Juan Carlos Flores is a graduate of Dickinson College. He joined Teach for America in 2011 and taught math and science at Lewis Elementary. He’s now a 7th grade math teacher at YES Prep Southeast. We spoke to Juan Carlos about why he elected to work at YES Prep and why it’s important for teachers to reflect a diversity of backgrounds.
Why did you choose to apply to teach at YES Prep?
Largely because of my students. At the time, I was teaching 5th grade and wanted to connect my students to different opportunities for middle schools. In researching other schools, I saw that YES was their best option. After exploring those options with them and talking to their parents about all the outstanding things YES was doing, it was really hard not to apply to teach.
Do you hold any other roles or leadership positions?
I work to promote family engagement at Southeast and help with Wizard Family, our version of a PTA. I still go to elementary schools to recruit 5th graders and talk with parents. We’re also coordinating our families for a rally in Austin for National School Choice Week. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to engage with families from the beginning of their experience on. A lot of my work over the past two summers has been doing orientation for new parents, onboarding them, and serving as a point of contact for them.
What keeps you at YES Prep?
I feel like I can thrive and be really successful. I also want to see my kids improving, growing, and becoming these adults that we are working so hard to make sure they become. It’s about building lasting relationships too. There are still kids in the 8th and 9th grade that I’m really close with. It’s a good feeling to know you’re impacting the students beyond their time with you in the classroom.
If you were recruiting other teachers, specifically other Latino teachers, what would you tell them? Why is it important at a school like YES Prep to have more teachers of color?
It means something when students know you can speak from a similar experience. Every year, I share stories about growing up in LA in a similar neighborhood to the one my students live in. I tell students about the addiction my mom faced and how that impacted my brother and sister, who dropped out of high school. I tell them I was the youngest of three and still the first in my family to graduate from college; education made all the difference for me. Having a teacher who shares experiences or a similar background can mean a lot to students who feel like the influences outside of school are overbearing. When I share these stories with my students and be there as an example, they are more willing to connect with me.
-Juan Carlos Flores