Learn more about the 2020-2021 New Jersey County Teachers of the Year:

What is your name & job title?

Angel Santiago, 5th grade general education; I teach ELA to 5th graders.

Do you love your job? What do you love about it?

Absolutely. It’s been the first profession that feel eager to get to in the morning. I feel like I’m directly making a difference in the world. What I love most, is the connection I make with my families. Upper Elementary is a unique position in which we still get to witness, through pictures, emails and texts, our kids growing up and being successful within the district you taught them. Every spring I get to see my kids experience proms, graduations, and honor assemblies. I’ve become a part of the Gloucester Township Community. My kids constantly write to me and visit. They are actually my greatest resource to help me motivate my present 5th graders. I just love the people I work with and the people who I work for.

Tell me about your students.

Fifth grade is a very pivital age. Self confidence is extremely fragile yet they are still very curious. They are amazed by history and culture, and they keep me hip and current in pop culture. I love this age. We can have academic discourse but they still wear their hearts on their sleeves, just like I did at their age. Music, and pop culture is so important to them. So, I try to incorporate that as much as I can. I even made a teacher Tik Tok where I would post a video during the pandemic of some silly trend if they worked hard during remote learning. But this age is such an important age academically and socially, so trying to help them navigate those two worlds with integrity can be challenging but satisfying when you see them crushing their goals in middle school and beyond.

Tell me about a project related to your work that you’re really proud of.

My after school club, YPOC, Young People of Character, is probably my greatest project. In this group, we have kids of all different backgrounds and all different nationalities working together and accomplishing different service projects within the school and within our school community. Some of the projects we have participated are Martin Luther Ling Jr. day of service, cleaning up the inside and outside of the school grounds, we have worked on character development. It’s an opportunity to show our kids that community service within the walls of our school and community is universal and depends on us working together.

What is your connection to your union/local association?

Our local is GTEA (Gloucester Township Education Association). I served as a junior rep. for the 2018-2019 school year.

Why did you choose a career in public education?

I didn’t really choose education. It wasn’t a choice. I had to become a teacher. There was no other option. I worked as a housing inspector, which monetarily was a great career. But, it wasn’t what wanted to do. It just supported me enough to get my degree to become a teacher. I was a performer throughout high school and after, and pedagogy is an art form. It’s closely related to the performing arts so its a career that perfect for former drama kid who played in a rock band. I show the kids my old music videos and play their favorite songs as an incentive. It’s my magic bullet. Nowadays, I’m a dad and the kids laugh at my horrible jokes, but the connection you make with the kids and their families is unlike any other profession. They become part of my extended family and that’s probably the most satisfying part of my job.

Have you had a teacher or educational support professional who inspired you?

When I said that teaching wasn’t a choice I meant it. I firmly believe that I’ve been groomed for this profession. I can honestly name every single teacher of my entire public education. All of them made a significant impact on my life. I was very fortunate to have teachers such as the late Mark Melamed and the Gabriel Project, that taught me the importance of community service, and great teachers like Sue Cucchini, Debbie Bechtel, Christopher Snyder and many more, who showed me the true art of pedagogy. They showed me that it takes empathy, love, and a whole lot of hard work to be a teacher. I grew up in The Vineland Public School system and they were blessed to have great teachers during that time. So, I believe that I was primed for this profession.

If you had to describe public education in one word, what would that be?

Empowering

Public education is facing many challenges. One is the impact that COVID-19 has had on how we teach and how students learn. What have you learned about how you, your colleagues, and your students adapted to remote instruction?

I learned that education is one of the most resilient careers out there. To be honest, adaptation comes with the job in education. From changing curriculums, practices, and learning new standards, there’s only one thing that stays constant in education: things will ultimately change. And once again l, educators from around the state stepped up. From file sharing slides and interactive notebooks, to encouraging each other and offering support, they did amazing. Especially my fifth grade cohort at LF. They became my psychologists, my tech support and cheerleaders all rolled into one. I have the best coworkers.
But, as well as the educators did I was in awe on how my students and their families adapted. In all honesty, I was a bit worried about my kids. I coped with the uncertainty by keeping everything consistent and as close to a regular school day as I could. And they showed up big time. They asked questions, engaged in break out rooms on Zoom, and made the entire experience extremely inspiring and unforgettable. Our future has never looked so bright. It tells you a lot about the expectations we have and how if we as educators set them high, our kids will show up and meet them.

As a result of George Floyd’s murder, along with other tragedies targeting Black people, more and more people are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. How has this affected you as an educator, and as a person, and how do you see yourself addressing systemic racism through your work as a teacher?

Well, I’m a Latino male elementary school teacher. We are few and far to come by in this profession. Even before the events of George Floyd, I’ve had to have the discussion with my minority boys on how we as minority men have to give 110%, 100% of the time. I let them know that, our classroom is a place to make those mistakes. I understand some of the frustations that come with being blamed for everything, or constantly not getting any breaks. We work on giving 110% not just to keep them safe when they leave me, but to help them overcome the obstacles that may prevent them to reaching their dreams. I didn’t have a lot male minority teachers. I certainly didn’t have them in elementary school. So, this is a unique opportunity to show my minority students that role models do exist outside of the realm of sports and pop culture that look like they do too.

To further this point, I just participated in the Men of Color Symposium. Over 80 minority male educators joined in on a Zoom conference to offer their experiences within the NJ Public Education system. It was inspiring to say the least. I was unaware of the hardships my colleagues have experienced. And it had me thinking, why don’t we see more minority men in education? Is it a systemic anomaly? Is it cultural sentiment, because education is looked upon as a feminine profession? Is it economically not feasible as ahead of house hold profession? I believe all of these factor in, but I want to investigate this further, and start finding solutions to try and campaign and recruit more fathers, brother, and sons of color to join our ranks. I think the Men of Color Symposium was the beginning of this discussion and I can’t wait to see where we take this operation.

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