Brave Solidarity: My Experience as a Teacher of Color

The little girl on the left is me. Little did I know that two decades later, I would become Ms. Miyamoto. With my prior schooling, that was out of the question for me.

Growing up in Colorado, I was surrounded by middle-class, Christian-believing, monolingual, Caucasian classmates and teachers. As for myself, I was not one of them. Going down the class list and calling out name after name of Abby, Tyler, or Michelle, I saw my teacher start to read the names slower as it grew closer to mine on the first days of school. “Ree-ah-nah” they would say in bold confidence. Brushing off their seemingly slight mistake in my name, little did I know that each and every time I chose not to correct my teachers, I was slowly erasing justice for myself. I desired teachers who would take the time to learn how to say my name and the meaning behind it. 

My injustices that I experienced as an elementary school girl did not end here.

As someone who visited the public library every week with my mother and checked out the maximum number of books I could, I fostered a love for reading at a young age. However, my teachers and school did not believe in my reading abilities. I remember being taken out of class with another East Asian boy every once in a while to go “play some fun games” with the same lady. She would show me cards with pictures and ask me to explain or write what I saw happening. I never understood why she wanted me to describe a picture where kids were playing on the playground or eating a picnic lunch at the park. I now know that these were in no doubt assessments of my English skills. I was a victim to a single story here—that there was no way an Asian girl like myself could speak English as a native. I needed a teacher who looked past this single story plastered upon me. 

Needless to say, moving to Washington had its immediate privileges with East Asian supermarkets close by and people who understand how countries such as Korea, China, and Japan are distinct. This may sound comical, yet this was something uncommon in my Colorado hometown. I  immediately found my bubble and comfort zone being surrounded by my Asian culture and fellow Asian Americans in Washington. My Asian American friends and myself were supposed to be the elites of the schools who excelled in math and science, who aspired to be in successful Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) majors in the future–essentially, products of the model minority myth. My teachers encouraged us to take all the advanced STEM classes together. Naturally, when I first stepped foot on my University campus, I was an intended public health major, passionate about one day using STEM to help children in need. The day before my first lab course, I couldn’t wait to don my pristine white lab coat while working with colorful chemicals. Around this same time, I began to be involved in a program designed to work directly with preschoolers to improve their literacy skills. I soon realized that this was my true passion; putting energy into creating lesson plans and materials felt more meaningful to me, and as a result I started to feel disengaged from my STEM classes. Leaving the STEM classes meant leaving familiarity, stability, deviating from my long-held plan starting from square one, and graduating on time. Yet, I am now in a just relationship with myself as the idea of teaching as a profession is a decision of my own, not my teachers. I am still successful.  

Yet, I am not alone in this miniscule epidemic.

Bringing my knowledge of injustice that I experienced, helps me create a colorful classroom where everyone is represented. Not having a voice in my own classroom, did not allow me to breathe in my own rhythm, my own flow. Classrooms are a powerful place in doing so and is where I plant the seed to grow justice amongst our younger generation by ensuring their voices are heard. 

When you enter Impact, you are welcomed with more than eleven different languages, some of which are represented on our entrance wall. Here at Impact, we hold our core value of Brave Solidarity close to heart. We believe that diversity is what strengthens our community; it is what drives our instructional decisions everyday. With our intentional approach to hiring teachers of color, I feel comfortable in  my day-to-day teaching. Whether it be through the intentional choice of including children’s book that portray Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) aspects in our curriculum, through not only representing, but celebrating our scholars’ cultures by wearing our traditional clothes, or through sharing our cultural dishes during our Mentor Family dinners, I feel at home at Impact. 

It is the school that I wish I could have attended as a child.