Sep 17, 2018

Drawing Inspiration from Our Nation’s Educators

Proud to have Juan Vaca, Relay Graduate School of Education resident and teacher at Chicago Public Schools unique Southside Occupational Academy, honored for his impact in the classroom
Juan Vaca

Juan is a Relay Graduate School Resident and 12th grade teacher at Southside Occupational Academy, part of Chicago Public schools, in Chicago, Illinois. It’s a transition high school for exceptional learners aged 16-22, which offers classes in daily living, social learning and vocations, including horticulture and carpentry. In his spare time, Juan likes to walk his 6-year-old German Shepherd, spend time with family and friends and travel.

What do you want your students to leave your classroom knowing or feeling?

As a vocational teacher, I want my students to feel prepared to embark on their careers and be contributing members of society. I want to give students the tools they need to succeed in their occupations. Equally important, I want my students to believe in themselves. As a teacher of exceptional learners, I want my students to be independent, confident and advocate for themselves. Our inclusive community offers a space for students to feel valued and supported as they learn and develop personally and professionally.

How would you like to see the teaching profession grow?

As teachers, we get to know our families and students on a personal level. Families and students rely on us to be committed to our profession. I have heard from parents that it is difficult for them when teachers leave because they have developed a great working relationship with them. Developing these relationships often takes time for both families and teachers. For that reason, I would like the teaching profession to be a career as opposed to a temporary job. We need more career teachers who will be committed to their communities. It is vital for all facets of government to understand the value teachers are as human resources within the educational system. We want to encourage highly qualified teachers to stay in the classroom longer to be a vital resource for the families and students they educate.

How can teachers make their voices heard beyond the classroom?

As teachers, we need our voices to be heard more at all levels of government. As professionals who work every day with our students, our perspective will inform bureaucrats and elected officials who may not have teaching experience as to what our students need to excel in the classroom. We need to participate in civic life and work with our elected and appointed officials to ensure that they put our students’ best interest at the forefront of legislation, especially for students with disabilities. We also need to help them understand the impact of educational policies in the long run by using data to inform their perspectives. 


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