One Pencil at a Time

Luis Juarez, a fifth-grade teacher in Dallas, Texas, a 2015 White House DACAmented Teacher Champion of Change, and an NJFON board member, reflects on the uncertain future that awaits his students and himself, post-election. 

November 13th, 2016

The week of the election was the hardest week of my teaching career. Wednesday was unexpectedly hard. It was tough because of my direct connection to the outcome of the election. It was tough because of my family; I found it challenging to hear their questions and their concerns and not being able to give a direct answer. “So what’s next?” it was daunting to even think about it.

I went to sleep on Tuesday night with the hope that I would come up with an answer by Wednesday morning. An answer for myself but most importantly, an answer for my students.I teach in a bilingual classroom and all of my students come from immigrant households; some of them are immigrants themselves and they were concerned. I woke up on Wednesday not knowing what to say.

NJFON board member Luis Juárez is that rare teacher who truly makes a difference in the lives of his students.
NJFON board member Luis Juarez is that rare teacher who truly makes a difference in the lives of his students.

I felt, and still feel, an incredible amount of responsibility for my family, my students, and their families. This responsibility comes not only from being a teacher, but  also from being involved in groups such as JFON, and from being part of other respected organizations. People look up to me, they seek me for answers. This makes it incredibly hard because I don’t have any clear answers yet.

There was an editorial on the Huffington Post that someone forwarded to me that morning and it gave me key points to discuss with their students. They are fifth-graders and they are aware of the political climate we live in. When I picked them up from the cafeteria, our looks crossed and we remained silent. It was a deafening silence.

I talked to my students about the outcome of the elections. I’ve given talks before. I’ve spoken in front of large crowds. Standing in front of my fifth-graders and talking to them on Wednesday morning was the hardest speech I have ever given. However, it was needed. My students needed reassurance; they needed to hear it from me that we will be okay. In the face of adversity, humans depend on each other to work together and be resilient together. Talking to them was especially challenging because I was not okay.

Although I knew that my words were not empty, it was hard to get in front of them and put on a brave face. We mourned together. It was heart-breaking to see them cry out of fear. The uncertainty and the obscurity pose a challenge that many of us are still trying to understand. However, we remained hopeful. We unified and we agreed that we must depend on each other and push each other to move forward, together. We will love each other, treat each other with respect. We will speak out when we hear something we don’t agree with. We will do this with respect and dignity. We will remain true to our values and beliefs. We agreed to do all of that.

Hope dies last.

Find out more about Luis in a story we wrote back in November 2015—A Lion in the Classroom.
Find out more about Luis in a story we wrote back in October 2015—A Lion in the Classroom.

I cannot give up. People like you and I cannot give up. Too many individuals look up to us and hold us high with respect. We must show that we are resilient. The moment we break, they will break too. The moment we show hopelessness, they will lose hope, too. They will give up too. We cannot let that happen.

I must keep teaching. I must remain in the classroom because I am incredibly committed to my school, my students and their families. My job and my future are at jeopardy in my country. I will remain fighting and I will continue sharing my story because it matters.

This election cycle made some damage and it is time for us to begin the healing process.I benefit from DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.) Executive actions are in danger by the imminent threat of the new administration. I am able to be in front of my students every day because of it. It sounds crazy to even say this, but I have two years to figure this out. My life has been ruled by two-year intervals since 2012 and although I am thankful for the opportunity to work every day, it weighs heavily on my mind.

I am doing my part in the classroom, one pencil at a time.