America Expects Saints, Not Teachers
Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash
woman in black long sleeve shirt covering her face with her hands

As a kid, one of my favorite films involved Mexicans who counted. That movie, Stand and Deliver, was inspired by the real-life story of Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian immigrant who became a celebrated calculus teacher in East Los Angeles. The film rightly brought out the fangirl in me.

Many of Escalante’s students were stubborn Chicanos and I related; I was a Chicana and I hated algebra; history was my jam. The movie also featured Latine nerds, an archetype that was familiar but that I hadn’t seen on the big screen. Lastly, Escalante reminded me of my mom, Beatriz, a Mexican immigrant who taught public school in California.

As an adult, I now recognize the movie’s pernicious flaws.

Stereotypes are central to the plot of Stand and Deliver and while its ethnic caricatures are hard to miss – the cholo who feels pressured to hide his book smarts versus the cholo who refuses to learn – I didn’t understand how one of the movie’s primary stereotypes distorted my understanding of the teaching profession until I set foot in a classroom to instruct. Films like Stand and Deliver hurt educators by representing us as engaged in a morbidly transactional profession. In exchange for sacrificing our mental and physical health, we achieve hero status.

Martyrdom underwrites our goodness.

As the coronavirus continues to take lives, the lives of teachers and school staff included, the good-educator-as-unflinching-martyr trope is being used to shame those of us who express concerns about IRL instruction. Last month, New York Times’ columnist David Brooks penned a screed that all but accused educators critical of their working conditions of laziness, stupidity, and cowardice.

Brooks seems to prefer stoic teachers ready to become ill and die and I imagine the columnist watching Stand and Deliver, nodding in approval at a scene set during a night school session. Escalante, who has taken on a second job as an English instructor, shuffles about a classroom, clutching at his chest while he leads adult students through a set of language drills. The students seem unaware of their teacher’s distress and Escalante excuses himself. Once he’s out of their sight, he loses his composure. He sweats and pants, wheezing as he struggles to make his way down a desolate flight of stairs. Crumpling to the floor, Escalante presses his face against the seemingly cold cement as he experiences a heart attack.

(I imagine Brooks leaping to his feet to give a standing ovation! “That’s the spirit!” he screams.)

Several scenes later, Escalante convalesce in a hospital bed. His teenage son tells him, “Dad, the doctor says no stress. No job-related activity for at least a month.”

Escalante quips, “I want another doctor.”

The teacher urges his family to go home, and after they leave, he produces a pamphlet and a pen. He scribbles calculus notes and gives them to a nurse who smuggles the mathematical contraband to his students.

This plot point begs a question: If a heart attack is an unacceptable reason for a teacher to rest, what constitutes a justifiable reason?


Not if the instructor who’s lost her head teaches home economics: Let her thread a needle!

Too many Americans hold teachers to the grotesque standards set by films that portray us as modern saints. I once evaluated myself according to such moral benchmarks and the first week that I taught ninth grade, I held myself to them. I developed a sore throat that I hoped could be cured by ignoring it. The pain overwhelmed me and speaking became torture. A student stared at me as I struggled to remain upright.

“Ms. Gurba,” she said, “you don’t look…good.”

“I’m fine,” I coughed. I taught the rest of the day while seated.

After school, I went to a clinic where I discovered I had strep throat and while I understood that I was infectious, I also understood that if I used sick days to recuperate, it was likely that parents, fellow faculty, administrators and even students might think me selfish. It’s not only the perfect attendance of students that’s celebrated. Teachers who come to work in spite of illness are often celebrated as well. They’re lauded for their selflessness. That’s what people have been conditioned to expect of teachers. No selfhood. Just selfless vibes.

I permitted myself one day off and agonized about it the entire time that I watched Jerry Springer.

In November of last year, CNN reported on a teacher who conducted elementary school lessons from her hospital bed following surgery. I found CNN’s fetishization of her convalescence cringeworthy but the news outlet, desperate to canonize her, placed her story in a section of its website titled “the Good Stuff.” The Good Stuff offers “headlines that make you smile” and its report on Stephany Hume characterized her as “inspiring,” “the type of teacher we all wished we’d had in elementary school.” Apparently, an ideal teacher is one whose identity is defined by unrelenting sacrifice: “…when the English language arts teacher of 20 years went to the hospital for an unexpected hernia surgery, she still made sure to read to her students at Sewell Elementary from her hospital bed — gown and all.”

Teachers are never not supposed to be giving.

We are supposed to give ourselves away until nothing remains.

Celebrating cases like Hume’s sets an absurd standard for teacher behavior, one that requires saintliness. This standard exists because, like nursing, teaching is a feminized profession with moral expectations dictated by fucked up gender norms. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the education of children has been treated as an “inherently ‘feminine’ pursuit” and data shows that the profession has grown increasingly gender segregated. 77 percent of public school teachers in the United States are women, with the “the average teacher [being] a 43-year-old white woman.”

The logic of misogyny drives the urgency with which assholes like Brooks call for teachers to return to IRL instruction. Because teachers are feminized, we’re expected to be unconcerned with our own well-being and wholly consumed with the well-being of strangers’ kids. This conceptualization falls within a framework theorized by philosopher Kate Manne, one that she terms the “human being/giver distinction.” According to this distinction, women function as givers and must conform to a set of obligations that are fundamentally economic. We must offer love, attention, affection and admiration as well as caregiving labor without the expectation of any of these moral goods or services in return. Here I will stress that the allocation of these moral goods and services is synonymous with the teaching profession.

I enjoy teaching but it’s not a religious vocation.

It’s a job, one that has become increasingly difficult to perform during the pandemic, with 77 percent of teachers reporting an increased work load compared with last year. Thanking us for our labor isn’t just unnecessary: it’s condescending. We work because we must, because under racial capitalism, we have been disciplined to the wage and racial capitalism that will punish us if we dare to critique the prevailing set of economic relations. The highest expression of gratitude to educators isn’t a litany of platitudes. Most of us would prefer to work in safe environments where our health is prioritized. In order to give that to teachers, Americans will have to relinquish their fetishization of us as selfless givers.

In The Community


Conservative Wing of Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade

Safe + Legal Abortion = Pro-Life

After 50 years of precedent protecting the constitutional right to abortion, Roe v. Wade has now been overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States. This news comes after a leaked document made its way through the news cycle just this past May which showcased the SCOTUS’ potential to overturn the case, spurring the fear of abortion rights being lost entirely or heavily restricted in many states across the country.

Roe v. Wade was passed on January 22nd, 1973, in a 7-2 decision by the Court. The ruling upheld the right to abortion within the first two trimesters of pregnancy. The case took place after “Jane Roe” (later identified as Norma McCorvey) didn’t have the means to travel outside of her native Texas to get an abortion. This led to her suing the state for the right to have access to safe, legal abortion.

Roe v. Wade has been challenged a number of times throughout the years, primarily by “pro-life” activist groups that maintain the narrative that abortion is neither healthcare nor a right. This ruling has already enabled “triggered laws” heavily restricting or banning abortion that have already passed in 13 states, with other states preparing for similar rulings to take place.

Conservative Republicans celebrated the reversal of the ruling via social media:

While prominent Democrats shared their opinions:

And the internet as a whole reacted:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi previously promised to pass legislation codifying Roe, making it protected under law.

The general consensus seems to indicate that there may be higher stakes at risk with the reversal of Roe, including additional concerns for other rulings to be overturned by the conservative-majority court are also being present:

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was previously cited as the main reason Roe v. Wade protected abortion rights, and, as evidenced by Justice Clarence Thomas’ comments where he opined “any substantive due process decision is 'demonstrably erroneous,” it doesn’t seem that due process will work anymore to protect these rights as well. Thomas has also gone on record after the ruling to state that previous due process precedents such as Obergefell (gay marriage), Lawrence (access to contraceptives), and Griswold (marital privacy) should all be reconsidered.

President Biden delivered his remarks on the ruling at 12:30pm EST today.

This story is evolving and the impact isn't fully known. Check back for more.

Woman writing sentences in Spanish on an ipad

If you’re anything like me, you consider yourself “byelingual” you speak English, you speak Spanish, but you occasionally fumble through anything from words and phrases to feminine/masculine terms in both languages. Normally this occurs simply because I’m constantly changing the language I speak on a daily basis. As someone born in Puerto Rico but raised primarily in the U.S., I was fortunate enough to have parents who steadily enforced the rule of speaking strictly Spanish at home since my mom reasoned that schools would teach me English anyways. Because of this, I was spared from being put in the “no sabo” camp. Fast forward to life now, I’m grateful mami always took the initiative to enable me to be bilingual, since having the ability to speak Spanish has made all the difference in my life.

This, however, isn’t true for many Latinos living in the United States. The number of children that speak another language at home has risen since the ‘90s and though that number was much lower than it is today, during the time that many families immigrated to the U.S. (the ‘80s to the late ‘90s), it wasn’t common to maintain your native language. In fact, bilingual numbers saw a drastic jump between 1995 and 2000, then we saw a steady increase that continues through today.

This period of migration that took place during the ‘80s and late ‘90s also normalized the pressure to assimilate into American culture at the time. With a conservative Republican president at the helm of immigration reform that resulted in the legalization of an estimated 3 million undocumented immigrants, the push to learn English and learn it well was alive and true.

The country was also just coming out of highly charged and overtly racist times having just gone through the Civil Rights era of the 60’s and 70’s.

Thus, the natural byproduct of these turbulent times was to not pass down Spanish language skills to your children. Some parents did this in order to spare their children from racism while also working to give them a leg up with improved English skills. First-generation immigrants at this time also justified the decision to not teach their kids Spanish-language skills based on their own lived experiences due to being judged for their accents and ridiculed for struggling academically, a direct result of dual language learning not yet being implemented into the education system.

Years later, we’re seeing the effects of this choice.

Though a selfless act from our parents in theory, many first and second-generation kids raised without learning Spanish are constantly mocked for not knowing the language. This is especially cruel knowing that most times it wasn’t their fault, yet they are looked down upon for a choice their parents made - a choice that was made with the best of intentions. It’s common to see these adult children trying to learn Spanish and often feeling rejected by their community for not speaking Spanish, leaving them alienated from their Latinx heritage.

In part, Urban Dictionary defines “no sabo,” as a term “used for people of Hispanic/Latino descent that don’t know, or barely speak Spanish.” From the way the term is used in social media, it’s clear that the label is meant to be derogatory. This begs the very simple question: why would any fellow Latino slam the door shut in spaces that we could instead be using to welcome and educate people who were ostracized from their heritage and culture?

The Latinx community requires a massive reckoning with the diversity that exists across U.S.-based Latinos who share many cultural practices but don’t have a unifying identity. As we grapple with the broad spectrum of “Latinidad,” just as white and white-presenting Latinos don’t appreciate being called “gringa,” or any Latino regardless of skin color appreciates being accused of “talking white,” we can’t declare non-Spanish or poorly-speaking Spanish-speakers as less than simply because they lack or haven’t mastered the Spanish language.

Given that many Latinx icons didn’t speak Spanish or barely spoke Spanish (Selena Quintanilla is just one example), this is a testament to how bilingual skills shouldn’t act as the sole unifying factor that many in the Latinx community use to define themselves. In fact, it’s refreshing to see how many in the Latinx community are leaning into their non-bilingual status while also confidently living in their Latinx identity.

Latino and Latinx identity is complicated, but instead of making it a point to exclude or criticize those who struggle with Spanish, we need to continue to reevaluate what we believe makes us Latinx. There are many other factors to consider including things like culture, lifestyle, traditions, race, and various languages (contrary to popular belief, many other languages are spoken in Latin America including Mayan, Portuguese, and Quechua), and all of these things will overlap to various degrees.

While we may still have plenty of work ahead to further define and understand what it means to be Latinx, what’s abundantly clear is that “no sabo” needs to be promptly retired from casual conversations and recategorized as the slur that it is.

two women posing

I grew up being told, “you can’t do that because you’re a girl” or “your brother can because he’s a boy” and I hated hearing that. It’s been something that has tormented me my entire life.

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