If there’s any silver lining to COVID-19, it’s watching the outpouring of appreciation for teachers. I’m a new graduate and hope to teach second grade this fall. I’m eager to help fill Utah’s teacher shortage, of course, but I also want to guide my students back to normalcy.
When I first arrived here from Mexico at age 7, teachers were patient and kind to me when I didn’t speak English and felt overwhelmed. I can’t wait to have the same comforting influence on a child’s life during these difficult times.
But because I’m undocumented, my future here is at risk. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which allows 660,000 Dreamers to live and work here legally. If the court allows President Trump to end the program, I could be eligible for deportation.
It’s hard to describe the conflicting emotions I’m feeling. I’m trying to celebrate my recent graduation from Utah Valley University, but I feel a constant and deep sense of dread. My work authorization runs out next June so, even if I’m hired by the Wasatch County School District, I may only have months in the classroom before I’m pushed out.
What makes this story even more frustrating is that Utah desperately needs teachers like me. One report by Envision Utah estimated a shortage of 1,600 educators, and that’s expected to grow by 500 teachers each year to meet the state’s population growth.
Yet here I am — ready to help as one of 20,000 DACA-eligible teachers across the nation. I’m available to fill one of the many Spanish-English bilingual spots that are open in Utah for next fall. The situation is especially urgent this year, because many of those jobs had been staffed with temporary workers from Spain who went home when the coronavirus hit. Even if travel restrictions are lifted, Trump proposed a new executive order last week, banning scores of temporary workers from the country.
It’s not just the educational field that would suffer if Utah loses its 12,000 Dreamers. More than a half million of us across the country are currently classified as essential workers, according to New American Economy, with over 62,000 employed in health care who are desperately needed during this pandemic.
I have so many plans for my students. I love Dr. Seuss’ classic book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” and want to decorate our classroom with hot air balloons reflecting all the things they want to be when they grow up. I hope to create a “book nook” so they have a special place to read.
And I want to teach them empathy. During my student teaching last summer, I filled a jar with jelly beans and gave them each a “bully bean” on their way to recess — a reminder to stick up for each other, if they ever witnessed bullying.
I also want to give back to the community by showing ESL students that they can be anything they set their minds to. All these years later, I remember my fifth-grade ESL teacher, Ms. Cathy Sabey. She was the first Latina teacher I’d ever met, and she planted the idea in me that I could be one too. Having that representation is so important.
I can’t wait to help my students expand their minds and find their passions. I’ve spent so many years studying education and working at after-school programs to prepare for this moment. For myself and the 1.3 million Dreamers like me, I’m begging Congress to find a legislative solution.
No matter what the Supreme Court decides, let us become Americans. School starts in a couple months, and I’m eager to welcome our children back to the classroom.
Anayeli Cuevas is a recent graduate of Utah Valley University and a DACA recipient from Heber.