I always love this time of year. As things begin to slow down for the holidays, I have the chance to spend time with all my family and friends here in McAllen, and also to reflect on the ways the people here have shaped my path.

When I first arrived at McAllen High School, many of my ninth grade students assumed that I had come from outside of the Rio Grande Valley. With my pale skin, travel stories, and a degree from UT−Austin displayed prominently in my new classroom, I represented so many things kids in South Texas had learned not to associate with people from the Valley. But as they’d learn in the days that followed, this place has always been my home. As I’ve watched their reactions to me, I’ve come to understand that helping to expand my students’ sense of what’s possible for people who come from our hometown is as essential as any curriculum I’ll cover.

When you’re Latino in America, you get used to the fact that people in power don’t usually look like you. Even here in South Texas, where the majority of citizens identify as Hispanic, those at the front of a classroom, courtroom, or boardroom often don’t. This has serious implications for students. Without many examples to look to, they have trouble imagining themselves in those places as well. As a Latina from the Valley, I see part of my role as painting that picture for them every day.

My decision to join Teach For America started in high school at Lamar Academy and Rowe High School. I had incredible teachers like Laura Nikstad, an alumna of Teach For America; Sandra Semper; and Janette LaFevers just to name a few. These outstanding educators taught me to love learning and to see what was possible for me to achieve.

Without them and their ability to build strong relationships with my classmates and me, we would not have been able to navigate one of the most rigorous academic programs McAllen has to offer. Between the academic and emotional support, these teachers provided us everything that we needed to be successful for high school in beyond.

Of all my responsibilities as a teacher, the relationships I build with students and their families are most important to me. I still draw inspiration from my own teachers at the IB at Lamar Academy and Rowe High School, who helped me grow tremendously as a student with their passion for their jobs and for their kids.

They are people who I consider my friends to this day, and I hope to one day be as great in the classroom as they are. I feel so lucky to be able to do this work in the community I call home and I encourage others who are passionate about helping our city continue to strengthen to consider doing the same.