Walleska “Wally” Lantigua is a high school special education teacher in Brooklyn, NY. She has taught in South Korea as a Fulbright Scholar and in New York as an NYC Teaching Fellow. Wally is also a published photographer, capturing moments in the lives of others and incorporating photography into her curriculum. She will be teaching at the High School of Telecommunications, Arts and Technology as of September 2012.
My drive to education has been fueled by my beliefs in educational equity, the promotion of human rights, and my deep commitment to civic engagement.
Six months after Hurricane Katrina, I traveled to New Orleans as part of the Home Clean-Out Demonstration Program to rebuild homes. I participated in travel courses to South Africa, reaffirming my commitment to bridging cultural gaps. For two summers, I worked at a summer program that allowed high school students from around the country to attend Pace University, my alma mater, and participate in traditional college life. I completed a Fulbright Grant as an English teacher to 600 middle school students in South Korea. As a Case Manager at Safe Horizon, I assisted survivors of domestic violence by linking them with job and educational training, and helping them find secure housing away from violence. In these capacities, I have personally witnessed the empowerment and opportunities that education affords those who seek it.
With my acceptance into the New York City Teaching Fellow program, I had visions of helping my students achieve a sense of individuality, self-confidence, and the ability to form and articulate their own opinions.
Embarking on my third year as a high school teacher, my vision is now a reality. My teaching is infused with authentic tasks that prepare students with skills and critical thinking to be contributing citizens through meaningful work that is relevant in their lives and the context in which they live.
As a lover of knowledge, I believe that education should cultivate what already exists, provide opportunities, and open the minds of those who seek it. I do not believe that education begins and ends in the classroom. That is what brought me to the Global Kids’ Virtual Video Project.
With the Global Kids VVP, I have learned new ways to integrate my teaching practice and passion for human rights, with a project determined to build digital literacy for youth, foster substantive online dialogues, and promote civic engagement. I have facilitated activities around health effects due to climate change through virtual worlds, filmmaking, and piloting a digital badge system through The Hive Learning Networks. These experiences, made possible through a project with the National Summer Learning Association supported by the MacArthur Foundation, have given me resources for informal and interest-driven learning that I can take back to my classroom and school community when the regular school year begins. My work is evidence that summer learning is not just for students, but for teachers to grow and develop as well.
As I prepare for September, I reflect on my journey and how many more strategies I have in my teacher toolbox than when I started. I remember my first day in front of the classroom. It was not what I expected. I prepared what to say, how to say it and what to do for weeks beforehand, but very few things prepare you for the feeling of standing in front of a classroom of blinking eyelids. As I enter the new year more seasoned, there is still a connectedness that occurs between the teacher and students. We are both at school because learning matters. We learn from each other.
Why do I teach? The everyday “Aha!” moment that creates knowledge and my commitment to Nelson Mandela’s affirmation that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”