Monica Rincon is a middle school teacher at Grace Hopper Stem Academy in Inglewood. She was raised in Compton. As a student and now as an educator she has been deeply involved in community politics and efforts to improve education, making it more inclusive, equitable, and effective. Like most teachers, she grades her students, but she also has her students grade her and give feedback on her as a teacher. Rincon traveled to Standing Rock during protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline to stand in solidarity with the Sioux Tribe, in part because she recognizes a parallel in the injustices committed against their marginalized community and rights as citizens, and her personal experiences with her own community in Compton.
What is your educational and career background?
I spent my grade school years under Compton Unified’s wing. After graduating from Dominguez High School I attended UCLA—my dream school. At UCLA I received my Bachelor’s in History with a minor on Public Affairs. Then I attended Antioch (thanks to the advice of prof Ed Frankel) where I completed the teaching credentialing program and received my Master’s in Education. Here is the thing, while in grade school, I was good at being a good student. I did my assignments, behaved, listened and tried out for leadership positions. I played the role of a good student fairly well. However, it wasn’t until I got to UCLA and Antioch that I really started to enjoy learning. I had snippets of that enthusiasm while in middle school and high school but in college it was full blown and overwhelming, to say the least.
I started working at the age of 16, first on the weekend at a Wateria store on the corner of Myrrh and Long Beach Blvd, then on the weekdays at my high school’s library. Yes, I was working two part-time jobs while in high school- and for years to come actually. During my first year at UCLA, I was working with kids while at Jumpstart. There, I had the opportunity to go into kindergarten classrooms and read books with props to kids. I had so much fun creating props to bring the books to life, I mean, I could spend all night doing that stuff (homework could never get that out of me). My education did suffer though, and I realized I had to get a job that did not require me to bring work back to my dorm.
But, after graduating from college I went right back to the field and began working for an after school program in Compton Unified. I also got involved in school politics and helped my friend Francisco Orozco found the Compton Democratic Club. We went to school board meetings, teacher’s union meetings, met with concerned parents, talked to students, we were just deeply involved in all fronts.
What brought you to Antioch?
While an undergrad at UCLA I had been discussing my educational goals with my professor, Ed Frankel. I expressed my hopes of going to a master’s program at a school like USC (or something of that sort) and this is when he introduced me to Antioch. He said he worked there certain quarters and that he thought it would be the perfect fit for me. He wasn’t wrong. To this day, I don’t think there has been any institution that has left a greater impact in my life.
What was your experience at Antioch and how has it influenced your career?
The first day of class at Antioch I remember feeling ridiculously intimidated. I came from a family of over 90 first cousins and I was the first to go for my Masters. Like at UCLA, I felt everyone around me had this invisible advantage tucked under their sleeve. The difference between Antioch and UCLA in that respect was that the insecurities vanished on the first day of class at Antioch. I still remember driving back home on the first day feeling so happy I cried, I felt I belonged there and that was the best feeling in the world for me. Everything was going to be ok—it truly was.
As an alum and an educator, Antioch’s teachings of “thinking and teaching outside the box” have left a trademark on my teaching style. I enjoy active learning, having my students be active participants of their learning environment as opposed to avid spectators. They are as much actors in my class as I often am. What may set me apart, as an Antiochian educator is my ability to accept vulnerability. For instance, in the beginning, middle and end of the year, I have the students evaluate me as a teacher. They grade my knowledge on the subjects I teach, my rendering of a lesson, creativity, thoughtfulness, consideration for others needs, availability- you name it, they grade it. Students are even allowed to rank how much they trust me. It is nerve-wracking to allow this type of feedback (more than getting an evaluation from a principal). Nevertheless, the results are always overwhelmingly helpful (and yes, sometimes hurtful). I have received evaluations that ask me to “slow down” to “speak louder” “to teach a subject multiple ways because [I] don’t always explain well.”
My first two years I struggled. I went back to assigned readings from Cynthia McDermott on classroom management, to Richard Kahn’s assignments on pedagogy. I was desperate to make theory and application go hand in hand in my class. DESPERATE! But I have come to terms that good teaching does not happen after rereading highlighted material on a really good article. Experience, commitment, pedagogy and a quarter-spoon of patience will get me there.
Describe current and past work and projects i.e as a teacher at Grace Hopper Stem Academy, curricular requirement for Ethnic Studies in Compton schools, Association of Raza Educators, activism at Standing Rock. How does the work relate to your personal experience?
As one of the several founding members of the Ethnic Studies Campaign branch in Compton, I found myself oftentimes immersed in deeply uncomfortable but necessary conversations about race and gender culture in our community. Later on, in the classroom setting as well.
ESN-Compton was able to successfully get Ethnic Studies curriculum to be implemented in our schools. We did that through petitioning of our community, providing high school students with internships, collaborating with Association of Raza Educators, and gathering community and teacher support for school board presentations.
During my time with the Ethnic Studies Campaign, I took on a more national activist role as well. On November of 2016, Thanksgiving week, two friends and I drove out to North Dakota to participate in the grassroots movement of protecting the Sioux Tribe’s water source from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Oil pipelines had been known to cause spills and consequently contaminate water sources and surrounding natural habitat. Despite the tribe’s resolutions to keep the Dakota access pipeline from their territory, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers decided to proceed with the project. These were colonial actions taking place in modern times. When you have a community of people that are already labeled “disadvantaged” and you find a way to jeopardize more, how is that not injustice at its finest? Although the Sioux Tribe’s struggle was different than that of my community, their message of resistance resonated with our plight in Compton.