Adriana Caballero’s high school counselor greatly underestimated her when they enrolled her in remedial classes and refused to register her for the SAT. They assumed that because she was Mexican in a predominantly white school, attending a four-year university was beyond her reach. Fortunately, Adriana had a teacher who advocated for her to be enrolled in AP classes and to be able to take the college entrance exams. Adriana ended up with a full scholarship to the University of Illinois and that’s where her equity work journey began.
Having seen firsthand how policies at her high school were often implemented differently for Latinx students versus their white counterparts, Adriana became politically conscious and active during her time at U of I. In collaboration with like-minded students and faculty, Adriana worked to build an ethnic studies program. She was part of the search committee for faculty of color and ultimately received a minor in Latina/o Studies which was a program she was, in part, responsible for developing. Those efforts were the cornerstone for the Latina/o Studies Department that exists at U of I today.
Adriana always imagined that law school or graduate school were in her future, but she ended up taking some time away from schooling. During this time, she began substituting for Chicago Public Schools. The demand was so high that she found herself subbing at various schools every day. She found that she enjoyed working with students and decided to return to school to become a certified teacher.
Working with English Language Learners, Adriana often found herself advocating for students and families beyond what were considered her professional responsibilities as a teacher. She didn’t want any students to have that “out of place” feeling and limited opportunities she had experienced as a young student. After a time, she was approached by the building’s union representative. Her passion for the students and the community was sometimes not appreciated by the district administration, so her union rep wanted to introduce her to all that the union had to offer in way of trainings and support. Adriana found herself becoming more involved in her local union and community and was pleased to find that others were fighting the same battle on the state and national levels. She discovered that there was a Hispanic Caucus at the NEA level. “It was so empowering. It was not just me, by myself, fighting these battles. We were all pushing together for change.”
After a year or two of attending state-wide trainings, meeting people, and being mentored, Adriana was approached by several people to take a wider leadership role. She currently serves as the Ethnic Minority Sectional Representative for Northern Illinois on the IEA Board of Directors and is the chairperson for the Board Subcommittee on Racial and Social Justice. She presents on topics such as implicit bias, white privilege, and institutional racism with the aim of helping Regions and locals fulfill IEA’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization. With these leadership roles, Adriana was approached to take part in OCN’s Leaders for Just Schools program. She now coordinates the curriculum and trains facilitators for the Level 1 LJS Program. “That’s where my passion lies, in building capacity among educators to continuously work towards equity for our students.”
While Adriana believes that systemic and policy change are at the forefront of the equity battles, she also talks to her own students and colleagues about equity and works to improve school curriculum representation. As an ELL teacher, Adriana doesn’t have her own classroom but strives to use inclusive materials and pedagogy in her instruction. She also encourages policy changes at a district level to ensure that books in the library and readings in classrooms are validating, inclusive, and affirming of the diverse population of students that is served in her district.
While Adriana recognizes that transformative equity work is sometimes slow, she believes that every educator can and should do their part. “The work of equity in public school falls under professionalism. Educate yourself! The resources are there. You can talk to local leaders or your building rep about whether or not your school has an equity committee. If that feels like too big of a step, the IEA has webinars and trainings on all types of topics.” With like-minded colleagues, Adriana continues to fight for all those students who are underestimated and underserved, just like she was all those years ago.