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Teaching is an Opportunity to Give Back for Rowe Scholarship Recipient Liliana Mendez


Born to Be a Teacher
I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I was in preschool. My preschool teacher had a very thick accent, which I managed to understand, although many of the students in my class did not understand her. Growing up in a multilingual home, I ended up acting as a translator to help my classmates. I vividly remember the moments when they fully understood what the teacher was saying because of my interpreting for them. As soon as I experienced those moments at four years old, I knew I wanted to teach my own students someday.

Teaching and learning are critical because they open up a whole new world to students as they grow and develop. Without the foundation of education set in early childhood, it becomes much more difficult to learn throughout a child’s school career.

Supporting Diverse Students During the Pandemic
More specifically, I am committed to serving a diverse group of students and I want to prove to them that they can do anything they work hard to do. My goal is to give my students hope and instill in them that anything is possible. I also want to promote diversity and a culture of understanding in my classroom. During the time I was growing up, there was an emphasis on fitting in and being seen as “normal”. While I don’t want my students to ever feel like they don’t belong, I do want them to learn to appreciate the differences among them rather than fearing them.

During this pandemic, all students are going through a very difficult time, creating an even deeper need to foster understanding and empathy for others’ circumstances. To help with this, I wish more was being done to facilitate mental check-ins, to ensure that students are feeling and doing their best. As a student myself during this global pandemic, I know how important it is to pause and look for a deeper understanding, one that acknowledges this is a scarier time; we cannot act like our students are not preoccupied with that.

Because we are all stressed and worried, I hope teachers are partly addressing that through actions like offering flexibility with assignments and due dates. For many families with younger children particularly, it is much more difficult to complete school assignments now since many parents, whether working from home or not, must take into account caretakers’ schedules in a whole new way. Maintaining the balance between home life and education or work life has become quite challenging.

More than that, the pandemic has illuminated major disparities among students in the United States. Some students in less affluent households are trying to educate themselves, because in many cases no one in their family can even attempt to help them due to language barriers or schedule conflicts. There are also technology gaps. Thousands of students, especially in families with multiple children, are or were unable to engage in remote learning at scheduled times because they did not have Internet services and/or the devices necessary to do so.

Even in the best of circumstances, I think that maintaining the same quality of education for children remotely as in person is nearly impossible. Post-pandemic, there will be a need for much more support in the classroom, with estimates that each student will be roughly six months behind in their educations. There will also be socialization issues to address and mental supports that must be put into place if we want to ensure that the children do well post-pandemic.

Journey Toward Teaching
My journey toward becoming a teacher can accurately be described as a rocky road. After volunteering at church teaching Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes from the age of 11 until I entered college, I never doubted that this was the career I wanted, but I did have doubts about working in a traditional school. At that point, I contemplated working in a daycare setting so I could start working with children immediately after earning my undergraduate degree, but ultimately decided that obtaining my masters would be more beneficial for my career.

With this in mind I began my undergraduate degree at Fordham, simultaneously volunteering for Saturday academies at a school in the Bronx and serving as a literacy specialist at the YMCA for grades K-5. Ultimately, I realized that I needed to become a teacher not only to make myself happy, but also to help shape the future through children. Although teachers in early childhood education are sometimes seen as glorified babysitters, I chose this career for two main reasons: 1) because I know that early childhood education is essential; and 2) to provide children with a person of color as a role model at an early age. I have heard countless stories from people who didn’t encounter a teacher of color until they were much older, or even in college. I want to be an example to all students to show them they can do anything they work for regardless of how they look.

Rowe Scholarship Makes a Difference
Receiving the Rowe scholarship has completely changed my journey towards becoming a teacher, giving me the financial means to pursue a career that is absolutely the right choice for me. I distinctly remember staying up late one night and venting to a friend about how much more difficult the journey had been than I expected, and saying maybe I should just accept what I had already and work at a day care.

The very next day I got the email about receiving the Valerie Rowe Scholarship. I was shocked and relieved, and consider receiving the scholarship a sign that this is, indeed, the path I was meant to pursue. The scholarship has also given me a sense of motivation, because someone decided it was worthwhile to support me.

My entire life I was seen as different, the oddball kid that no one really understood. Receiving this scholarship not only helped me financially, but also finally made me feel seen and understood. I truly cannot express how grateful I am for this gift – it has changed my life more than anyone might imagine.


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