Meet Adrianna, an educator, traveler, optimist, social justice advocate, adventurer, and fellow Loyola University Maryland alum.
Interview by Razan Abdin-Adnani
Who are you (I’d like to invite you to think about your own multi-layered identity)?
Hi! My name is Adrianna Caton. I am an educator, traveler, optimist, social justice advocate, and adventurer. Though I am currently roaming the world, my intense love for pizza and bagels will forever make me a New Yorker at heart.
What are your experiences in the field of education?
In 2014, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Loyola University Maryland where I double-majored in English literature and psychology. Upon my graduation, I began working as an assistant teacher at a nonpublic school for students with autism spectrum disorders, emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. While working, I completed a Master of Arts in Teaching at Loyola University Maryland, as well as field experience at an elementary/ middle school in Baltimore City and a high school in Baltimore County. In August of 2015, I began working at a public charter middle/high school located in Baltimore City where I spent two years teaching English Language Arts. Throughout my three years of teaching in a variety of public schools in the Baltimore area, I became increasingly frustrated with the system in which I was working, and began to believe that it was inherently flawed and purposely set up to ensure the failure of my students. For this reason, I became interested in educational policy and applied to several master’s programs. After receiving an acceptance, I ultimately decided that I could not justify putting myself in yet more student loan debt for a degree that I was not quite sure how to use. Instead, I decided to travel the world. I quit my job, started traveling, and began writing a blog in the hope of learning about forms of education and finding solutions to the problems in America’s education system.
What is the purpose or function of education in society?
States that have adopted the Common Core Standards will say that the purpose or function of education is to make students “college and career” ready, but I have to disagree. When I was in the classroom, my lessons’ daily objectives were based on more than an English Language Arts standard for my students to master. Instead, my main objective (and what I believe to be the function of education in society) was to assist students in the realization of their ability to be active change agents in their and the global communities.
In what ways can education be transformative and/or liberating?
One’s access to education can be life-changing. As an avid reader and traveler, I believe that a quality and equitable education is so much more than what is learned within the four walls of a classroom. Education has the ability to teach one about the world: different environments, cultures, foods, religions, and viewpoints, all while teaching one about herself. Education not only has the ability to transform and liberate the individual but, in turn, teaches the individual how to transform and liberate society.
In what ways can/should the current system of education be transformed or liberated?
One major way in which the current system of education in America can be transformed is by providing school districts with equitable funding. According to NPR’s “School Money” series, the national average that school districts spend per student is $11,841. Eighty districts spend more than $40,000 per student, while some districts spend less than $10,000. In high school, I took nine classes a quarter, including two music classes. In the high school in which I taught, my students take four classes the entire year. Transforming the ways in which we fund our nation’s schools would greatly aid a district’s ability to provide its students with an equitable education.
Have you ever felt like you needed to hide certain parts of your identity (e.g.-race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, social class, etc.) in order to be embraced either as a student OR teacher in school settings?
As both an elementary and secondary school student, I was often embarrassed by my social class. The daughter of a single mother, I was raised in a small cottage in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Often times, when I stepped off of the school bus, my peers would ask me about my “shack.” The myth of meritocracy is engrained within Americans from childhood, but I have come to recognize that my hard work and my ensuing success were greatly aided by my privilege. Among these many privileges was access to a high-quality education; growing up in an affluent neighborhood meant that I attended some of the best public schools that New York had to offer. As a teacher in a Title I school district, the poverty that many of my students endure was something that I could relate to; though my students are not afforded many of the privileges that I receive as a white woman. I am continually learning how to meld and use my experiences and privilege to provide my students with an equitable education and to create space for and amplify the voices of those who are oppressed.
What advice do you have for teachers of color/of the Global Majority OR teachers who teach children of color during these deeply challenging times?
In order to be successful educators, we must continually assume the role of a student, especially those of us who are white. Like many white Americans, as a child, I was taught to be “color-blind.” I have since learned that color-blindness “…starts and ends at ‘discriminating against a person because of the colour of their skin is bad’ without any accounting for the ways in which structural power manifests in these exchanges” (Eddo-Lodge, 2015). It is therefore essential for white teachers to recognize their biases (implicit and explicit), as well as their race, the race of their students, and to teach their students to see race. It is only then that the system can be dismantled. Along the same line, white educators must also acknowledge the systemic injustices that their students of the Global Majority may face. It is therefore vital that educators continually educate themselves and their students with texts and resources from people of various races, sexes, cultures, and viewpoints.
How could our Schools of Education better prepare teachers to work respectfully and effectively with students and families from various racial, cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as different social classes, sexual orientations, genders, abilities, etc.?
I believe that exposure is key. Schools of Education should hire professors with a range of experience in the myriad of education systems that exist across our country. Schools should also ensure that their staff is inclusive of different races, cultures, and religious beliefs, etc. Between both my undergraduate and my graduate experience, I had only three professors who were of the Global Majority. Just as elementary and secondary students, it is essential that post-secondary students are exposed to diverse perspectives. Similarly, Schools of Education should require their pre-service teachers to complete field experience and service-learning with students and families from various backgrounds. Schools may also better prepare teachers by building in time within courses for teachers to reflect on their own beliefs, biases, experiences, and growth. When I look back at some of my work from the beginning of my graduate program, I am astonished by how much my viewpoints have changed. Courses that I took that focused on social justice, culturally responsive teaching, as well as race, class, and gender in education all helped to shape my teaching practices.