The Importance of Sharing Stories
Recently, my good friend and fellow ELL teacher, Blanca Osorio Castillo, was the recipient of the Roger Wallace Excellence in Teaching Award. This award was started to honor Roger Wallace, a beloved longtime elementary school teacher in our area. Not only is this award important because it honors Roger's long tenure in our town and his love, dedication and passion for teaching, but it also honors the career of an African-American man who is a local hero for our students.
I was so proud of Blanca's acceptance speech, and the audience was so moved by it as well, that I asked her if I could publish it here. We had to take out the beautiful pictures and videos she included of her students because of permissions, but the essence of her speech can still be felt. Gracias, Blanca, por dejarme compartir tus palabras tan lindas!
Hello, Buenas tardes.
Thank you very much for being here today celebrating with me this great accomplishment.
I am honored and humbled to receive the Roger Wallace excellence in teaching award. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here today. It feels great to be recognized, and appreciated; and today I want to share this great feeling with all of you. I want to share this recognition with all ELL teachers and all the Latinos and Latinas who are educators in our schools.
I want to take the opportunity today to talk to you about the power of telling your own story
Stories bring people together. Telling your own story is not an easy task, because it makes us vulnerable.However, I believe that telling our stories is the backbone and the heart of social justice, when we tell and listen to our stories we recognize each of our own realities.
It builds real, human bonds.
At The end of the summer, I came across an article from the National Education Association that stated the following: “If we don’t share our stories and we don’t take time to listen to other peoples’ stories, we will continue to live in a world that is very limited in knowledge and understanding.”
Our stories and our interactions shape our identity. We, as educators, believe in the power of telling our stories. Every day we ask our students to tell us about their experiences,
to make connections with their background knowledge. We truly believe that stories have the power to influence and motivate others,And that exactly is my intention today.
I will tell you my story -well parts of it- in 4 sections, and as I do so I hope to connect with you in different ways, the same way that my story has helped me to connect with my students and their families.
Mi nombre - Mi name
My name at birth: Blanca Stella Castillo Mahecha
My name has a powerful meaning.It was chosen by my parents to honor my two grandmothers, mis abuelitas. And it carries my “two last names” to represent my connection with both mi papi and mi mami. Although I was aware of the meaning of my name I liked to be called by my nickname name. And my nickname represented my identity while I lived in my country
All my friends, my neighbors, and every member of my family calls me by my nickname.
Paca, Paquita. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that I got used to being called by my first name. And it was then when I also learned about the different ways my name could be mispronounced: Blanco, Blank, Bianca. The wrong pronunciation of my name, it is not an offense to me, but it is a reminder that I am an outsider
My current name, Blanca Stella Osorio-Castillo
It was my choice to take my husband’s name Osorio but I also wanted to be hyphenated to keep the power of my own last name Castillo...And two be able to fit “both last names” in the single space in the American forms
My school name: Ms. Castillo ( the pronunciation of the double LL may vary depending on your accent and yes, either castiyo or castillo are correct). My name is a reflection of my identity, of my past, of my history. The fluidity and changes of my name reflect my experiences in different spaces and times.
How does this connect with my students? Well, I believe we are responsible for learning or taking the extra time to pronounce their names correctly.Mispronouncing someone’s name leads to invisibility.When we pronounce correctly someone’s name we are letting them know that they are valued, honored, and respected.
I came from Colombia in 1996, when I was 22 years old, I had finished my undergraduate studies in marketing, but my country had suffered high levels of endemic violence for a longtime and things were difficult. The financial situation at home was bad, things changed drastically for my family, and many members of my family explored the option of leaving Colombia.
When I think of Colombia I think of my parents. My parents are the bravest people I know for letting me go, they are brave because they knew that leaving the country at that time it was the best, or the only option for me to succeed. So I left my parents, my brothers, my dog, my nana, my almost 30 cousins, mis abuelos, mis amigos and all the people I loved.
I want to share with you a quote from the Colombian winter Gabriel Garcia Marquéz
“La memoria del corazón elimina los malos recuerdos y magnifica los buenos, y gracias a ese artificio, logramos sobrellevar el pasado.”
The heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good; and thanks to that artifice, we manage to endure the burdens of the past. ”
I fit all my belongings in a suitcase, and I also packed my invisible bag, a bag that you carry not only at the time when you leave your country, but is a bag that you carry every day when you are an immigrant.I packed the the best memories in my invisible bag, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez said, the heart memories.
My family, my friends , my dog
My passion for traditional dance
My love for music and futbol
The chaos of my beautiful city
The beauty of my country
and then I arrived to Western Mass during the winter of 1996.
During my first years as an immigrant I learned a lot, oh yes, it was a steep learning curve,
more than a learning curve. You may call it a “hands-on” experience.
The words race, ethnicity, immigration, and language shaped my new identity.
I learned about stereotypes and assumptions; I learned about adaptability, assimilation, acculturation, and most importantly I learned the meaning of the world resilience.
I began to learn English, I did a variety of jobs, I worked in restaurants, cleaning houses.
I became a mother at the age of 23. I worked with children and women victims of domestic violence. I faced many challenging new roles.
Conocí la adversidad, pero la adversidad me enseñó a agarrar la vida con fuerza, y me enseñó a conocer mi yo más fuerte - I met adversity, but adversity taught me to grab life with strength, and taught me to know my strongest self.
I am sure that everyone here has encountered adversity at a given point in life. Many of our students and their families have faced adversity as well. Many times,family separation, violence, trauma, or pain that we cannot even imagine. But they are also strong and resilient. They want to succeed, and they hold themselves to high standards. We need to remember that minority and diversity are not synonyms of lower expectations.
We ask our students to tell us about themselves, to write stories from their lives, ‘to be vulnerable’. Therefore, We should create safe spaces where they can feel comfortable telling their stories, spaces that allow them to unpack and share the million things they have in their invisible bags.
My family is the most important part of my story. Today my son, my daughter, and my husband are here with me.They are my strength, my motivation to be better, my whole life. Los amo, I love you with all my heart y les agradezco todo lo que hacen por mi, every day.My in laws are also here today, gracias suegritos por venir hoy!
Yes, we speak Spanish, English and Spanglish, we make up new words and we have learned the power of code switching and translanguaging. I was the first one in my family to immigrate to the United States. The rest of my family is divided between Florida and Colombia, and as you can imagine, the words MISSING, te extrano, me haces falta are words that are with me every day.
The good thing is that when you are far from your loved ones, your friends become your family.
Gracias amigos por estar hoy acá. Most of my friends, are educators. Teachers, school counselors, librarians, administrators, we share the same passion about education.
Many of my friends also share with me the love I have for music and dance, dancing is one of the best therapies. Gracias al grupo folclórico tradiciones for being here today and for giving me your unconditional support.
The emptiness of being away from the family is filled by sharing with friends, con abrazos, con risas, food, music, crazy karaoke singing and dancing, with language and made up words: Madrugashion, Estrenashion, Agotashion ;)
Dancing with friends and performing has been part of my life since I was in kindergarten. Traditional dance is a way to keep me connected with my heritage, my family and my friends. It is a way to pass my culture to my children and my students. I believe that is very important to keep alive cultural events that highlight the celebrations and honor the traditions of our students and their families.
I am very proud that we have now multicultural events in the three elementary schools, I have been part of all of them, And I am particularly proud that we have brought back this event to my school. My nomination for this award included my work on the cultural fair but I want to acknowledge the work of all the teachers, parents, Parent Guardian Organization members and friends that contributed to make this event happen.
In this last section of my story, I want to recognize and celebrate all the educators that have been part of my teaching career. I have worked in all the three elementary schools in our district.
I have been supported by each of the school leaders there. I believe that having a strong, organized and reliable leader makes a huge difference.
They have made an impact in my life. They (the administrators I have worked with) have been there for me and have provided my with the support I needed to succeed. Not everything has been perfect, but I have always felt welcomed, valued and comfortable when expressing different points of view. I am here today because the leaders at my school have pushed me to get out of my comfort zone, and they have included my ideas and opinions.
I also want to honor my co-teachers.I have learned from the best teachers in the three elementary schools, some of them also recipients of the Roger Wallace excellence in teaching - award). All of you have taken the time to plan lessons with me, to share your knowledge and teach me new things. My work with families wouldn’t have been possible without you.
Teamwork makes teaching and family engagement more successful.
To my current co-teachers, thank you for being willing to open up conversations about skin color, for embracing differences, and for celebrating the cultures of all our students in kindergarten and 1st grade. Thank you for advocating for our students, for reading books that mirror our students’ experiences, and for making teaching fun and engaging for all of us.
I have also worked with all the ELL teachers at the elementary level. I have learned from each of you and from the bottom of my heart I want to tell you that I admire you and I see the great job you do every day. An important part of social justice is taking action and speaking up. Today I want to take a stand against bias about the ELL program, and its students.I wish everyone knew that ELL teachers are highly qualified, most are licensed in more than one area, such as elementary, special education, foreign languages, or have several trainings and years of experience, many are bilingual or multilingual, some of us have accents, but if you look at the question from a sociolinguistic point of view, everyone has an accent.
We don't take our work lightly, and every day we take action to break the misconceptions and stereotypes of class, race, bilingualism and inequality that still exist about the ELL program and our students. We embrace and support high standards for bilingual and bicultural education. And more importantly absolutely we love what we do.
Thank you very much for taking the time to listen to my story, by doing that you gave me and my students the power of being seen.
I would like to finish my talk today by reading the last two pages of the children's book “The Day You Begin” that reminds us that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our story, others will be happy to meet us halfway.
where no one else is quite like you,
the world opens itself up a little wider
to make some space for you.
This is the day you begin
to find the places inside
your laughter and your lunches,
your books, your travel and your stories,
where every new friend has
something a little like you
– and something else fabulosamente
not quite like you at all.