how do you define yourself ethnically?

    TABOADA: Okay. I may I ask you to repeat those four questions, but obviously my name, Maribel Taboada. Where I'm from? Well, I was born in the south side of Chicago and I was born and raised there, but my parents did immigrated from the state of Guerrero in Mexico.

    FLORES: Oh, and how do you define yourself ethnically?

    TABOADA: Mexican.

    FLORES: Mexican? Okay.

    TABOADA: You know, I, legally, I'm forced to say Mexican-American.

    FLORES: [laughs] Why do you feel like you're forced to say Mexican-American?

    TABOADA: Because when I say Mexican, they ask me, "Oh, so how long have you lived here?" And then I say, "Well no, I was born and raised in Chicago." And then they'll say, "Well no, then you're not actually Mexican." So I'll be, "Okay, Mexican-American." Proud of both.

    FLORES: But why do you feel more comfortable saying Mexican?

    TABOADA: Because I grew up feeling more Mexican than I did American. I grew up on 47th Street, went to Hammond Elementary School from kindergarten to 6th grade, and then I moved to the Marquette area where I loved it. I loved the experience because it was at least three different languages. It wasn't just predominantly Spanish speakers. So that's where I saw more like, okay, so we are truly a culture, a multicultural nation and I lived there from seventh grade, which is 12 years old till 19, when I got married and then I went to the suburbs. Des Plaines. So that's like 50 different languages just in one apartment complex. So that was really nice. And that's when I truly understood, like, "Oh, okay, if I say Mexican they assume that I came from Mexico." Where, when I add the Mexican American, including the Mexican consulate, it's very clear that, okay, she was born here. Yeah, so I didn't get the additional questions as far as, "Oh, so how long have you lived here?" That's fine.

    FLORES: [laughs] Okay, and then you said that growing up that you felt more Mexican.

    TABOADA: I did.

    FLORES: Well, would you kind of talk about that a little bit more?

    TABOADA: Well, I lived on 47th Street. What do they call it? Back of the Yards. So, it was predominantly Spanish-speaking population. At the time, I want to say 19—, oh god, 1988, it was predominantly Hispanic. But then the neighborhood started changing. There were a lot of, you know, gang affiliations and so my parents—I have two older brothers—my parents decided that they wanted to move to a safer area. So that's when we moved to Marquette. When I moved to Marquette area, that's when I started to see more of the English language. Then whereas in Hammond school, I could speak Spanish to anyone, including the majority of the teachers. Where, that wasn't the case when I went to Marquette school.

    FLORES: And how old were you when you moved to Marquette School?

    TABOADA: I was entering, I was in sixth grade. So about 11 and a half, 11.

    FLORES: So, was it a bit of a culture, cultural shock to kind of go somewhere where you couldn't just talk to anybody in Spanish?

    TABOADA: I think I was old enough to understand that not everybody spoke Spanish and of course television. And so, I wouldn't say culture shock. I think if anything I learned to be more open to other people in traditions and customs, you know, like there was a big Muslim population. And so I knew that they didn't eat pork and I didn't judge because I knew that was part of their religion. My parents raised us to be very respectful no matter how we look, how intelligent we are, you know, or what challenges we have. Like, you know, my mom would always say, "Haz bien, y no te fijes a quien." And that was plain and simple. So, I think I've applied that all the time and it's worked out, I guess.

    FLORES: Did you notice any differences, though, from your old and new school?

    TABOADA: Aside from all the languages in Marquette? No, not really.

    FLORES: No?

    TABOADA: I mean, I don't think because it's so long ago that I don't remember. I mean, it was challenging because I was, you know, going into seventh grade which is a critical age to begin with. And then, being the new student in school was not the easiest, but I managed, you know, to make friends and get through both years and then go to high school. So, nothing traumatic or anything like that.

    FLORES: And what were the demographics at the school.?

    TABOADA: There were Hispanics, a lot of Middle Easterns, Americans I don't know from where, but a lot of Americans and even the Hispanic people were from different countries. Not just from Mexico, or, that was the case in 47th Street. So just again learning from the different countries that not all of us come from Mexico.

    FLORES: Mm-hmm.

    TABOADA: Yeah, which tends to be the case. Everybody associates anybody that speaks Spanish, "Oh, they're Mexicans." Well, that's not necessarily true.

    FLORES: Did you have any encounters with them? Like any...

    TABOADA: No, I mean, I kept to myself.

    FLORES: Mmm, yeah, okay. And then...so you defined like these different groups at your middle school. Who would you kind of cling to, I guess, or hang out with?

    TABOADA: I had lived a multicultural group of friends. I never really just gravitated towards the Spanish speakers because they didn't just gravitate just towards each other. They had friends that were from different ethnic backgrounds. So, I just kind of like with whoever wanted to be friends in seventh grade. You really don't care. Or I didn't care. Yeah.

    FLORES: Okay.

    TABOADA: There was even a population of African-Americans that was starting to grow at the time. So truly, I mean, in my class, there were at least five or six different languages. There were Indian, Indian as well.

    FLORES: And I mean, did this kind of continue as you went on to high school?

    TABOADA: Yes, because I went to Curie high school and there were about 3,000 students. That's on Archer and Pulaski. So, again, people come from all over the city. At the time, it was a school of choice because they had the technical vocational program. So, they had cosmetology, auto shop, wood shop, metal shop any kind of shop. And so, kids that wanted to go into those programs would apply and then they would or would not get in. So, it was again multicultural again. And you know, my best friend, who's still my friend, she is Mexican but same thing: born and raised here in Chicago. So, the connecting back most of my close friendships were Spanish speakers, but I think that's just because we had so many similarities like parents that didn't speak English or we lived there on the same area because we tend to you know to cluster ourselves. So, thinking back, yes, most of my friends were Spanish. Most of my closest friends were Spanish speakers. It's very different nowadays, which is interesting because when I moved to the suburbs, I found my closest friend to be a girl that came from Hong Kong. She hardly spoke English. I obviously don't speak Cantonese, but till this day, almost 20 years later, I would consider her my closest friend.

    FLORES: And why did that change?

    TABOADA: I've always been open to different people. I find different cultures fascinating. Like, I like to learn. Okay, so I remember the one time that, I can't remember, you can't bow to somebody that's younger. Like if you're older you can't bow to somebody that's younger because that's disrespect but it's a sign of like a curse and so I love to learn things like that because in my position--here, it's predominantly Spanish speakers, but I came from another district where my school alone had 37 languages. So, I wanted to make sure that as the professional, as the teacher, as the administrator, I was not offending any particular group. Because you have to become multiculturally aware when you're a teacher. Unless, of course, you work in Little Village or in a place like this, but you still need to be sensitive to their traditions because we can't assume that we all come with the same traditions just because we all came from the same ethnic background.
  • Synopsis: Implementing multicultural education and influence of background on career choice
    Keywords: ethnic identity; parents; speaking Spanish at home; bilingual education; multicultural education
    Transcript: FLORES: And I guess the question that stems from that is how are you like culturally...well, not necessarily how are you culturally aware, but how do you apply that to your administration or if your teacher, to your teaching? Stuff like that?

    TABOADA: That's a loaded question because you really think...Like, I'm not aware that I'm applying it if that makes sense. I just know when I sit in meetings and I have a teacher that is from a different ethnic backgrounds and they're talking to a parent in such a way that I could see the parent feeling uncomfortable...

    FLORES: Mmm...

    TABOADA: ...like I'll step in and, you know, reiterate what the teacher is saying just so that the anxiety doesn't start to increase on the parent's side. Then I do take you know, that five minute after the meeting and talk to the teacher about being culturally aware that some of the Hispanic families, not all, they put all their trust in the school. And for us to go back and say well you need to do x, y, and z at home. A lot of times they have a language barrier. So, things like that, where I tried to be very cognizant of, okay, how are they reacting? How are they responding? Now, we have the other side of the coin where you do have a lot of families that have been here--they're second and third generation--so you can tell them, you know at home it is your responsibility to do this because they know that in the education system here, we have to support the school but not in that that's not always the case.

    FLORES: And did you feel like the different languages at your school like...

    TABOADA: Growing up?

    FLORES: Yeah, like did you feel like they were accommodated with [unintelligible]? I don't know how else to put it or...

    TABOADA: At school or...?

    FLORES: Mmm-hmm. At school.

    TABOADA: By the teachers?

    FLORES: Mmm-hmm.

    TABOADA: I was already in seventh grade. We were all pretty fluent. I don't remember having any classmates that did not understand or speak enough English to not get by.

    FLORES: But, of course, like, the language also comes with, like, cultural things as well. So I guess I'm just wondering.... like, right now, you were explaining how when you see a teacher talking to someone and they...and their parent seems kind of uncomfortable or something like that. Did you feel like you had that when you were growing up and stuff? Somebody that...

    TABOADA: I can't remember.

    FLORES: No?

    TABOADA: No, no. I think I've been fortunate enough and my husband says that's because sometimes I live in my bubble, which sometimes is not a bad thing. I've been fortunate enough that I have never felt discriminated based on anything. So, it's hard for me to answer that question because I never felt like, "Okay, are they acting that way because I'm Hispanic or are they acting that way because I'm struggling to get the words out in either language?" If anything—and I—it's sad to share this—but when I used to go to Mexico on a yearly basis with my parents—and my Spanish is pretty fluent, but I have, I guess, a slight accent in Spanish and in English because, you know, growing up with both languages, people in Mexico would make fun of my Spanish, but people here never make fun of my English because we know better. You know, so I do remember when I was probably eight years old, you know, and I went to el mercado, [the market] you know, and it's like the open flea market and I was trying to get, you know, like, I can't remember if it was a potato but I didn't want, like, the little potato. I wanted, like, the baked potato. Well, I didn't know how to say baked potato in Spanish. So I was like, "La papa grande," [the big potato] you know, and they were just... I don't know why they found it so is funny, but this is where my dad is from. It's...I remember that, but I don't remember feeling like that here in Chicago.

    FLORES: Yeah, and what about... Well, you said you didn't really feel any discrimination towards not your language, your culture...

    TABOADA: No.

    FLORES: But did you embrace your culture?

    TABOADA: I did.

    FLORES: And could you talk a bit more about that?

    TABOADA: My parents always insisted that we speak Spanish at home.

    FLORES: Uh-huh.

    TABOADA: So they made it very clear, you know, "Aqui en la casa está la español" [here in this house we speak Spanish] because they don't speak English, "necesita entender lo que estan diciendo." [you need to understand what they’re saying.] For my parents, even till this day, communication in the family is very important. So, even till this day, they don't like when I speak English when I'm at their house, even with my own personal kids now. So, I think that they instilled that value of "Keep your language." And they would even tell us like, "Más oportunidades para cuando crezcas. No pierdes tu idioma" [There are more opportunities for when you grow up. Don’t lose your language] because we had cousins that hardly understood English—I mean Spanish. And so, they would compare us, of course, like, "No quiero que estes como," you know, "tu prima fulana," [I don’t want you to be like your slutty cousin.] you know, things like that. That was one. Like I just mentioned earlier, they would take us to Mexico every year for at least a month. Every year the entire family. So, we would drive down there. We did that from the age that I remember so probably I want to say 13 or 14 and then we would go like every two years. So, the last time I went to Mexico with my parents was when I was 18 when I graduated high school and we went for like three weeks. So that was like minimum. So that's how we kept our culture and our language because we were forced to use it and practice it. We grew up with las posadas. My mom volunteered at church here in Chicago, you know, to make the pinatas and fill them up with candy and cacahuates because she's like, "En donde estuviestes que las piñatas tengan puro dulces. Tienen que llevar cacahuates." [Where you were, the piñatas are full of only candies. They have to have peanuts in them] You know, so things like that. I remember my mom, you know, saying, as far as the food, pura comida mexicana. I mean, my mom really never made spaghetti. She did when we started getting older and we were like, "Hagas espaghetti," [make Spaghetti] and it's still Mexican style. You know, she adds her own ingredients, you know, it does taste different. You know, leche y Knorr tomate with Knorr suiza. [milk and Knorr tomato soup and Knorr Swiss seasoning.] It's like, yeah, we don't...yeah, we just open the jar, you know. But she doesn't. You know, she adds her extra, I guess, Mexican taste to it. Yeah, so, la comida, las culturas, los valores, el idioma, [the food, the customs, the values, the language] very important for my parents. And I'm trying very hard to raise my three kids the same way and look at their second generation here and what I'm buying things that I always, that I feel really proud of is that they're able to understand about 99% of the Spanish language. Now, their oral language needs a lot of practice. But when forced to speak it, they're pretty fluent. They can talk to my parents in Spanish a hundred percent. They struggle if they hesitate to say some words, and sometimes when they don't have the right word--like my oldest, he's almost 19, he'll say like a bad word because he doesn't know the correct word to say what he wants to say. You like, instead of saying, you know, something's really cool, you know, he's like, "Oh, ese partido fue bien..." [Oh, that party was very…] instead of saying, "divertido," [fun] he's like, "bien...uh...chingón?" [very…uh...fucking awesome?] And I'm like, "No." You know, so then it's like replacing the word “cool” for a bad word because he doesn't know the right term. So, things like that.

    FLORES: Okay. And then. I mean, we were you proud to go to Mexico every year and speak the language.

    TABOADA: Yes, absolutely. That's one of the things that I truly miss growing up, getting married, and not being able to do that with my own boys because, you know, for safety reasons, like I wish we could have continued that tradition of driving down there every year, making sure that we exposed, you know, our children, even if we're second or third generation born in the United States holding true to our culture, you know, no matter how many generations passed by, we're still going to look Hispanic. So, let's take advantage of you know, the great things that this country has to offer, but also keeping the great things that our parents or our grandparents, or our ancestors, down the road, brought with them, so that we don't lose that, we don't lose our identity. That's how I see it. One of the things that I do want to mention. When you talk about feeling proud, I came from a school district that was very high-performing, very multicultural. And I think I was paid very well. When I took on this position, I pretty much--I didn't take a pay cut, but I pretty much got paid the same even though I was stepping into a higher position, because I was an assistant principal there and I was the principal here and at the end of the day, like with insurance and everything, that kind of broke out even. And one of the things which I found interesting, because my husband came from Mexico, he basically said, like, "Por qué quieres trabajar en la comunidad de Melrose cuando donde estás ahorita estás mucho mejor?" [Why do you want to work in the community of Melrose when where you are now is so much better?] And I'm like, "O, pero no. Es que en Melrose Park está nuestra gente." [Oh, but no. It’s that our people are in Melrose Park.] And he looked at me like, "Está tu gente?" [Your people are there?] I go, "Yeah," like, "la mayoría son latinos y no tienen quien avoque para ellos." [the majority are Latinos and they don’t have anybody to advocate for them.] I'm like, "Have you seen the scores?" I'm like, "We talk about high performing, you know, districts." I said, "They said this district needs, you know, for somebody to believe that the kids can do it because the kids will do it as they just need somebody that's going to make those systems and structures and make sure that we you know, keep us cool moving forward." He just kind of looked at me like I was crazy because I wanted—I love working in a community like this. Not that I feel discriminated in the multicultural community or the predominantly white community—because I do live in a predominantly white community—but I feel that the children here needs somebody that they can connect to and with. I always tell, you know, the kids here and the families, "I grew up just like you. I grew up low income, getting free and reduced lunch, you know. Remembering that sometimes I did have to wear hand-me-downs from my cousins and things like that. And I was never ashamed or embarrassed. If anything, that was what drove me to get an education and get out of that cycle of poverty because my parents were trying to do the best they could, but the reality is they were both factory workers. You know, even though we did get a house when I was 11 years old, which is why we moved, we were renting apartments on 47th, by 47, back of the yards, then we moved to a house. Well, it was in a two-flat, I should say, because he needed that extra little bit of money from renting the second floor. So, I grew up knowing, okay, with hard work you can make it, but it's a lot of hard work, you know, my mom when she didn't have a babysitter—I was probably 9 or 10 years old—she would take me to her factory and I would spend all day looking at my mom working the lines packing candy from like an office upstairs and I remember that. I remember thinking, like, "Holy cow. No wonder she's always tired, having to lift these boxes that are like 50 pounds and she would come home with like her arms cut you know, cut from the boxes. They get emotional. But that's what made me want to go to school and like, physically, I don't want to do that. I said earlier if I had the opportunity to be born in this country that gives you the opportunity to go to school no matter if you were born low income you can get out of that and that was like my entire drive. So I've been I was proud like I was never embarrassed that you know, I grew up poor. I'll share that story with kids here. And this year I don't have seventh and eighth graders, but my first year as principal here, we had the junior high kids and a lot of them had no motivation. And it's like, "Come on, you think what are you thinking? You need to be in school. I always tell them, "If you're not in school, you're not learning. And if you're not learning, you're not going to make it. And if you don't make it, you're going to end up, you know, in a minimum wage job." I said, “And what are you going to do? Work two, three jobs? And, like you already complained that your parents are never home. Why do you think they're never home? Because they have to make ends meet. Do you want that for your kids?" And just kind of looked at me like... You know, and like, sometimes I have to talk to you like a mother. Like I know I'm the principal, but you also need to hear that. Life is not all about what's easiest and you know, what's fun. It's what you—how hard you need to work to make it through.

    FLORES: And what influenced you to take on this job? I know you mentioned that, you know, that to help your own people en el Aztlan and stuff like that. But any—like, your husband looked at you like you were crazy.

    TABOADA: Yes.

    FLORES: Like I mean I wouldn't judge that most people would kind of say...a lot of people would think that this was a really hard job to take on, so like, I guess, what kind of like was the influence for you to take on this job?

    TABOADA: That it was predominantly minority. And I would have done the same and work in the African-American School.

    FLORES: Well, this job, were you sought out after for this job or did you find this job?

    TABOADA: A combination. I knew the superintendent and he was—he used to be a principal and then I was a teacher in his building and then he went to one district, I went to another district. We always stayed in touch. I don't know what he saw in me, but I guess you must have seen something that I truly was passionate about the minority population. So then when—he obviously knew that I had my administrative certificate and that I was working as an assistant principal. So, he sent me a simple email saying, "Hey, how are you doing? There's an open position in my district. Why don't you apply?" But that's basically it. So, at the time, I was already thinking of leaving my current district and, you know, finding a principalship, and so I applied, I went through the interview process, and I got the position. So, it was that email that basically—I said, "Oh, let me look into District 89."

    FLORES: So it was already kind of in the back of your mind of wanting to work with minorities?

    TABOADA: Well, that was the goal all along.

    FLORES: Oh, Okay

    TABOADA: So, I started my teaching career in the city, Steinmetz High School. And I was there for five years. So, I was a high school math teacher. You know, I taught from remedial algebra to bilingual students all the way up to precalculus to students in the JROTC Academy. So, I sought students that were struggling because of language, a language barrier. Although I did not advise some of the language, I was--I wanted to build the language of mathematics. So, I just didn't rely on my Spanish to teach them. I wanted them to learn math and English. So, I did it for five years and then I went to—I moved to the suburbs. So, if you don't live in the city, you can't work in the city. So, then I worked in Bensenville for two years also as the English language learner math teacher. So, I was there for two years and then that's when I went to school to get my Master's in educational leadership. Then I went to work in my home district. You know, in Elk Grove. And I was a teacher leader of ELL assessment and instruction and that's where I noticed, "Hmm, if you don't have good leaders advocating for our bilingual population, they're falling behind." Because when I would look at test scores, the state test, you know, the white population or the English proficient students were up here where the bilingual students were like down here and the gap, as students get older, like going to high school, it gets wider. And the dropout rate for Hispanic students, it's really high compared to, you know, the white students. And so that's kind of like where I started, you know, you really need someone that understands their needs, that understands their language, that's able to convince the parents to accept bilingual services, because a lot of times they think, Oh, well, if I just put them in English, they're going to be more successful." Well, that's not the case. Research shows you need to build your native language in order to have a strong foundation. So having people that would educate our parent community so that they would make the right decisions for their children. Both of—all of those districts that I just mentioned tend to be pretty high performing. And so I had my administrative certificate. I was not using it. So, I remember thinking, "Okay, I need to go to a district that's very progressive so I can learn as much as I can, so that I can go to a district where I can make a huge difference. So, I had my plan. I mean, it's I can't tell you that I said down into a timeline. It was more like okay, it's time for me to do something else. Just I guess it could I wanted to be a principal in a school where it was predominantly a minority population or a lot of English language learners. Like I didn't I don't care if they speak Spanish, if they speak Gujarati, if they speak Polish. I wanted to represent students that are struggling either because of cultural differences or language.
  • Synopsis: Differences in working at wealthy and less advantaged school districts
    Keywords: property taxes funding education; wealthy school district; Elk Grove; Chicago; Melrose Park
    Transcript: FLORES: Okay, and then, so, can you talk about the kind of things that you learned at—I guess it's a really simplistic way to call—let's just say the "good" school.

    TABOADA: My previous district?

    FLORES: Yeah, that kind of have helped you in this district?

    TABOADA: Everything, of course, is tied to money, right?

    FLORES: Mm-hmm.

    TABOADA: So, when there's a district in an area where people pay high property taxes, the schools have more money to implement different programs and to send teachers to different professional development opportunities. And so, in this district—like, I was trained by well-known people in the education field, like Burch and Hecht [?] themselves, not a trainer of trainers model, but going to a presentation that they gave. And the district basically sent us every year. And it's all about working as a team, which is best practice for everyone in any field, I think. So, working as a team, making sure that you know how to analyze data to guide your instruction. So, it's a lot of professional development opportunities that I had in that district and a lot of support because we're not spread so thin. My current district, here, I’m pleasantly surprised that I'm also having a lot of professional development opportunities because they realize that you know, we need to start making decisions that are going to prepare from the leaders all the way to the teachers to influence student achievement or increase student achievement, I should say. So, like, thinking back, my plan, I mean, it was, I guess, it was a pretty decent plan. But I could have started in this this district as an assistant principal and build myself up, but I didn't know that at the time, because you just go—as an educator like, you know, which districts have a good reputation. But every district has pros and cons. Honestly, I wouldn't change this district for any one at this point. I plan to stay here long-term because—and I've had conversations with the superintendent and that—we’re changing now superintendents—and I basically said, “The current first graders were the ones who entered when I came in as principal, so then they're going to second grade next year, when I look at their reading levels and their math levels, it's so exciting to see that in Kindergarten, they left being all readers. In first grade, they're leaving being all readers pretty much. We have a few struggling students, but I already know who they are. So, going into second grade, I already have a plan to meet with the teachers so that we can start giving them interventions, so that by the end of second grade the entire group of students are leaving that grade level reading at grade level or beyond.” You really can't do that if you're bouncing around from district to district. So, my plan is to stay long-term—and I do want to go back to school to get my Ph.D., you see that's a lot of money, so I'm thinking about probably five or six years—but that is a goal that I have for myself, but I know I will not be able to do it because I do spend a lot of time at school making sure that everything is running well, working with the teachers hand-in-hand, the assistant principal so that we can move the school forward. That's the only way to do it. So, did I come in with a lot of knowledge that I gained being in a progressive district? Absolutely, but I'm not necessarily convinced, now that I'm here, that it makes such a huge difference. I probably would have had the same opportunity here, I just didn't know because I wasn't here.

    FLORES: Why don't you think it makes a huge difference?

    TABOADA: Because a lot of things that I learned, I could have learned going—I could have learned reading a book. I could have learned being in this district and learning about the district. So, it all depends. Everything is so—like, it's hard to go back and say, “I would have done things differently,” because you don't know how that would have turned out. But if—what if I’m wrong and I would have never had the opportunity to move up to the principalship here? So, I mean everything—it's just, it's hard to determine where, you know—in my in my case, right now, I can say everything has been pretty positive. But let’s say that it had not been positive. It's hard to pinpoint, “Okay, here's where I messed up” or, “Here's where I went wrong,” you know what I mean?
  • Synopsis: Educational journey as nontraditional student and mother
    Keywords: higher education; community college; university; graduate school; teaching certification; bilingual education; children; Master's in Education
    Transcript: TABOADA: And I can even connect it to my personal life. Like, I graduated high school, I went to college for one year, and then I got married, dropped out of school. I got married, dropped out of school, had my first son at—I mean, I when I turned 21, I was already pregnant with him. So, he was born when I was 21. I started working as a beautician—I think I didn’t mention that. When I was in Curie High School, I went to cosmetology school. So, when I graduated high school, I was already a beautician, so I had a trade. You know, it was—with tips and the hourly rate, it was decent pay. So then, I had him at 21. Of course, at the back of my mind, I'm always thinking, like, “I really didn't want—I want a career”, you know, but life takes you different places and you make different decisions, you know, that are neither right or wrong, you just make the decision. You know, I made the decision to get married. I made the decision to have my son. And so, I was working Saturday and Sunday and ended up going back and forth. I was working Saturday and Sunday as a beautician in Vernon Hills, making awesome tips. I had a, you, a long list of clientele, non-stop Saturday and Sunday, as I mentioned. And I even started doing house calls. So, I would go to their homes and do their hair, las viejitas, [little old ladies] you know, those who couldn’t come to the beauty salon. But it was Saturday and Sunday and it was my husband's sisters watching my kid. And it's like, “Wait. I don't want to be that mom that is always, you know, that’s not home for their child.” So, that's when I told my husband, “I’m going to go back to school to be a teacher” and he was like, “You're crazy.”

    FLORES: Sounds like he says that a lot.

    TABOADA: This was back in like 1998. My little guy was like 15 months old and I said, “You know, probably. But I’m going back to school.” You know, I lived in Des Plaines and Oakton Community College is like fifteen blocks away, if that. I said, “I’m just going to go enroll and take general education courses at Oakton Community College.” This conversation probably happened in December of 1997. My little guy had just turned one. So, I started at Oakton Community College in the spring of 1998. And, of course, I stopped working because I was putting my full energy to going to school—full-time student. My husband had to pick up more hours because we had to—we had an apartment, so we had to pay rent. We had to pay a babysitter because we did have, you know, Tito, and he did—everything else is like, you know, it's like—I could fast-forward to 1999, when I decided that I wanted to have second child because poor Tito was growing up by himself, you know, and of course I was 21, 22—you don't sit down and like, “If I have a second child, things are going to get harder.” You don’t think like that at 21, 22 do you? No. Right? Life is—you’re like, “I can handle it.” You know, and so, “You know what? I'm going to have another kid.” My husband’s like, “Estás hacienda la escuela.” At this point, I had proven that—I was getting straight As and he was real proud of me. You know, we had a good thing going there and he's like, “¿Otro niño?” [Another kid?] You know, “Más trabajo. ¿Qué estás pensando?” [More work. What are you thinking?] And I was like, “You know, I’m just going to have another kid.” And so, I got pregnant and I had my second son. At this point, I was already at Northeastern University and we also moved because his sister was our babysitter and she bought a two-flat and she basically said, “Oh, si quieren que les sigue cuidando el niño, muevense conmigo.” [Oh, if you’d like me to keep babysitting, move in with me.] And I’m like, “Oh, perfect.” So, Northeastern is, like, again, very close to where we live in the you know North side of Chicago. So, it seemed like—everything—like, God had a plan. You know, it's like, we moved to Dess Plaines—when I first got married, we moved to Des Plaines, Oakton Community College was there. And then, when my sister-in-law decided to buy the two-flat, it was real close to Northeastern University. So, I'm like, “I can just go there,” you know, and I had Diego, my second one. So, that was ‘99. He was born on a Sunday, I was back in school on that Wednesday because I didn't want to drop the semester. So, I prayed, like, “I want him to be born on a Friday, so that I can have the entire weekend.” It didn't work. He was born on a Sunday, but we were like during midterms. So, I went back to school in three days. Went through my midterms, passed the entire semester and graduated in three and a half years with two kids.

    FLORES: Oh my gosh.

    TABOADA: Yeah. I was twenty—I had just turned 26 when I got my teaching degree, my Bachelor’s in education. And so, was that easy? No, but that's the route that I decided to take. Nobody forced me. I mean, I could have done things probably smarter, you know, finish college, get married, have kids or buy a house and then have kids and I didn't. I did things backwards. It’s like, I got married, had a child, went back to school, had another child, finished school. Got—wait, bought a house. Yeah, I bought a house, started my Master’s, and got pregnant again.

    FLORES: [laughs]

    TABOADA: So, yeah.
  • Synopsis: Early career in the classroom
    Keywords: teaching; bilingual education; STEM; mathematics; classroom management; behavior
    Transcript: FLORES: And then, once you did get your Bachelor's degree in—your teaching degree, what was your teaching experience like?

    TABOADA: I was hired—I finished my student teaching experience on a Friday and I started working that following Monday. I was very fortunate—unfortunate for the students, but I was very fortunate that a bilingual math teacher resigned the week before I was done with my student teaching, so I just went in and filled that void in the school. And then I was rehired every year and I stayed there for five years.

    FLORES: And what was your relationship like with your students?

    TABOADA: I think very positive. I was 26, so I wasn't even old enough to be their parents. So, we connected more—like, we had a really good relationship, yet—because I was already married with kids, I was, like—I acted older, you know, so they always had that high level of respect and when they didn't, I would be like, “Hey, I'm like, you know, I could be friendly, but I'm not your friend.” So, I made that very clear. I had very good classroom management. You know, I had incidents here and there, but so did everybody else. So, nothing that I would say, “Oh, because you know, I was Hispanic, or because I was young.” There were teachers in the math department—there were 25 of us. And yeah, I was by far the youngest, you know, everybody else had been there at least ten years and they would embrace my youth, I should say. I remember when I turned 30 and I was still working there, they're like, “Hey our baby's turning 30.” I’m like, “Okay great.”

    FLORES: [laughs]

    TABOADA: You know, so I get along with people regardless of, you know, their language or their age. That’s why I became a teacher, because I like to be around people. I don't like to work in isolation. Where—you, know, in front of a computer.

    FLORES: And then, I guess I'm just wondering, too, like the—I have a friend who—she did her student teaching. She’s going into teaching as well and, like, she's—she would talk to me about like, just like, even like little struggles like passing out papers or like things like that. Like, I guess I'm wondering what kind of—what was struggling to you when you were first starting out?

    TABOADA: As a high school teacher, I think the biggest struggle is classroom management because, you know, you need to set your system so that the students are successful. Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter that they don't like you. What matters is whether they learn Algebra and are better prepared for Algebra II. I would say my biggest struggle was managing the 100+ students because every period you change, you know, classes. So, at the high school level, you have 27 kids in one group, then you have 31 in the other group, and then you may only have 17 because of the newcomers from different countries, so then you have to use other strategies. So, when I first started—because I was the only bilingual math teacher, I had five different preps. So, that was challenging because I had a plan for Algebra I for the English speakers. Then I had a plan for Algebra I for the bilingual students. Then I had a plan for Geometry. Then I had a plan—you know, so all the different plans. I've always been very dedicated, so if I feel guilty—if I can say, there's one thing that I feel guilty—is the amount of time that I do leave my kids—keep in mind, I mentioned that I finished my teaching degree with having two kids already. You know, like, when I think back of home, like, my home with my parents, and I remember coming home, you know, my mom had su sopa fideo, [noodle soup] you know, un guisado, [a stew] and my kids won’t remember that. They’ll remember coming home and, “Okay, ma will probably be a home in two to three hours.” You know, now that they're older, obviously, they stay by themselves. And before, they probably remember like, “Oh, going to the babysitter's house.” I guess that’s one of the things that I would say, “Being in education, if you truly care, you need to put in the time,” and that, unfortunately, I've had to sacrifice some of my kids’ time with me.

    FLORES: And then, like, for the social aspect in your classrooms, did you notice it to be the same as when you were in school?

    TABOADA: No.

    FLORES: No?

    TABOADA: I graduated from high school in ‘93 and I stepped into a high school classroom as a student teacher in 2000. So, it's only seven years and I felt like 30 years had gone by. Like, the level of disrespect and just the things that students were doing in the hallway and saying to each other was like, “Whoa.” That was like—that was shocking. You know, it was like, “Wait, I just graduated from high school seven years ago, and we weren’t behaving like that and we definitely weren't saying that to teachers and we weren't doing that in the hallway,” you know? So, I feel like in seven years—I don't know if it's because it was a different school—but it was still a Chicago Public School—things had changed drastically, although I think, and I hate to say it, I think it was just a city thing, because when I moved to the suburbs and I started teaching or getting into the schools in the suburbs, the kids are calmer. Kids are calmer, but it's a—I guess it's a different world. I mean, I haven't lived in the city in over 20 years. So, I guess things have changed. I do have relatives that went through Chicago Public Schools said, “Well, that’s just normal.” Well, it wasn't normal when I was growing up. It was different. You know, every school has their own issues.
  • Synopsis: Converting Melrose Park Elementary from K-8 to K-5 configuration
    Keywords: consolidation; reprogramming; classroom assignments; cutting; self-harm
    Transcript: FLORES: And is it different here?

    TABOADA: It's K-5, so…

    FLORES: So, yeah.

    TABOADA: Yeah. A lot different. And when I did have Junior High kids last year—we used to be K-8 and then the whole district got restructured. So, then we lost those six, seventh, and eighth graders and we obviously have more students that are younger. But these kids, they're so innocent. They have their struggles, but not once did a student swear at a teacher. We didn't have a single fight last year. I mean, it's—I just feel like sometimes districts or schools get a reputation and there's no validity to the negative comments that are being said. When I compare—my brother’s also an AP in the city—when we compare schools where we talk about, you know, behavior, I think he has a tougher time than I do when it comes to behavior, when we think about our junior high kids. This year, I can't compare because I don’t have them. Yeah.

    FLORES: Was it different when the junior high kids were here?

    TABOADA: Yes.

    FLORES: How so?

    TABOADA: Very different. I worried more about girls cutting, hurting themselves. I worried about, you know, kids that would threaten to end their lives because they're that age where it's very difficult. I worried about substance abuse, whether it's alcohol or drugs. So, there's a lot of things that I worried about when I had the older students. Compared to last school year that just ended, it was a different type of worry, but it wasn't, like, that deep, I guess. Interestingly enough, even though I was only here one year, they want to come back and visit. [laughs] Yeah.

    FLORES: And—this question may be a little naive because I really don't know how, like, the—I mean, I guess I wouldn't call it a Chicago public school system works, but I mean, I've been talking to different students and the ones from Chicago they describe a grammar school much like the—how it was before, how yours was before. So, like, it was like first through like eight or first to seventh or something like that, and I guess I'm just not used to that because I went from an elementary school to middle school to a high school.

    TABOADA: Mm-hmm.

    FLORES: So, my biggest question was how—I mean, I know it was—you said it was only for like a year, but I mean, how do you kind of separate them? Because, I mean, you have to, don't you? Like the more older kids from like the younger ones or…?

    TABOADA: Well, we have hallways, so one hallway is the first-grade hallway or kindergarten hallway, the second-grade hallway, the third grade hallway. So last school year, we had like our junior high wing, you know. So, we had the sixth graders—there were three classes, so their three classes were close to each other. And then seventh and eighth grade, they took an entire hallway. So yeah, you kind of make it into like a school within a school. When I was growing up in the city, I didn't have the K-8 building experience. I went to—well, I moved. But, either way, I went to school Kindergarten through sixth grade. And then, in that school, they would bus us to a junior high. So, seventh and eighth graders were not in the same building as Kindergarten through sixth grade. So, I did have that elementary K-6, junior high, seventh/eighth, and then I went to high school. So, when I came here, I was like, “So, wait, what? We have preschool—we had preschool, actually. Preschool through eighth grade together and it's 2014. You know, and because now—I mean, I live in the suburbs and in the suburbs, every school district is designed that way, where you have K-5 or K-6 and then seventh/eighth or junior high. So, junior high, middle school, same age group, just different philosophies.

    FLORES: Do you feel like—I don't know. Does it feel like running two types of schools?

    TABOADA: No. The teachers were pretty efficient and effective. So, I mean, like I said the worries are different, so I would make myself visible upstairs and the AP as well. So, we would walk that hallway a lot more, probably three times more than we did, the kindergarten hallway. You know, when we’re visiting classrooms, we focus a lot of the younger students because we want to make sure that they—we start building them up—and it's different, you know. With one group of students—we focus on reading and writing and math with everyone—but the primary focus was the younger students to start seeing those results, right? So, when they get to seventh and eighth grade, they're reading at grade level. Where with the seventh and eighth graders, we were worried and making sure that they were safe, that they were not doing anything they weren't supposed to, making sure that we talked about not bullying each other and being respectful, not making comments and things like that. More in their social-emotional—because if they don't feel safe, like if they don't have those social-emotional skills, their academics suffers. So, where when you're younger, it's the other way around. You know, if you're a good reader, like, you feel good about yourself. When you get older, yeah, if you're a good reader, you feel good about yourself, but if somebody's picking on you, yeah. I mean—and that's across all ages—but the junior high, they take it more personal, I think. They don't let it go. You know, it can really scar them for life.

    FLORES: Could you, like, talk about a particular instance?

    TABOADA: I just remember we had to work with outside organizations to come into presentations, so the girls knew better coping skills. You know, like if you're feeling sad, what would be appropriate to do besides cutting and hurting yourself? So, that was like the main issue last year.

    FLORES: Okay.

    TABOADA: Yeah.

    FLORES: And then you also mentioned that you would share your own story with the middle school. What would you share with them?

    TABOADA: When they look defeated, which was often during testing—

    FLORES: Standardized testing?

    TABOADA: Standardized testing or when they would get their report card and they would have an F or a D, that defeated attitude, like, “I'm not going to make it.” You know, “You just need to try a little harder.” And I would always tell them, like—it's a case-by-case basis—but I remember this particular student who lives across the street, he lost his mom when he was—let’s see, his sister was in Kindergarten—no, he was in Kindergarten; his sister was four—trying to think—the siblings are two years apart and they lost their mom when they were, let's say, four and six. And so, here he came to school thinking, like, “I'm not going to make it. I don't have my mom,” you know, and he already had this defeated attitude and I would tell him, you know, like, “I know—” I said, “I can't even imagine not having a mom because I still have mine.” You know, I said, “but you need to also, like, get past that.” You know, even, like, some say—the other kids will show them that hid their Facebook and he will be—he would like always write comments about his mom because everybody else would talk about what they did with their parents or whatever. He didn't have that. So, I would tell them don't use that as an excuse use it as an opportunity to be successful. He had awesome soccer skills. He was definitely our star soccer player. And I would tell him, like, “Use that to get into, you know, a good college. You can definitely get a scholarship,” you know, and things like that. And I would tell him like, of course—I said, “I do have my mom and dad, but I grew up very poor just like you.” I'm like, “At least you have people,” I said, “How many times has our PTA president gone to your house to drop off food? How many times have I gotten out to your knock on your door and say, ‘Hey we're having spaghetti with [unintelligible]. A ven a comer.’” [Come and eat.] You know, I’m like, “I don't have people going to my house making sure that I was eating.” He would just kind of laugh, you know, chuckle. He'd say, “Yo sé, Miss Taboada, pero, pues, es difícil.” [I know, Miss Taboada, but it’s difficult.] So, going back to, like, it's that defeated attitude. Unfortunately, I don’t think I got to him because I was just hoping—he didn't even finish freshman year in high school. I guess he got hooked up with the wrong people and he was scared to go to school after that. I see him and he still waves but he doesn't cross the street to talk to me like he did at the beginning of the school year. Where I’ll be like, How’s high school?” “It's good.” And now I think he's afraid that I'm going to ask him, “How's high school?” So, I don't know. It's just hard. He's one. He's one of many that I pray and hope that they turn it around. I don't think at this age they realize that when your parents say, “Hey, education is key.” They’re like, “Yeah, okay, whatever.” It's like, “No, really, I'm serious, you know, take it serious.” It's, it's what's going to get us out of this cycle of poverty and having to work physically hard to barely make it. So, I know that I’ve had a positive influence on some. And my AP has a very similar story that I do, so there’s two of us sending the same message. Like, “Hey, our parents don’t speak English,” you know, “our parents didn't have a lot of money. We put ourselves through college, basically.” Well, my husband put me through college. “We made it. We're here. What's your problem? Just show up to school,” you know. And sometimes we would take that attitude of let's be their friends. Let's talk to them like we were friends and other times we’d be like, “You know what? If you don't show up to school, I am going to go knocking on your door and if I have to send a truant officer to your door and get your parents in trouble, I will.” You know, “because you need to be in school.” So, it was different approaches depending on what worked.

    FLORES: And how they often respond to you?

    TABOADA: Sometimes they don't. It's like—and that's what I found interesting because they never gave me attitude. Like, they were never disrespectful and a lot of them we like, “I know. I know.” But it's, like, from the “I know,” now do something about it. Yeah, so…

    FLORES: Was it ever frustrating?

    TABOADA: Very frustrating. It's—see, that’s the other worry. Like, I know that they're probably not going to school, but since I don't know it, you know, “Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente, right? [Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel.] So, like, I would always look at my attendance list. It’s like, the majority of the kids who were absent were the junior high kids or now our attendance has improved drastically because the little kids want to be here, you know, especially [if] we're going to have, like, a special event. Yeah, so, it's different. Yeah.

    FLORES: And so, what are your worries now that this is just a K-5?

    TABOADA: Making sure there will be increased student achievement. It's my biggest worry and my biggest challenge. I would say less than 50 percent of the students are reading at grade level. That's—it's public knowledge. It's based on our standardized test. If you go to IIRC, you can see any school in the state of Illinois, their scores. You can see their scores and their demographics. So, there's a lot of work to be done. I feel pretty confident that with the staff and the district that we’re moving forward and I hope that in six years, within six years, I can say, “Hey, we are a high-performing district and we are a high-performing school,” because these kids can do it. They just need someone—it's beyond believing in them, it's someone that is going—not to give up on them. I was the fourth principal in four years. So, there was no consistency. There was the other—I guess downside, that when the principal comes in, we come in with our own ideas based on previous experiences. So, when a school changes from principal to principal to principal, there is no consistency in the message. So that leaves teachers trying to figure out, “Wait, what do we have to do?” So, going into my third year, I'm maintaining what has worked, obviously, but I'm also making some changes with teachers’ feedback so that we don't just continue doing the same thing because, “Oh, well, we're showing growth.” Yes, we're showing growth, but it's not enough. We need to show higher growth so that more students are able to read at grade level by the time they leave first grade, second grade, third grade. And as a district, you know, we are moving forward and we're bringing in new assessments that—it's going to help us guide our instruction and things like that. So, we're hopeful. I think as a district, we’re very hopeful.

    FLORES: And how do you view that the fact that the—was it the four principals before you were only—no. In four years, you had four principals. How do you view that?

    TABOADA: Since I wasn’t here, I really don't know what happened. I just know that my goal is to be here long-term because that's the only way that a school can be moved forward, you know, having that consistency.
  • Synopsis: Changing standards from No Child Left Behind to Common Core State Standards and PARCC and working with underperforming teachers
    Keywords: No Child Left Behind; NCLB; Common Core Standards; Common Core State Standards; PARCC; underperforming teachers;
    Transcript: FLORES: And then, I mean, I don't know if your school is low-performing or on probation or anything like that. But, like, because there are so many, like, regulations in place—like, let's say if you were on probation, your funds are taken away or the school board has like a lot of restrictions on what you can and can't do. Do you feel like it's hard to move forward?

    TABOADA: Not really.

    FLORES: No?

    TABOADA: No, I think it's obvious. As long as the plan is well thought-out and you're very transparent. I've been supported by the Board of Education and district administrators a hundred percent. As far as funds and that? I don't work with that, so I don't know—that’s district. You know, they're the ones that deal with the budget. I know we do have a lot of community organizations that support this school. So, for example for Christmas every single student gets a small gift—there's about 950 students—and that's because we get donations from different restaurants, the village of Melrose Park and things like that. So, we have not made what we call a AYP, Adequate Yearly Progress, in at least ten years. How that's affecting the finances? I don't know because that's not—it's not my role in the district. When it comes to having what we need for the students—for example last year, we were given, I want to say, sixty additional laptops. So, now every grade level team has a computer cart that they don't have to check out anymore. They can just organize it amongst the team of teachers and they can use it whenever they want. They just replaced our computers in the computer lab. Like I said, I see great things happening, but we haven't made AYP for all those years. Yeah. It's hard. It's not easy to make AYP, even in districts that used to make AYP because the standards changed and it's just more challenging. But it's possible. We just need time to better prepare the students with the new mandates.

    FLORES: You may have already kind of explained, but could you can you explain to me what AYP is?

    TABOADA: Adequate Yearly Progress. So, basically, in 2001, the No Child Left Behind law came into effect. President Bush at the time said by 2014 a hundred percent of the students in the country will be reading and doing math at grade level. It sounds really cool and great but not realistic. A hundred percent, really? What happens with students that have disabilities and students that come from other countries that have a language barrier? So, and it was basically a blanket statement, you know, everyone. We also had we have what we call subgroups. So, a school in the district is measured based on how they do overall with everybody put together. And then if you have your English Language Learners subgroup, if you have your special education subgroup, if you have your Hispanic subgroup, if you have you have your African-American subgroup—so, and it's all tied to the No Child Left Behind law. So then, he said by 2014, a hundred percent. So, every year we had to increase by 7.5. So, in 2013, 92.7 was supposed to be meeting or exceeding standards based on ISAT. In 2012, all—subtract, you know, 87.—85.5, whatever. So, every year we had to increase by 7.5. So, the schools and districts that did not increase by 7.5 every year were the ones that were not making adequate yearly progress, which was that 7.5. They got rid of that law and now we're implementing the Common Core State Standards. ISAT is gone and now we're going to—well, we already administered PARCC. It's basically another name for a different test. And now we're going to go to a growth model. So, basically, they're saying—which makes sense. This one makes sense, in my opinion. If a student comes in us—let’s use letters, for example—reading at level 8, in one year, they're supposed to be reading three levels higher. So, they leave whatever grade level, right, it’s all growth, but whatever grade level, reading at a level D, they showed growth, they've made progress, the school's doing well. But if a student, a group of students comes in at reading level 8 and they leave the school reading at level B, well, they haven't made any growth. So then that's the school that is going to be considered not doing well, but we still don't have exactly what that's going to look like. But they talk about mastering growth instead of reading at grade level.

    FLORES: Okay. Yeah.

    TABOADA: Yeah.

    FLORES: And do you think that’s better?

    TABOADA: In my opinion, it's better.

    FLORES: Yeah.

    TABOADA: Yeah, because if I have a seventh-grade student, if I'm a seventh-grade teacher—and I used to be a junior high teacher—I would get students in seventh grade that were probably doing third grade math. Well, it's not realistic that they're going to be doing eighth grade math by the time they leave seventh grade. Now, what has to be realistic is that they're going to make at least one year's worth of growth to say that I did my job. If there were sitting in front of me 176 days out of the school year and they did not learn a year worth of curriculum, then shame on me. I didn't do what I was supposed to do. Whatever that might be.

    FLORES: Okay. And then, but you mentioned that it was still very difficult to do so.

    TABOADA: Yes.

    FLORES: You had mentioned—can you talk about the difficulties in getting there?

    TABOADA: We just start implementing the Common Core State Standards two, three years ago. And so, when something changes, you know, change is slow and challenging. And so, first, you need to make sure that you understand the standards that you're teaching and then change your instructional practices so that you can implement those changes in the classroom. So, it's like three steps. It's not just saying, “Well, I'm going to change the way I teach.” Well, based on what? You know, based on the standards. Based on the assessments that are being administered now. So, everything is like so deep, you know. It's really hard to explain in—it's hard to summarize because there are so many steps that have to go behind making a school or a district high-performing.

    FLORES. Okay. And then, I mean, I guess this, like this stigma is like standardized testing is that, like it can’t, it like—it was hard to teach. It was hard to teach and then, at the same time, get a student ready for the standardized testing. How is it, like, different with this? Like now that it's not the ISAT and it's PARCC?

    TABOADA: My personal opinion: if you’re doing your job, if you have the right instructional strategies—I'm not even talking about materials—but if you have the right instructional strategies, you have the dedication, you have the knowledge base to implement best practice in your classroom, you're not really teaching to the test. The test will show that your teaching is strong or not. So, I know that the philosophy of many educators is “We need to do—we need to teach to the test”—and they use those words—"we're going to teach to the test.” It's like, I never taught to the test and I am proud to say that when I was a junior high teacher, when I was hired, I was hired because 0% of the bilingual students were meeting standards, 0% in mathematics. So, I promised my principal that I would increase student achievement. Well, you really can’t go into the negative, so I kept my word and in one year, we went from 0% of the bilingual students not meeting standards to almost 50%. Like okay, so, I would say I was a pretty strong teacher because I was a math major, so I knew my content. And I was—at the time, I was taking classes to get my bilingual endorsement, so I had a lot of strategies that I was utilizing in the classroom. Then my second year there, we went from, again, 0 to almost 50 in one year and then to almost 80 my second year. I never, not once, did I say I'm teaching to the test. What I was doing, I was implementing, back then, the Illinois State Standards. So, I remember sitting with my teacher’s edition, with my math teacher’s edition and my Illinois state standards and basically aligning and saying, “Okay, so the Illinois state standards for 6th grade, they want me to teach this. So, these are the standards. Now, this is the textbook that I was given that I have to use.” So, if, let’s say unit 1 was not aligned to any of the sixth-grade standards, then I would just kind of go over unit 1 really fast, pick and choose and then move on to the units that I knew emphasized the standards that we were working with at the time. It's the same thing now. Now we don't have the Illinois State Standards, we have the Common Core State Standards, and I do lead the math curriculum committee for the entire district and I plan professional development in the area of mathematics for this district. And so, I tell the teachers the same thing. Like if you look behind you, [gesturing behind interviewer] I have like that packet of materials, unit 1. Okay. So, basically, we are given the set of materials. Okay. So then we develop what we call a curriculum map. The curriculum map is aligned to the Common Core State Standards. So then, let me use third grade for example. We'll look at the PARCC assessment and say the majority of the questions on PARCC are fractions. So, we’d better hit fractions hard—not that we’re teaching to the test, but because that standard for third grade is emphasized and it's emphasized because they need that for fourth and fifth grade. And so, it's making sure that you're using your tools and that you understand how to use them or develop something that's more simple. So, you know, even though I'm the principal here at the school, I also like to take that on, not only because am I impacting my kids here, but also across the district. And the entire district has a high minority population. So, as a teacher, I would do it for my kids. You know, like, “Okay, let me plan.” Make sure, again, I shared this earlier, whether pro or con, right, I'm very dedicated. And I do sacrifice my kids at home. I'm not going to deny that. But that's because—it's like, if I'm going to—these are kids’ lives. If I'm going to—if I can’t—if I got into education, I'm going to do the best that I can do. If that means that I have to be here—which sometimes I am—from 6:30 in the morning to 5:30 in the evening—and I leave here at 5:30 because custodians leave at six and I don’t like to sit by myself—that’s what I have to do and it's the end of the story. And I always tell, you know—I go back to my husband like, “Si no somos educados, nos vamos a ser [inaudible]. [If we’re not educated, we’re going to be [inaudible]. You know, it’s like, “Tenenos que todos trabajar juntos. [We all have to work together.] It’s like—I guess one of my biggest frustrations sometimes is that it's not just a paycheck when you're in education. It can't be because what I don't do is going to affect right now 950 students. So, if I don't sit down with the grade-level teams on a weekly basis, and I'm not there listening to what they're doing, I'm not going to find out if they're doing what they're supposed to be doing and I can't help them move forward. So, everything is like a ladder and I don't see myself at the top. I see myself at the bottom.

    FLORES: Yeah.

    TABOADA: You know, it's like I see myself pushing up, so that we're all going up together. You know, if anything, I think the students are the ones at the top because they're the ones that we need to make sure that we're pushing up. Yeah.

    FLORES: And I mean, what would you say to those teachers who are feeling kind of, I guess, like, stressed with all—with like, I mean…

    TABOADA: …the testing?

    FLORES: Yeah. The testing and stuff like that?

    TABOADA: It does bring the culture and climate of the school down a little bit. But not just in this school. It's in many schools, many districts, many schools. And I'm fortunate enough here that they're like isolated incidents and I think we have such a good positive school culture that everybody meets as a grade level. So, like the Kindergarten team meets together, first grade meets together, second grade meets together. And so, if we have a Debbie Downer, we’re all, we’ll say like, “Oh come on, you know, we can do this.” So, I told the staff we need to be each other's cheerleaders. And that’s the other difference. When I came in, I said, “Yes, I know I'm the administrator. Yes, I know that I have, you know, the final word for whatever decision’s being made in this school.” I said, “but at the same time, if you know that whatever posting is not going to work or we can change it to make it better, please speak up. We are a team.” You know, so since I set the ground from day one, and I've held true to my word—like, if you’re a teacher and I present to you a plan and you’re like, “You know what? If we do this slightly different…” and if you convince me, say, “Oh yeah, the thought…” And I give you credit, you know, so it's not just like I take all the credit, you know, so the culture of the school is pretty positive and I would say, you know about 85 to 90 percent of the teachers support me a hundred percent. So, that helps, because if we make a change they say like, “Yes, we can we can do this,” you know. So, we worry about our PARCC results. We do, you know. I haven't received them. But at the same time, I tell the teachers when I compare our school to a school in another district, not where I've worked, but in another district with similar demographics, and that district is—they have a lot more money because their property taxes are a lot higher than they are here—it's in Wheeling, Illinois—we're higher than them. And when we look at, you know, the per-pupil expenditure—okay—so, if we look at the per-pupil expenditure here, it’s like half of what they spend over there per pupil. So, I’m like, “Hey, we're making it happen!” You know, and I will pull—like, if you go to the IIRC website, you can compare schools. So that’s—I do that on my free time. [laughs] You know, I compare—like, “Okay, so, Melrose Park. How are we doing compared to another school in another district with similar demographics yet they have more money?” You know, and I share that and I pump up the teachers. I'm like, “We have to. We have to be our own cheerleaders.”

    FLORES: Yeah, because I was going to say like a lot of the things that you implement, it doesn't even seem like—I mean, I'm sure some of it does—but it doesn't even seem like it's something that you really need money to push forward.

    TABOADA: No. What we do need is smaller class size. That's one of the things that I have fought for. And again, I've been supported by the district. So, for example, last year, we—it's really hard to predict how many incoming kindergarteners we’re going to have. It's like, how do you know? And so, we started the schoolyear with 37 kindergartners in each class and we had five. So, it was like, “Oh my God,” you know, “what are we going to do?” So, we have a school that is open enrollment. So, we were trying to convince some families, you know, to put their child in the other program because we wanted to decrease our class size. That wasn't going very well. So, I basically begged and begged and begged and begged, and I said, “We need another teacher.” I mean, we have one really small classroom available. Even if we’re just able to take seven students, seven students, seven students from the English only classrooms, I said, “It's going bring them up to 30 and then this class only going to have 20, 21. And they did. They gave me another teacher. We opened up another Kindergarten section. And so, we ended the school year with 30 students in each English-only classrooms, 20 in the smaller classroom (because we can't fit more students because of the size of the class). And then the bilingual classrooms did end up with 32 and 33. So, large class sizes, but every single space in this school is being utilized for instruction. So, even if they gave me another classroom teacher, I have nowhere to put her or him. Same thing with fourth grade: this year were adding a sixth fourth-grade classroom because our class sizes were going to be in the mid-30s. So, I advocated for another fourth-grade classroom. Again, we’re utilizing a very small classroom where we're going to put 14 students because we can't fit more than that. But those are 14 students that are not crowded in the other ones. So, every little bit helps. And I did ask the team of teachers. I said, “We have a dilemma. We have six third-grade classrooms and in fourth, we only have five. So obviously, we're squeezing in the same number of students into five classrooms versus six. I said, I can advocate, you know, for a fourth-grade classroom, but we would be utilizing this classroom. The classroom, because of its size, can only fit 15 students. But that means that that's three students each that you won't have. So instead of having 36, you'll have 33. I said, “And if we lose”—we have somewhat of a hybrid mobility rate—I said, “if we lose some fourth graders, you may possibly end up with less students.” And I said, “I highly doubt that we’re going to have, you know, like 10 fourth graders come in. That never happens.” And so like, “Yeah, no. Go ahead.” And I’m like, “So, you’re understanding that one of you is going to have a really small class size?” And like, “Yep, it doesn't matter. Just make sure that our classes are not starting off with 36.” It worked out really well because the bilingual fourth grade classroom, many of the third-grade students in the bilingual program exited the program, so they no longer need bilingual self-contained. So then, it worked out really nicely because the bilingual, the fourth-grade bilingual self-contained is only going to have 13 students. So, I moved her from a full-sized classroom to the smaller classroom because it made sense. And, again, you would think—she had been in that classroom for like nine years, and when I asked her—you know, I said, you know, and I presented the situation. I said, “Remember we had this conversation?” She goes, “Yeah.” And she kind of knew. And she goes, “You’re moving me.” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I'll help you pack.” She said, “That’s okay.” You know, she brought her sister. And again, it's—we have that culture of “let’s just support each other.” I mean, I'll be in the hallway and if I have to be moving boxes or sweeping the floor, whatever I need to do, it needs to get done, it needs to get done. And teachers have the same philosophy.

    FLORES: Okay, and then you mentioned different instances when—where you had to advocate for certain things. How do you advocate for them? Like another class?

    TABOADA: Numbers. The data doesn't lie. You know, I basically say, “Okay, we have five classrooms. Each class right now is sitting at 36. We need to open up another classroom.” And then I pose the problem, but I also pose the solution. You know and oftentimes I'll say, you know, “It's—I know that it's going to cost the district more money because they have to hire a person,” or, “Look at other schools that may have only like 13 kids in one class and 15 kids in another. Can’t you combine them and then give me that teacher?” Like, “Then it’s not costing you anything.” You know? So, it's—yeah, it's like robbing Peter to pay Paul is the saying. So, it works.

    FLORES: And are they often responsive?

    TABOADA: Mm-hmm. When it's—I think you said it earlier. When it doesn't involve a lot of money and when you pose the problem and the solution, it's hard for anyone to say no. Yeah, plus I try to stay really involved so that they see that I'm really committed, that I'm not just here like saying, “I need this. I need that,” but I'm not putting anything on my part. No, you have to show that you are putting in effort and time and that you're here long-term.

    FLORES: And then, you mentioned that when you're in education, that you shouldn’t be working for a paycheck, but, I mean, like, and that would be ideal in like an ideal world, but there are some people that come in for just for a paycheck and I've talked to students who feel like that their teachers come in for a paycheck. Like, how do you deal with something like that?

    TABAODA: As a principal or as a person, period?

    FLORES: Both.

    TABOADA: As a principal, well, I hold them accountable. Those are the classrooms that I visit more frequently. Those are the classrooms that I analyze the data a little bit deeper. Those are the teachers that I meet with on a frequent basis one-on-one to have those, you know, collaborative conversations, to kind of get them to see that yes, although it seems like you're just here for the paycheck and you don’t want to do all the extra duties, we need to make sure that you are also thinking about your students and if they're making progress and if they're making growth and if they are where they're supposed to be at this point in the school year. So, making them aware in a very professional and kind of, you know, not so direct way, I guess, that I know you're not that dedicated, but while you're here from 8:35 to 3:10, I'm going to make sure that you're teaching. You know, I'll send emails like, you know, “I walked by your class three times and I noticed you sitting behind your desk. Are you feeling okay?” Yeah, because you can’t be sitting behind your desk and all the students sit silently. Those days are gone and if you're teaching that way, well, maybe perhaps that's why your data are showing that many of your students are not showing the growth that they're supposed to be showing by the middle of the year, you know. So, that’s my job as a principal to do that.

    FLORES: And how does that differ…

    TABOADA: …from the person?

    FLORES: Yeah.

    TABOADA: I'll tell you just like I told you. Like, “If you’re here just for your paycheck, you need to get out of this field and going to, like, somewhere else because you're affecting students.” And we wouldn't be able to do that in the health field because if many of our kids—if we were doctors and many of our patients are dying, I don't think that the hospital will keep us on board. Yet, in the education field—it's hard, you know, we’re seeing that year after year after year, this particular teacher, her students are not where they're supposed to be compared to the rest of the team. Yeah, it's so challenging to get rid of a teacher like that. And this is the only field where we have, like, job security. Except for the administrators, we don't have job security. Yeah, they can let us go whenever. And so—and I share that with them. It's like, if I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I could be out the door the following year. Yes, but incompetent teachers are not. How is that fair? So, the person in me has those candid conversations and you know, they’re not always my biggest fans, but I think, at the end of the day, they understand where I'm coming from. But as a principal, of course, I have to be very professional and everything is about the data, making it very transparent. So, for example, like a mentioned earlier, I have large teams in this school and so, we give an assessment three times a year: fall, winter, and spring, so students are supposed to grow certain points from fall to winter and obviously grow more from winter to spring. So then, I make a table with reading and math and then by teacher, so then let's say that you're a teacher here and I'm a teacher and there's you know two other teachers. So then, I'll say percentage of students meeting growth by teacher, so…

    FLORES: Oh, okay.

    TABOADA: Yeah, so that it's very obvious. Like, “Oh, if I'm the teacher with the lowest growth, I’m like, ‘I'm not looking so hot right now.’” You know, and some take it very personal. Those that are reflective, they’ll walk in the door, some in tears, and say, “I can’t believe I’m the lowest in mathematics.” And if that teacher, you know, based on my observations, is strong in instruction, we start brainstorming. “Okay, when I see you in the classroom, I see that you're utilizing, you know, like, best practice. You’re definitely implementing the curriculum. When you administer the test, how is your testing environment?” Because there's so many factors that influence that one point in time. When it's a teacher that I know is not doing the best she can do, I basically let them sit there and say, “Yeah, these are the results of sitting behind your desk.” I pointed that out. You know, “I really need you to make sure that you’re taking students in small group, so that you can differ your instruction,” you know, “here's an article” or “here are materials.” So, that's where I also need to support them. [nods]
  • Synopsis: Parent-school relationship and outreach efforts
    Keywords: parents of schoolchildren; first generation; second generation; outreach; parent-school relationship; school-parent; Bingo; events
    Transcript: FLORES: Alright. And then, I also had a question, too, is—we talked a lot about, like, in school and that, working with the faculty and all that. But how do you work with the families of the children?

    TABOADA: It's more challenging because we do have a working community. So, working with the families directly, we have implemented a lot of family events and we have a balance between fun events and learning events. So, for example, last year we had Fun Family Fitness. So, they came in, we basically gave them like a 10-minute lecture on healthy eating, making good choices when it comes to snacks for their children. There's a high obesity rate in this area. So, we're trying to target that. And then we would exercise for like 30 minutes and the raffle and then they were happy. We also had family learning events, where they would come in and we would model what in the—by grade level—and we would model what the expectation was in second grade and what the teacher does in the classroom that they can support at home. So, we have those family learning events. Then we also have, as I mentioned, we have the fitness. We have, like, connecting it to math and reading. And then we have just fun events. We have Costume Bash, Jingle Bash, Spaghetti with Santa. What other events do we have? We do have PBIS Bingo. So, that's kind of like fun and learning and so we teach the parents and the families that it's about, you know, being respectful, being responsible, being ready to learn, but also making sure that we stay positive and being proactive. So, when we notice that a student, at home or at school, is making a positive choice, pointing that out. “Hey, great job. You picked up the garbage. It’s not even yours. You're very responsible.” And so, we’ll model things like that. And our goal is for the parents to start using the same language that we're using. So, like, we never say to a student, “Be quiet.” We say, “Level zero.” And they know that level zero means I shouldn't hear you. And then we have different levels. So, we tell the parents, “We’re working with the library to use the same language.” So, we tell the parents, “At home, instead of saying, ‘¡Callense!’ [Shut up!] you know, ‘Baja la voz.’ [Lower your voice] Doesn't it sound more, like, it doesn't sound nicer?” You know, and things like that. Just making sure that we treat our children with kindness.

    FLORES: And what is their response to things like that?

    TABOADA: Very positive, those that come. My—let me give an example. For the Jingle Bash, we had at least 400 kids. At least. That gym was jam-packed, and people were coming and going. You know, it was like non-stop the entire night and it was like two and a half hours of fun, you know. When we have our family learning events, we probably have 20 families. So, it’s like, “Priorities, priorities.” And that's when we came up with the idea of family Bingo. So, like our—one was for PBIS, so they learn about our behavior expectations. And then we had math Bingo. So, they're still playing and t they’re still earning prizes that we get different donations. So, for example, our math Bingo, it was well-attended. We had about 30 families, which is a lot for any learning event. So, we had about 30 families and then, I'll say, “In fifth grade mathematics, students are expected to learn fractions: ½ plus ½.” And if they have the one on their card—and so, I don't give them the answers, I give the problem. Yeah. And then I'll say, “A dime: how many cents?” So, for second grade, they have to learn the coins. So, “In second grade, students are learning about coins. Un dime, a dime, how many cents is it? ¿Cuántos centavos tiene?” So then, if they have like the .10, because I don't put like 10¢. I make it into a decimal. So then, as a family, they have to figure out that's the answer and then when they get they get Bingo. So, we've gotten creative, so that we can bring the families in. So, our family Bingo nights have been well-attended. Our family learning nights? Not so much. That’s like you're, you know, you're sitting in a classroom you’re studying CATs and you don't get anything out of it, but with a Bingo, you’re winning prizes, so they're here. Then we have, like, little snacks here and there.

    FLORES: And then, why don't you think most people come out for the learning nights?

    TABOADA: I think that, well, I'm assuming that they're getting home. They're probably tired, having to cook dinner. I mean, I don't know. I wish I had the answer. That's one of the things that, going into my third year, I realized that the family learning nights are not well-attended and that kind of demoralizes the staff because we put in all this work and then they don't come. But we realized that our Bingo nights, they’re well-attended. So, we're going to continue with our Bingo nights. We're going to continue with our family fitness nights. And we have to expand on that Bingo some, another way so that we can have more people come in.

    FLORES: And what are usually your outreach efforts to get the parents to come in? TABOADA: Oh, we have a monthly calendar of events. So, we put all the events in the calendar and then we do robocalls. So, we call all the families—basically record a message and all the families get a phone call. Then they hang up on us and then they call the school. [laughs] “¿Me hablaron?” But that's just the way it is. We also send flyers. So, the calendar goes home every—the last Friday of every month. And then, let’s say we were going to have family Bingo on Friday. We’ll send a flyer on Monday. Again, as a reminder, we'll do the robocall. And then, we announce it in the intercom. “Niños y niñas, digan a sus papás que les traiga a jugar Bingo con la familia. Pueden ganar unos premios.” [Boys and girls, tell your parents to bring you to play Family Bingo.] And we just advertise it we make it sound like it's going to be so much fun. And, a lot of times, it is a lot of fun, you know, and the more, the merrier. Yeah.
  • Synopsis: The importance bilingualism in the culture of Melrose Park Elementary and at home
    Keywords: bilingualism; multiculturalism; prejudice; culture; customs; Mexican values; opportunities
    Transcript: FLORES: And then, I noticed that, like, as you've been talking about, like, experiences with different students and stuff or just now with the intercom, that you do switch from English to Spanish or you do talk to them in Spanish. Do you feel like that's important?

    TABOADA: For the students to hear?

    FLORES: Yeah.

    TABOADA: Absolutely. And they like it.

    FLORES: Why?

    TABOADA: Well, because, again, staying true to our language and our culture and our values and making sure that they see that, “Hey, being bilingual is awesome.” You know, like I'll tell them, “You know, if you're bilingual, double the opportunities because if they need somebody that speaks Spanish, hey, you know, you're going to get that job,” and things like that. I just—I don't know what—there’s nothing wrong with speaking a different language that's not English. So, we make the announcements in both languages. Next year, we’re even going to do the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish.

    FLORES: Oh, wow.

    TABOADA: I was able to find it online and I kind of stole that idea from another school. And so, I heard it, I’m like, “Hey, that’s neat.” We’ve always done the announcements in both languages, but now to do the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish, I think it's going to be more powerful. Yeah.

    FLORES: Why do you think it's so important for them to hear both languages?

    TABOADA: Because it's probably what they're listening at home and I want them to know that their home language is valued. But even, like, even in my personal life—a quick example: my son's friends went to visit and I was sort of like—like there was one white, one Indian, one Middle Eastern—Michael, one Filipino, and of course my son, Mexican. Maybe there was—yeah, there was somebody else. I can’t remember who it was. But anyway, they were like the multicultural—the United Nations there, and I was talking to my son in Spanish. I'm like, “¿Quieren comer Vicente de una vez la pizza?” [Vicente, do you want to eat pizza?] And then one of the kids is like, “Hey, I understood pizza.”

    FLORES: [laughs]

    TABOADA: And so, I looked at him and I go, “Does that sound funny to you?” And I guess I must have made a face like, and he goes, “No” and I'm like, “No, I'm just asking.” I'm like, “I'm not mad.” I said, “Yeah, I'm just asking.” You know, of course these are like 18, 19-year-olds. I’m like, “I'm just asking.” I've known them all their life. “I'm just asking,” I said, “because you made the comment, like all you understood was pizza.” He goes, “Well, because I didn't think you spoke Spanish to Vicente.” I'm like, “What?” And I’m like, “¡Tito!” He goes, “I tell them. They don't believe me.” And I’m like, “At home, I try to only speak Spanish to them because I don't want them to lose it.” I said, “Obviously you guys know that I'm fluent English speaker, so I use it because I want to, not because I can't speak English,” which is typically the case. So, I do the same thing here. I tell the kids—I said, “I use Spanish and I speak Spanish because that was my home language. That was my first language. I said, “And I'm proud of that.” I said, “And if you hear an accident, it's not because of Spanish, it’s because I’m from the south side of Chicago.” I said, “Because if I speak in Spanish, I probably have an accent there, too.” And they started laughing. Like, “Sí, maestra. Sí, es bien chistoso su español a veces.” [Yeah, teacher. Yeah, your Spanish is quite funny sometimes.] I’m like, “Well, in both languages. That's just a reality of being bilingual.” And I’ll crack a joke here and there. I'm like, “Well, those that are bilingual are allowed to make double the mistakes.”

    FLORES: [laughs]

    TABOADA: And they just kind of like look at me like, “Okay.”

    FLORES: Oh my gosh. And then, and I guess the reason I'm asking is because—I guess it’s another question. Do you feel like the way your parents raised you to only speak Spanish in the home and taking you to Mexico often, do you feel that helped you?

    TABOADA: Absolutely. It made a big influence or that has influenced the way, I think, perceive things as far as the language, the Spanish language. I remember my parents saying, “Si no hablan español, ¿cómo le van a hablar con sus abuelitos que viven en México?” [If you don’t speak Spanish, how are you going to speak with your grandparents who live in Mexico?] And I tell my kids the same thing. I’m like, “Tito, si no practicas hablar el español”—because they do understand all of it. They read it and write it, too. And I’m like, “Tito, si no practicas hablar el español, ¿cómo se va a placticar con tu abuelito? [Tito, if you don’t practice speaking Spanish, how are you going to chat with your grandpa?] And they just kind of look at me like, “Okay,” and I know that when we go visit my parents every other week, they have conversations in Spanish with my parents and I could can see that my dad feels real proud, you know, because he knows that I am instilling the same values of the language, I should say, to my kids. So, it definitely had a big influence because I don't want them to be embarrassed to speak Spanish. Unfortunately, in the area I live, sometimes people assume that we speak—and it’s not just the Spanish speakers, but, you know, the Middle Eastern or the Indian people—that they speak their home language because they're not able to speak English. So, I always make it very clear. “Oh, no, I choose. It's a choice that I'm making to speak Spanish to Nacho, so Nacho doesn’t lose his Spanish.” He just turned seven. So, at this age, if I don't speak Spanish to him, he's going to lose it, eventually. And I don’t want that. So, even when we're playing soccer, you know—my son and I coach a soccer team—I am obviously speaking English to the rest of the team because they don't understand Spanish, but for Nacho, I'm like, “Nacho, patar el pelota. Vete al goal. Vete al pelotería.” [Nacho, kick the ball. Go to the goal.] You know, so I try to use, like, not just the basic Spanish, but try to use the high-level Spanish that transfers into English. Yeah. And my husband does the same thing. He’ll be like, “Colabora. No estés deteco.” [Work together. Don’t miss.] He won't say, like, “¡Parale!” [Stop!] You know, like, we always try to use a rich Spanish language, so that they can use it, because a lot of the words are cognates. They're similar. Like collaborate/colaborar, you know, respect/respetar, you know. So, we always point that out to the boys. Like, if it sounds like English, you know—so if it sounds like English and I'm saying a Spanish word, and you know the English meaning, most likely I'm saying the same thing. You know, so, like, “No tehaz que no me entiendes. [I don’t believe that you don’t understand me.] You know?

    FLORES: And then—I hope you don't mind me asking—what is your primary language? What do you feel is your primary language?

    TABOADA: I can't choose one or the other. I'll say, “I cook in Spanish. I teach in English.” Unfortunately, that's the reality. Like, if you ask me for a recipe. I'm not a good cook, but let's say you ask me for a recipe. How to hacer una torta. [make a sandwich] Like, I would give you the full instructions in Spanish because that's how my brain is thinking at the time. But if you ask me to help you solve a Calculus problem, there's no way that I could do that in Spanish because that's not how I was trained to teach math in Spanish. I struggled when I had to teach Algebra I to the newcomers. I had to balance between Spanish and English, because I wanted them to learn the content in Mathematics. So, I'll never forget “perimeter” in Spanish: perímetro, but I would say perimetro, right, because I didn't know where to put the accent because I wasn't trained to teach math in Spanish. Everything was in English. So, I remember this kid would always be like, “Perímetro, maestra. Perímetro.” Even till this day, when I say the word perimeter in Spanish, like I have to remember, like, “Wait, wait, wait. Is it perimetro? No es perimetro. Es perímetro. Perímetro.” So, I have to remind myself. Where in English, I can give a full—I mean I could teach a Calculus lesson with minimum thinking.

    FLORES: Yeah, because I was going to say, is it not difficult to kind of think and say, “I'm in the home. I'm going to speak on—I'm going to try to speak only in Spanish.”

    TABOADA: I never thought about it that way, but no.

    FLORES: No?

    TABOADA: Because I'm so used to it. Yeah.

    FLORES: Even, like, when like your first child was born?

    TABOADA: Oh, we only spoke Spanish to him.

    FLORES: Okay.

    TABOADA: Yeah, we only spoke Spanish to him because we wanted to make sure—well, first of all, when he was born, my husband had only been here two years, so his English was not well-developed at all, and I didn't want him to listen to English, broken English. I wanted him to pick up a really strong, rich language. We chose that we would speak to him in Spanish. So, we have all his videos where he started talking. He started talking all in Spanish. We did switch to English to prepare him for school because we lived in the city of Chicago and I did not want him to go into a bilingual Spanish program because back then—I don't know how it is now—but back then, in my opinion, they were not—it was more like the students that were struggling, they would put them in self-contained bilingual. And so, it’s like, “No.” You know, I want him to go into a monolingual classroom and I'll take care of the Spanish at home. So, I mean, it worked out. Yeah.

    FLORES: Okay. And I guess I'm just asking because most second-generation Latinos, like, they sometimes they'll struggle with the Spanish and even though they want their children to learn English, like, it's hard for them to be—to think like, “Okay, I have to talk in Spanish. Now I have to talk in Spanish in the home.” My cousin, like, has the same problem with her child and I was actually talking about—I interviewed her as well—and I was talking to her about it and she's like, “I really want him to, but I know he's not going to because I talk to him…”

    TABOADA: But she already has a defeated attitude and that's what I talked about earlier. You know, like, if you talk to my husband, he's very different, right? So, he's like—I have to remind him now to speak in Spanish at home. Like, “Vicente hablales en español.” [Vicente, speak to them in Spanish.] And he’s just, he goes, “Oh, de veras. Se me olvida.” [Oh, right. I forget.] Because he’s been here 20 years. He just earned his degree, his Associate’s in applied science. He’s working at a hospital as an ultrasound technician. You know, so he’s also got a level of education in English that obviously he's proud of, but he kind of forgets. And I’m like, “¿Cómo se te”—and I tell him, like, “¿Cómo se te va a olvidar hablarles en español si tú vinistes de México?” [How do you forget to speak to them in Spanish when you came from Mexico?] And he just kind of looks and he goes, “Es que a veces me hace más fácil. Pues, todo el día hablando inglés en el hospital” [It’s just that sometimes it’s easier for me because I speak English all day at the hospital.] And he also says, like, when he gets patients who are only Spanish speakers, he says, he goes, “Te entiendo.” When he tells it, he goes, “Te entiendo que devociones que trabajas por la comunidad latina. Sobre cuando llega”—he calls them “my paisas”—“cuando llegan mis paisas al hospital, se me dan justo,” dice, “poder atenderlos en el idioma que ellos entienden mejor. Gracias a dios, te entiendo en ese aspecto.” So, he’s kind of seeing where—because he just started like two, three months ago—so he’s kind of seeing where I’m coming from. You have that special feeling like you’re helping someone that typically doesn’t get a lot of help. You know, that’s just the way it is. So, I guess, if I had to choose, it depends on the setting. If I’m out with friends and they’re all Spanish speakers, we speak both. But, obviously, with my Chinese friend, it’s all in English. Yeah.

    FLORES: And then, I just in my research that I've been doing. Have you heard of author and prominent activist Richard Rodriguez?

    TABOADA: [shakes head and indicates no]

    FLORES: Well, he is actually a Latino who advocates against bilingual education. He kind of puts in his own personal narrative, in saying how he was very reluctant to learn English at first and because he was reluctant to learn English, it kept him from kind of like going out, talking to other people, trying in school, and all this stuff. So, he he doesn't think it's a good idea to keep…

    TABOADA: …our home language?

    FLORES: Pretty much and he really encourages parents to help their children kind of like assimilate into American culture because he says that that is the best way to learn a new language and, I mean, in that aspect I—you can't really argue with him there, because when you are learning a new language, like, you know, you do have to immerse yourself in it. But I mean, I mean, I guess I'm not trying to go one way or another with this. I'm just trying to ask you kind of what you would say in response to that.

    TABOADA: Okay. I guess I would say, I'm a product of bilingual program in Chicago Public Schools back in the ‘80s. I entered Kindergarten in an English-only classroom in 1980. I remember Miss Brown moving her lips and thinking, “¿Qué me está diciendo esta señora? Okay, este niño está agarrando su lápiz, fuera mi lápiz.” [What is this lady saying to me? Okay, that kid is grabbing his pencil, I’ll take out my pencil.” You know, like, I remember having to figure out what I had to do. I think a month into the school year, they must have found a bilingual teacher because I think they had every intention of making the class bilingual, but they couldn't find a bilingual teacher in 1980. Then we got Miss Barahonda. Miss Barahonda came in full of energy. You know, taught us all in Spanish. And we had—I remember we had time throughout the day that we were learning English. First grade, same thing. I understood—started understanding more. Second grade, I remember that I was able to read in English. How I learned to read in English, I don't know. But I remember, like, reading books in English in second grade. And then in third grade, I remember being like half a day with an English-speaking teacher and half a day with a Spanish people teacher. You know, and of course at the time, you're not sitting there analyzing it. I can analyze it now that I'm an adult. And then, in fourth grade, it was Miss Donovan. Done; no more Spanish. So, I'm a product of a bilingual program that was kind of piecemeal, right? Because I started with Miss Brown and then they switched to another teacher and then in third grade, like half of the day with one and then half of the day with the other. And I wasn't the only one. There was a whole group of us. And then in fourth grade, you know, I don't know if I met on state standards back then—I mean, on state testing—back then it was the Iowa Test. I don’t even remember me getting my scores, to be honest, but I do remember going into seventh grade into the honors math group. So, I obviously knew enough math—I mean, I obviously knew enough English to do high level math. And I was, in eighth grade, I was like in honors science, honors social studies, honors English, honors math. And in high school, same thing. Most of my classes were in honors, yet I'm a product of a bilingual program coming from a home that we did not speak English. So, I would have to disagree with this activist because I am a product. My brother, who is also an assistant principal, is a product of the same system where at home, we only spoke Spanish because my parents, till this day, do not speak English. My—I gave you the example earlier with my son—he is—he’ll be 19 this year. So, he was born in ‘96. We only spoke Spanish to him the first three or four years of his life when he was getting ready—but I did read to him in English. I have to say that. So, the spoken language was all in Spanish, but when I would read to him, which was every night, it was all in English, Dr. Seuss. And so, when he entered preschool, he was already reading fluently in English. So, he never qualified to be in the bilingual program. But he only heard spoken Spanish for the first three or four years of his life. I mean, obviously he heard English in Sesame Street and—so, when it comes to English, you are immersed in that language, even if it's not at home, so that's where I would disagree. It's hard to become—it's hard to learn a second language when that's not the dominant language. So, let's say that I wanted to learn Polish. It will be almost impossible for me to learn Polish because I'm not immersed in that language, nor do I have connections that could teach me that language. But if you throw me—send me to Poland, right? I'm already bilingual. There's some similarities between languages—and I’m not I'm not a linguist, but I know there are similarities among languages—that I would start picking up Polish because I would be immersed in it. That doesn't mean that my Spanish or my English are going to hurt me from learning Polish. If anything, it’s going to help me because I already know the difference in languages. So, that assimilation, I know that we were the Melting Pot. I think—and I don’t want to speak on behalf of the Hispanics or the white population—but I think sometimes, that's the problem, that we want to become something that we're not. You know, it's like I still want to bring my piñata at my kid’s birthday, you know. That's a very traditional Mexican, that’s a very Mexican tradition. You know, going back to the get-together my son had. You know, the kids were, you know, I was like, “I know they wanted pops. I gave them pop.” And what does Tito want? He wants milk. Pizza con leche. And he's like, “Ew, Vicente.” And I'm like, “Hey, I grew up eating pizza with milk. Big deal.” You know, all my kids eat pizza with milk. I mean, it's just the way—I knew they were going to make a comment. He didn't care and I didn’t care. We are who we are. I think we need to stay true to what is going to make us unique as individuals, but also making sure that we’re respectful towards the others. Yeah. I don’t agree with him.

    FLORES: [laughs]

    TABOADA: I don’t agree with him. Like, “Hey, I made it.” You know, I have a Master’s and my husband came to this country when he was only 18, you know, we got married at 19. He put me through school and now he just finished school himself. So, he came with only knowing Spanish. If that was true a hundred percent, then nobody would be able to go through school if they didn't speak only English.

    FLORES: Do you feel like embracing your language and your culture has helped you kind of like be certain in your cultural identity?

    TABOADA: Repeat the question again.

    FLORES: Do you feel like embracing your language and your culture has helped you be more certain about your cultural identity?

    TABOADA: I think my parents did an awesome job making sure that I stay true to my culture, values, and language. I'm not sure if I would be a different person if I would have had different parents. Everything comes from home, right? The fact that I speak and continue to speak Spanish to my kids in public, even when I'm in the middle of Elk Grove, which is predominantly white population, is sending a strong message to my boys. No matter where I'm at, I'm still Hispanic. I’m proud to speak Spanish. And when I choose to speak it, that's because that's my choice. So, it all comes from home. I'm pretty sure if I would have been born another nationality, with my parents, I would be proud to be that other nationality. So, I think if we if everybody at home—if the parents—if we, as parents, stay true to our to our beliefs, our values—whatever that might be—there's no right or wrong beliefs, but we are told that it's wrong, right? So, we need to learn to stand up for what we believe in, who we are—and I always say, “As long as it's not offending somebody else.” Because that's where problems begin. As far as identity, I mean, I consider myself, I guess, to be a pretty strong person and I don't care what people think or say about me personally and I always maintain that high level of respect. If they're doing something that I'm thinking, “Ooh, that looks weird,” I stop myself. Like that, I'm very cognizant of. Like, I stop myself. I'm like, “Why am I judging? They might have their reasons.” So then, that's what I'm trying to instill in my kids as well. I mean, I say that here, too. Even though we're all Hispanic, with different religions that we have, people practice different things, right? There's some religions that they don't celebrate Halloween, so then that day, the kids don't come to school, you know? We have to respect that. We can't force anyone to believe or do what we want them to do because it's what we want. Everybody has their own—everybody makes their own decision at the end of the day.

    FLORES: I guess I'm just asking because a lot of younger people that I've talked to, when I ask them their ethnicity, they’re very unsure of what to say. They're very, “Well, I don't really feel Mexican. Like, I can't completely call myself Mexican,” or “I can't—but I can't—it feels weird to say American, too.” And like, I don't know, you know? Like, they fight it. It’s very hard for them. And then, some people feel like they have a loss, like kind of, because they don't know how to identify themselves. Others, like, they really don't think about it that often. I mean, I haven't interviewed very many people, but from what I've seen, those who can probably say, whatever it is, like, “Oh, I'm Mexican,” or “I'm Mexican-American,” or, you know, like, I get this impression that they're very strong and they're very confident and that helps them move on and it kind of helps them block out, like, racism and like you were saying right now, like, “I will speak Spanish in a predominantly white neighborhood and I have no problem with that.” Like, “I'm fine doing that”. So, like, I guess that's why I was asking you.

    TABOADA: So, you're seeing similarit—you're seeing patterns, I guess.

    FLORES: Yeah.

    TABOADA: Are you trying to identify patterns?

    FLORES: Mm-hmm.

    TABOADA: If you asked my kids—and they’re second generation—what nationality are you? All three will say Mexican. All three. Yeah. When we're watching—we're big soccer fans—when we're watching, you know, U.S. vs. Mexico, you can only guess who they’re cheering for.

    FLORES: Right.

    TABOADA: Mexico. Yeah, I mean, when they have the chance—like, we just went to the Copa de Oro at Soldier Field, to the game. They were excited that Mexico was going to come and play here in Chicago, so we can go see them. And when the Mexican team is playing, I mean, they're like ready, you know? Getting sus chips and salsa. And I find that interesting because they’re like ready to celebrate el Partido, right? Where, yesterday the United States faced—I can’t remember who they faced yesterday—and I have to tell them like—I’m like, “Guys, ya empezó el partido.” [Guys, the game has already started.] Because, you know—they're like, “Oh, yeah, that's right,” you know. So, I even see it there. Like—and sometimes I do make fun of them. I’m like, “You guys are”—when Mexico faces the United States—I’m like, “You guys are face”—I’m like, “You traitors.” And then, but—they’re just all fun and games. But deep inside I'm so happy that they truly do feel that Mexican culture. And they've had—I don't want to say that they've had their bumps in the road because of that, but it bothers them—like, my oldest, he has no accent in English, obviously, and he was in AP classes and, unfortunately, he was probably one or two out of the entire class that were Hispanic. They're not—Hispanic students, unfortunately, are not typically in the advanced placement classes and it bothers him when people make comments to him like, “Oh, you're a smar Mexican.” He's like, “What do you mean? We're all smart. My mom's a principal.” Like, he'll be the first one to say like, “My dad came here. He already has his Associate’s, probably more than other people that were born here have,” you know. So, he doesn't get it and I think that sometimes it bothers him. They'll make comments like that. Yeah.
  • Synopsis: Opportunities for social mobility in the U.S. vs. Mexico
    Keywords: opportunity; opportunities; social mobility
    Transcript: FLORES: And, in the same way that you kind of teach them to embrace their Mexican culture, do you teach them like—do you tell them, “You are by birthright American?

    TABOADA: Absolutely. That's when they need to be proud of that, too. I'm like because we have the opportunity to feel proud of two different—I don’t want to say countries—but the two different cultures. You—we wouldn't—and unfortunately—I'm going to sound very negative now—I think if my parents would have stayed in Mexico, right? My parents were, I guess, lower middle class in Mexico. I think we would have stayed lower-middle-class, you know, for probably generation after generation. Where here, I see it, like, this country gives people the opportunity to go from one class to another with hard work, being smart, being dedicated, and making sure that you don't lose sight of what you want to do and be. So, that's the huge difference that I see between both countries. I feel like, in Mexico, if you're born rich, you stay rich. If you're born poor, you stay poor. And here, I feel like you can get out of poverty. You're never going to be super rich—you might, maybe—but you can get out of poverty. You don't have to, you know be on, you know, food stamps or whatever it's called right—Link. You don't have to be on the Link card or on Medicaid for the rest of your life. That's just the support that you need until you get up on your feet and do something with your life. Where, I feel that's the biggest difference. So, I always tell my kids, “This country gives us the opportunity if we take advantage of it.” I said, “So, we have to be grateful for the opportunities we've had.” Because I was born here and now, you know, they were born here and I tell them that doesn't mean that —and I do want them to marry a Mexican—and I do make that very clear.

    FLORES: [laughs]

    TABOADA: [laughs] I do. I mean, I'm not going to lie. And they know it and they're probably going to marry somebody, another nationality just to go against what I want. Yes, but they'll keep their Spanish. So, I do. I do remind them. I’m like, “We’ll sing el himno nacional de México and we’ll sing the national anthem in English.” We do both. Yeah.

    FLORES: Okay, well, I think that’s everything.

    TABOADA: That’s it.

    FLORES: Thank you so much.

    TABOADA: You’re welcome.

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