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My History and Positionality 1

My History and Positionality


Crystal Puentes
EDUC 405 B - Professor Grenada Brazzeller
March 21
st
, 2014










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Growing up in a lower socio-economic area, where violence and drug abuse was a part of
my elementary years, I had never recognized the impact that my positionality and life
experiences had in the formation of my identity and teaching. Being a Mexican America woman
in the field of education at this point in time is still a rarity, which is one of the reasons why I
believe it is so important for individuals from diverse backgrounds to go into academia. Todays
students are tomorrows future, but in order for educators to provide an equitable education, it is
important for each individual to reflect upon their positionality and begin to realize how this may
affect their teaching. Positionality encompasses a persons history, family, race, ethnicity, socio-
economic status, and gender. All of these factors impact the type of experiences and history that
define the individuals we become. Therefore, in reflecting on my own positionality, I will be
better able to evaluate and face the aspects of my positionality that have elicited certain
experiences and shaped my identity; understand how my positionality may affect my ability to
relate to my students in todays urban schools; and finally, encounter aspects of myself and of my
students that I have yet to grasp fully.
Reflecting on my positionality, there are two things that immediately come to mind;
living in lower socio-economic areas and how this has affected my family and my identity.
Living in South and East San Jose, I was exposed to many things that people usually do not
experience in their lifetime. Although there were definitely great family moments growing up,
unfortunately, its the memories involving acts of aggression, drug abuse, and my familys
eviction that continually seem to stand out from my childhood. Sadly, this is probably why I
have such few recollections of elementary school. But in reflecting on my past, I have come to
realize just how significant these years were in shaping my identity. From having a home, to
being required to live with relative after relative; I remember the night that my family was forced
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to put our things in our van and find a place to stay. Separated, due to our financial instability, I
remember my two sisters staying with different friends of the family while my mother, father,
brother, and closest sister in age, stayed with relatives. It was probably one of the toughest
times, but it is a part of my history that has impacted how I perceive the world. Appreciating the
little things in life, understanding that every individual has a story, and recognizing the
importance of providing a helping hand to those in need; my background has impacted how open
my heart is to not only my friends and family, but to my students.
Looking back, I have also come to terms with the fact that my brother has impacted my
positionality. Not finding a sense of community and support system in school or at home due to
his diagnosis of having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, he had joined the gang lifestyle
and quickly developed an addiction to Crystal Meth. Experiencing highs and lows due to his
drug abuse, I remember the fear and sadness I would feel whenever I saw my father and brother
physically fighting in our house. In and out of prison, my brother was someone I loved, but
feared. Observing the power that drugs had on his life; my brother is now homeless in spite of
our desire and attempts to help him. Although I was so little when the hardships began for him,
his lifes story has motivated me to go to college, receive my masters, and teach in urban
schools. Understanding the fact that our educational system in lower socio-economic areas has
created a school to prison pipeline, Noguera (2003) states that, throughout the United States,
schools most frequently punish the students who have the greatest academic, social, and
economic needs (p.341). Providing the learning environment that he did not have, but yet
desired; I am determined to use my experiences to help students like my brother find their way.
My role as a Mexican American woman has also become a tremendous factor in my
positionality. Being the minority and not feeling a sense of acceptance by the majority, it is
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unfortunate but true, that individuals are judged and generalized by their race, ethnicity, or
involvement with a certain group, instead of their abilities. Lee Anne Bell (2007) summarizes a
Puerto Rican womans struggles in stating that she, may wish to be viewed as an individual
and acknowledged for her personal talents and abilities. Yet she can never fully escape the
dominant societies assumptions about her racial/ethnic group, language, and gender (p. 9). I
can completely relate to this Puerto Rican womans experience because there have been many
occasions where people have not interpreted my achievements or actions solely on my abilities.
When I decided to get married at the age of 21, I was asked if it was because I was pregnant.
And when I was accepted at the University of California, Los Angeles, I was repeatedly told that
I should be proud of my achievement being a Latina in higher education. I understand that some
of these statements are not meant to be hurtful, but at the same time, I have come to realize that
my identity as a Mexican American woman has impacted and shaped how people may act and
perceive me. Going against the Restricting level of oppression as stated by Lee Anne Bell, it
is my goal to defy this idea where, a girl in the United States in 1996, for example, if she is poor
or of color, is still unlikely to imagine herself as president of a country (p.4). Understanding
that my race, ethnicity, and gender may affect how others perceive me is key. However, never
should it define what an individual can achieve or one day become. Race is what is seen on the
outside, but what is never realized and discussed is that we all look the same on the inside.
Depending on the diverse makeup of the student population at any particular school, if
the majority of the students are Mexican or Latino, my ability to not only relate to my students,
but also provide a culturally relative curriculum, is further permitted. Being given the
opportunity to discuss culture, childhood stories, and traditions; my students will be given the
chance to see their cultural backgrounds reflected in the curriculum. Also, because I am able to
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speak Spanish, I have recognized that my ability to connect with English Language Learners and
their parents increases. Language is not only a method for communicating with students and
their families, but it is also a reflection of an individuals culture, experiences, and identity. Diaz
and Flores (2001) mention the connection between a students identity and their language by
stating that, first it emphasizes the importance and value of cultural and social experiences in
the process of individual human development. These experiences, in fact, constitute the childs
identity; they are who he or she is (p. 44). Therefore, by relating and acknowledge students
backgrounds and culture, I will be able to provide an environment that is not only culturally
aware, but is also accepting of my students identities.
Growing up in a lower socio-economic area, my ability to relate to some of my students
struggles is further facilitated. Understanding how it feels to be hungry and struggle financially
for school supplies; these are just some of the experiences that occurred during my last student
teaching placement that I have also experienced and was exposed to throughout my childhood.
When students enter a classroom, they are not just presenting one side of themselves; for each
individual is made up of multiple experiences and histories that define who they are. Therefore,
as stated by Darder (2002), . (each) student comes into the classroom as a whole person and
should be respected and treated as such (p.98). With this being said, because of my experience
living in lower socio-economic areas, I understand that my ability to connect and provide the
support needed academically and personally to my students in urban areas is increased. Lee
Anne Hooks confirms my belief in stating that, history can suggest strategies for acting in the
present to address current problems and learn from past mistakes (p. 6). Recognizing that there
is always a reason behind why a child is falling asleep in class, acting aggressively, or is wearing
the same clothes on a daily basis; I am better able to relate to my past experiences to provide a
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safe, welcoming, and culturally diverse classroom that fulfills their needs and is accessible to all
of my students.
Recognizing the effects of educators on my brothers life, I have also acknowledged the
impact that disciplinary actions have on a students confidence in their abilities academically and
personally. When a student is singled out and yelled at, their security inside the classroom is
questioned and is at times lost. Reflecting on my positionality and the effects that my brother
had on my life, I am even more aware of how my actions and tone of voice may affect my
students. Providing positive feedback, incorporating differentiated instruction, and creating an
environment where students feel comfortable in their learning; students who need additional
assistance will be given the opportunity to succeed. It is unfortunate but true, that often the label
of being at risk, further debilitates students. Valencia and Solrzano (1997) explain that, part
of the problem with the concept of at risk is that it tends to overlook any strengths and promise
of the student so-labeled, while drawing attention to the presumed shortcomings of the
individual (p.196). Reflecting on Valencia and Solrzanos explanation, I am given the
opportunity to build off of my prior experiences and use my brothers life in understanding how
to work with at risk students or students with special needs. Each child deserves the chance to
access the curriculum, but it is pivotal for educators to differentiate students access for learning
to occur.
Analyzing all aspects of myself and of my students, the one factor that I have yet to fully
understand is the impact of an individuals sexuality in the classroom. Whether a teacher is
heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual; I have yet to fully comprehend the way in which my
heterosexuality may affect my teaching. I understand that I may not be able to relate to members
of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community, but I do believe in
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creating an environment where the whole child is recognized and valued. Implementing
material that emphasizes the need for individuals to be accepting of each others differences and
similarities, it is my goal to become more aware of topics related to the LGBTQ population. In
all honesty, incorporating such topics within the curriculum is just as important as bringing in
topics about race, ethnicity, and gender into the classroom. Therefore, in order to provide an
equitable education that is relatable to all of my students, it is my goal to ensure that each
individual is reflected in the curriculum being presented.
Overall, in reflecting on my positionality, I still believe that there is so much more to
learn. However, I have realized that the color of my skin, my background, the languages I speak,
and my history have all impacted the person I am today and will continue to impact my teaching.
I am a Mexican American woman who speaks Spanish and grew up in a lower socio-economic
area. However, I am also a Mexican American woman who speaks Spanish and is currently
receiving a higher education at the University of California, Los Angeles. Whether the world
prefers my first or second explanation of my positionality is up to their perception and
interpretation. However, in spite of what is seen on the outside, I am a human being with a
dream to teach todays youth. During my first year of teaching: my ethnicity will allow me to
relate to my students, my language will give me the opportunity to speak to Spanish speaking
children and their parents, my experience in lower socio-economic areas will give me the chance
to understand my students struggles, and my brother will affect the way that I interact with each
individual in my classroom. Are there positives and negatives in being a Latina who grew up in
urban schools and has such a history? In all honesty, I believe that there are only positives and
challenges that I will have to continue to face and work with alongside my class. However, no
matter the diversity and background of the students in my classroom, I will make sure that each
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culture, language, history, and individual is recognized and supported; for each child deserved to
be an active participant in his/her learning and receive an equitable education no matter the
circumstance.




















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References

Adams, M., Bell, L. A., & Griffin, P. (2007). Teaching for diversity and social justice (2nd ed.).
Theoretical foundations for social justice education, (pp. 1-14). New York, NY, US:
Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, xxi, 471 pp.

Darder, A. (2002). Teaching as an Act of Love: The Classroom and Critical Praxis.
In, Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love (pp. 91-149). Boulder, CO:
Westview Press.

Daz, E., & Flores, B. (2001). Teacher as sociocultural, sociohistorical mediator: Teaching to the
potential. In M. de la Luz Reyes & J. J. Halcn & (Eds.) The best for our children:
Critical perspectives on literacy for Latino students (pp. 29-47). New York: Teachers
College Press.

Noguera, P. (2003). Schools, prisons, and social implications of punishment: Rethinking
disciplinary practices. Theory Into Practice, 42(4), 341-50.

Valencia, R. R., & Solrzano, D. G. (1997). Contemporary deficit thinking. In R. R. Valencia
(Ed.), The evolution of deficit thinking: Educational thought and practice (pp. 160210).
London: Falmer Press.