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Episode 6: Haydee Rodriguez – CA State Board of Education Member  

Haydee Rodriguez is a National Board-Certified teacher, and bilingual and bicultural high school teacher who received her Bachelor’s in History from San Diego State University and earned a graduate degree in Education from Stanford University. As a graduate student at Stanford, she participated in the founding of East Palo Alto High School, an urban college prep student-centered, teacher-led school.  

In 2005, she became a national board-certified teacher and worked tirelessly to increase the teacher’s voice at the local state, and national levels. Although her specialization is in history, she has also taught theater, AP Spanish Language and Literature, AP Government, English Language Development (ELD), and is currently teaching avid journalism, as well as being  the avid coordinator at Central Union High School. In 2014, Rodriguez was appointed by Governor Brown to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, where she chaired the Educator Preparation Committee and served as a liaison to the Committee on Accreditation. She also served on the national board for professional teaching standards from 2009 until 2017. Haydee received various awards and fellowships and in 2016 she was named Stanford GSE Alumni of Excellence. She was also named Woman of the Year by assembly member, Eduardo Garcia and State Senator Ben Hueso for her commitment to equity access and social justice in education.  

In 2001, she received the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship and was named The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Student Teacher of the Year. In 2008, she was named Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) of Imperial County Teacher of the Year and was selected by Rotary International to represent Southern California in Ghana and Togo.

The following transcript has been redacted and edited for quality and educational purposes. 

Nati Rodriguez [02:50] 
I would love to learn about your role at the California State Board of Education. According to the website, “The 11-member State Board of Education is California’s K-12 policy-making body for academic standards, curriculum, instructional materials, assessments, and accountability. That sounds like a lot. Can you give us a sense of what this work is actually like?  

Haydee Rodriguez [03:14] 
Absolutely. First of all, I want to extend my acknowledgment to Governor Newsom for having appointed a classroom teacher.  

I’ve been told by a few people that even though a lot of the people on the Board are former educators, or maybe administrators, but in recent history and maybe in the State Board’s history, I may be the only classroom teacher. It’s very important because as teachers, we’re the ones who are putting a lot of these policies that the State Board [puts] into practice. The Board members that I haven’t met in person because we’ve all been in zoom since I was appointed, are so thoughtful in their comments. They’re incredible, well-prepared people. I’ve learned a lot from being in the meetings and we all bring our perspective in which a beautiful way to make decisions. It’s not one person making decisions. We all have our different input and my lens is the teacher lens. Additionally, while I don’t represent the student voice, because of my proximity to students, I feel that I have a pretty good pulse on what my students need, who live in a historically marginalized community on the border and with a huge Latino population. I learn a lot. I learn a lot from going through this process – it’s a lot of work. We meet every other month and in order to make decisions and vote on decisions, it’s essential to prepare, to read the agenda items, to listen to our community partners when they call with concerns about a particular agenda item. Going through the decision-making process that I know will impact all of our students and families in California and teachers – I take this responsibility very seriously.  

I also serve as the liaison to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which I was on for six years. I’m able to sit in the meetings and give reports to the State Board about the things that connect, especially with the teacher shortage, teacher preparation, all of those matters that concern the Board. I’m also the liaison for ELD. I’m able to go back and report to the Board so that the different Board members have different assignments that way one Board member can’t be on top of everything that’s happening. When it comes to, whether it’s the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) or the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), etc., that way during the liaison reports we are all kept abreast of everything that’s going on.  

Nati Rodriguez [06:31] 
Interesting that you brought up the teacher shortage. I also read about the sub shortage. In your opinion, your research, and experience, how can we get more people interested in teaching and through that pipeline. Could you talk about what the credentialing process looks like now, and what, if anything, would need to change to meet the need in California? 

Haydee Rodriguez [06:52] 
This is an issue that we’ve grappled with since I was on the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. We want to diversify the teacher workforce and we want to make sure that we create interest in younger people, or maybe even career changers, like myself, to go into the teaching profession. It’s a problem and I believe that some of the teacher shortage has been just a response to a lot of the changes that are happening in our society. In a lot of places, teachers are severely underpaid. Oftentimes, when something happens teachers bear the brunt of problems that occur in society. We’re blamed, “it’s the teachers” and this and that, when we’re actually part of a system. As that system is changing, whether it’s for the better, in a direction that may be very stressful, teachers will be pulled in all of these directions.  

One of the things that I think happens as a teacher, I’m just complaining all the time. I may be excellent at executing a lesson plan, but if I don’t look happy, if I’m complaining about everything, a student looking at me isn’t going to want my job. I want to make sure that I’m projecting. I’m so excited about some of my former students who are teachers. In the recent past – Itzel Perez who was just a marvelous student and has now joined the teaching profession, Christina Hernandez, who was one of my AP Spanish Language students, is just this marvelous teacher here in our community, amongst many others. That excites me because I know that they will be a model for their generations. As teachers, we have to remember that we were models for the young people that are sitting there and be mindful that as teachers we want to recruit talented young people into the profession.   

Whether we know it or not, they’re looking at us. Students are always looking at us. Second, I’m a career changer. I didn’t start out as a teacher. I didn’t have a favorable experience in high school. I’m actually a high school dropout. I didn’t feel that the school responded to my needs, whether it was my social-emotional needs, especially my cultural needs, acknowledging my heritage and making me feel like it was a place where I belonged; that memory is very much alive with me. I remember my teachers being all stressed out and they didn’t seem happy to be there. The last thing I wanted to be was a teacher because that was the image that I had in mind. I didn’t want to be somebody who pushed people down the way I felt that I was being pushed down or silenced, and I didn’t want to be somebody that looked unhappy. I joined the corporate world and I was a corporate recruiter. What I knew how to do was interview. When I became a teacher, it was on my way to law school, and it’s important to mention as a Mexican woman, because I felt like I didn’t have any respect, societally, I thought I’m going to become an attorney; I’m going to become a labor lawyer and people will respect me because I’m a lawyer and I’ll have power. So that’s what I thought, and in a very roundabout way, I was asked to substitute a class while I was on my way to law school, which happened to be at the continuation high school, which was students who had dropped out of high school like me. I was reluctant, but I did it. Day one, I fell in love. I looked at students who were me, looking back at me. One of my friends, who was just a marvelous teacher and mentor for me, I asked him the day before, I said, “Jimmy, I don’t know how to teach.”  

He was a band teacher and the epitome of greatness. Jimmy said to me, “Every child has something beautiful inside of them. A good teacher can see it and a great teacher can show it to them,” and he said, “Be a great teacher.”  

That guides me every single day that I’m in the classroom – to be that mirror that I didn’t have.  

I went in and what I knew how to do was interview people. So that’s what I did, I interviewed all of my students. That way I could tailor what it was that they needed for their learning. I thought, what can I do so that nobody has to go through the pain that I went through when I dropped out of high school and the pain that my students are going through. I found out that Stanford School of Education had the best adolescent development program, and I looked into it and that is how I changed my career path. I don’t regret a single day because I was looking for power and I found it. I found it because I know that power is something that we have inside. It’s not a title. It’s something that just makes your soul richer. I know that when, at the end, the experiences that I’ve had with my students, being the mirror for them, will always be there. That’s what I hope, that young people who want to make a difference, who want to academically enrich people’s lives, but also culturally and social-emotionally, that they want to be a teacher, and not just that, but make the profession stronger and be the voices, whether it’s on state boards or other policy-making bodies, but be that voice, so that we have a system that embraces teacher voice and helps students grow.  

Nati Rodriguez [13:21] 
That’s so inspiring. I got chills listening to you share about helping students see what’s good in them. We would see a lot of joy in the classroom. 

Nati Rodriguez [14:21] 
I understand that the pandemic has significantly impacted not only student lives, but teacher lives. Earlier you made the point that teachers often carry the brunt of what’s happening outside the classroom. How did the pandemic change your work in the classroom and what is here to stay? What were some of the lessons learned for you?

Haydee Rodriguez [14:40] 
There were so many lessons. One of the things that became very clear to me, as soon as our schools closed down, was there are certain roles that teachers have which come across as naggy to students. I don’t want to say monitoring because I monitor my students’ learning, rather than being an academic authority or an authority on student learning and student growth, authoritarian monitoring every moment that the student is doing. I noticed that my students would rely on that outside monitor. When schools closed down, they didn’t have an internal monitor to say, you have to do this or you have to do this. That’s one of the things that my students really struggled with, that independent learning and not doing something just to check it off a list, but actually for the joy in learning. It occurred to me that we really need to work harder to have students become that internal voice that motivates them to really build those independent skills. Something that really excites me is how much of my students became comfortable emailing. Prior to that, if I sent an email, nobody would read it. With the pandemic, they got really comfortable emailing and then little things, like me telling them, “pro-tip – fill in the subject line.” That started helping the students develop, being able to boil something down to the essentials of what they’re writing. Giving them feedback on that and helping that skill grow, I’ve noticed students that email me now, even though they’re not in my class, they got that lesson. Those are the soft skills that we talked about, but also the technology. Having students understand that it’s not just about being tech natives, but how can we harness that so they’re actually using tools to learn and not just using tools to get something done.  

Another thing that really broke my heart was the whole digital divide and realizing that some students don’t have the economic resources to get their needs met. Again, [I am very] grateful that I live in a state that responded to that immediately and made sure that our students had the tools to do the work that they needed to do. Another lesson is how much I just love being back in person and hearing their laughter. Because when we were online, everybody was on mute. If I said something funny, which I usually did, I had a little laugh box, so I’d have to push the button so that I could hear laughter, and then they would crack up. But if something funny happens for us to be able to laugh collectively because there’s a lot of healing in that.  

For me personally, one of the lessons is we know our students undergo serious mental health issues. I’ve taken psychology classes, but I don’t have the skills for working with depression or serious mental health issues. I can provide a safe space for them to process, [or] refer them to people who can help them if they have something bigger that they need to get through. My students are incredibly grateful to be back in person. Sometimes it feels like when I go to a store, that, wow, did we learn the lessons of the pandemic? I think that my students did. At least the students that I have are so grateful to be back, whether it’s their mask-wearing or whatever they have to do to keep each other safe. It makes my heart overflow with joy because they want to be there and they want to take care of each other.  

Nati Rodriguez [19:08] 
It sounds like you’ve created a really beautiful space for them to learn and grow. Can you share about your students and the community you serve?  

Haydee Rodriguez [19:22] 
Imperial County is on the border with Mexicali. Mexicali’s population is about 2 million. We’re a border community. When I was growing up, I lived in Calexico and we would cross every single day. It was very different back then. Especially after 9/11, sometimes the lines are very long, but my students, a lot of them, they call Mexicali, Mex. When I ask them what they’re going to be doing over the break or over the weekend – [they say], “I’m going to go to Mex,” because their grandparents live there, their families are there. My students are transnational. They’re back forth all the time and they have tremendous resources. For example, exchanging money in their head; I’ll hear them converting pesos to dollars, but they’re failing their math classes. So how is that? I tell them, how is it? “Oh, I’m not a math person,” and I see them like doing this boom, boom, boom, quicker than I can.  

I tell them, I think you are a math person – maybe it’s different when you have some kind of a block when you go into your classroom. One time I had a student who was really struggling with equations and, although I’m not a math teacher, we were in Avid class and I sat down with her and I said, “So what’s going on?” I said, “Look, why don’t you just not think about math right now? I’m having a party this weekend, and this is my budget, and this is how much stuff is going to cost. Can you help me with it?” 

She’s like, “yeah, of course!” It was all equations. Oh, but if I only have this much money for tables and she’s like, “why don’t we take away from this? Do you really need to have this?”  

When were done, I said, “you just did equations.” And she’s like, “what do you mean?” 

I said, “I’m really not having a party.” 

It was actually something very spontaneous because I know that she’s really good at organizing things and parties. I thought, how can I use something that she’s really good at, so she can see how equations work and she got it. And she laughed. There are some skills, innate skills and some skills that they’ve developed. They don’t yet see how those can transfer into academics. That’s our job as teachers to be able to show them that. About 87% of our population is Latino, Mexican, and there’s diversity within my students. They may all fall under the Mexican umbrella, but there’s a lot of diversity within that.  

Nati Rodriguez [22:17] 

The story that you shared about them, budgeting for a party, reminds me how beautiful it is to have a teacher, or someone really know you that can take this little bit of information that they have about you and help you make that connection. Especially in edtech, we think technology is going to solve a lot of things. When I hear something like this, it reminds me how much the human element, and really understanding a student, and where they’re coming from, helps with the learning process. 

Haydee Rodriguez [22:40] 
Absolutely. That’s the crux of National Board Certification, right? Know your students – that is the golden rule – know your students. When we know our students, we know when something’s going on with them, we know what they like, who they are. Like you said, we’re able to connect with them on that level and find something that interests them. Right now, I have some students who are in my world history class, and they’re very much into astrology. I mean like deeply into astrology, but they know they have all of this knowledge about astrology. We’ll be studying Napoleon and they’ll google him. He was a Leo and stuff that he does, they’ll say, “That is so Leo.” 

So, I mean, like Robespierre in the French revolution, they found his astrological sign and that’s how they embrace what we’re looking at. Rather than saying, “oh, astrology, it’s a pseudo-science.” I’m not going to belittle anyone or put anybody down; I’ll use what they know and have them connect to what we’re studying. I actually set aside a little project for them, so that they can use some of the historical characters and tie that into astrology, and they’re very excited about it.  

Nati Rodriguez [24:16] 
I love that. That sounds like a great project.  

Haydee Rodriguez [24:18] 
Yes. Yeah. I’ll keep you posted on it.  

Nati Rodriguez [24:22] 
Thinking back on your first years of teaching, what advice would you give yourself?  

Haydee Rodriguez [24:30] 
Well, my first years of teaching, I wanted to do so much. Again, because I came from the private sector where I would work 12 to 15 hours a day, sometimes. I had a lot of energy and just wanted to do so much. I think that what I would tell myself is, well, I was going to say don’t do so much. When I look back, I’m happy [that I did]. There was one year when I was coaching mock trial and also coaching academic decathlon (AcaDec). I was going nuts with that, but I wouldn’t change that. I would tell myself to find my strengths and use them to bring out the strengths in my students and help them develop a path and to not expect that they’re going to be like me. My own experiences helped me to see that we don’t come in as empty sacks. We have a lot of experiences. Maybe to rest a little bit, that’s what I would tell myself. It’s okay to rest.  

Nati Rodriguez [25:42] 
How do you rest now? What revitalizes you? 

Haydee Rodriguez [25:47] 
Drawing, and not very well. You’re not talking to a Van Gogh here, by the way, or a Miró, or a Tamayo. I consider myself very creative, not necessarily artistic. My classrooms are like little incubators, where a lot of the expression that happens in there is creative expression. I draw, I doodle and I belong to this group where every day, we produce something, it’s called 50 Days of Making and we share it on Instagram. I’ve put my doodles and my art out there. So, people have seen it and it’s really nice because I don’t care if people don’t like it. That’s what I want my students to feel comfortable with. It’s really funny because last year, actually, when we came back for a short period in April, a few students came back to school with very strong conditions. They had to have temperature checks.  

What I did with my students was we made a book and I taught them how to make a book. I learned this from the National Writing Project in 1998, my first-year teaching. I bought all of the materials, I bought watercolors, and I told them, I said, this is what we’re going to do – you’re going to make a book and you’re going to chronicle. This will be a primary source of what you’re going through during the pandemic and that’s what we did. During that time, I played music that they liked. I asked them to give me songs for a playlist and I played music and we all just painted and drew and wrote. This year, I don’t know what the vibe my classroom is given off, but I have students coming by and dropping off their artwork for me to hang up on my wall. I’m not an art teacher. Again, I’m not an artist, but it’s using creativity in art for them to express themselves. It’s very cool. So that’s what I do and garden. I love working out in the garden and hanging out with the bees, taking care of nature for my enjoyment and for posterity.  

Nati Rodriguez [28:10] 
Wonderful. We’ll definitely need to get your Instagram handle so we can share it. I’m curious also about your other teachers, how do you continue to share best practices or learn from others? What does that look like for you?  

Haydee Rodriguez [28:24] 
One of the hard things also about the pandemic is as that teachers, we just came back and haven’t really had a chance to sit down and talk to each other. Some colleagues that I’m very close to – Renee, Alejandra and Robin – we share things that we’re doing and things that are working well. It’s wonderful. We share common students so we always look for ways to support them. We all taught Avid together, actually, Alejandra, Renee and I still do. We supported each other during the pandemic, we support each other in supporting students. When we know that a student needs something, we reach out to each other with the best practices. With new teachers, I always make myself available to see if there’s any way that I can support them, especially as they’re going through their induction process.  

But they’re so busy that I think they just go into their classrooms and try to get through the day. They have somebody that’s assigned to them to support them through that process. One of the things that’s happened this year is I am on the social-emotional learning team at school. There are four of us who have gotten together during advisory time to plan activities for our students. That has been such a blessing, because two of the teachers there, our paths probably would’ve never crossed on campus. During this time, which is a very short period of time, but we’re connecting with each other, we’re supporting each other. I can’t stress enough how important it is for schools to really make time for teachers to sit down and share common practices and share about their students, how they can support them and have some type of rubric for conversations.  

When I was at East Palo Alto High School, we had time to sit down and say, “I’ve noticed this in my advisory class that this student hasn’t been talking much to others lately. What are you seeing?”  

We can refer them to the counselor and then somebody else might know, “I coach him in soccer and one of the students told me that his mother’s sick.”  

When we can communicate and as teachers be diagnosticians, like doctors are, rather than look at our students as problems, look at them as, how can we find out what’s going on so that we can support them? That is very powerful. I’m in a traditional, comprehensive high school now, and I would like to see, this is my wish list, for us to be able to have time to do that break up a certain number of students and just have teachers responsible for them, for lack of a better word. And not that many so that it’s overwhelming and impossible, but a few that we can come together and talk about and support.  

Nati Rodriguez [32:07] 
Yes. I love that model. It also gives the students somebody that they feel that’s on their side, their champion, that covers their whole person, and it’s not just subject specific.  

Haydee Rodriguez [32:20]
Right. We’ve done similar things like getting to know one student at least really well. We’ve done that at our school. But if we’re using those ideas in a comprehensive, traditional model, it becomes very hard to really execute the idea. We really need to see the time, to make sure that teachers have enough time to do that, and to be able to schedule that into the day so that it does happen and there is good follow-through because the students and the teachers all benefit.

Nati Rodriguez [33:01] 
I have a dream of redesigning the school day completely, but that’s another conversation.  

Haydee Rodriguez [33:07] 
Yes, it is. One of the things that I’m very excited about is at our last State Board meeting, we had a conversation about community schools and the whole wraparound model – creating places that respond to the communities. That is something that’s coming down the pike in California and that is very exciting because within that, there are opportunities for redesign to meet adolescent students’ needs.  

Nati Rodriguez [33:41] 
That’s great to hear, and I love to see where we end up. It’s been so hard to make change in education, but I think because of what has happened in the last two years, although unfortunate, we’re really thinking hard about our public education system. 

Nati Rodriguez [33:39] 
Where do you see yourself in five years?  

Haydee Rodriguez [33:39] 
I love being in the classroom. If there comes a time before retirement, when I feel like I’m not serving my students, then it’s time to do something different. However, there is something that I have been thinking about now for a year and a half, and that is a program in a New Mexico university and it’s a master’s in Art Therapy. I could be a counselor, there’s a counseling degree in art therapy. I would love to do that and take the time. I can’t this year, but I’m seriously thinking of applying next year, because I can use a lot of those skills with my students and perhaps move into school counseling as I’m getting ready to retire. Within that there would be a lot of opportunities and with a master’s in art therapy, I would be able to work with little children as well. That’s something that I’d love to do in the future. Something that I’m doing right now this year I was selected to be the United States Institute of Peace Teacher for California.  

 It’s very exciting because I do believe conflict exists and it should remain as non-violent conflict. Once violence happens, we all lose. I am definitely a person who advocates for peace at all levels. So, it’s very exciting. I have always wanted to participate in something with the United States Institute of Peace and this opportunity opened up. They’ve never had a teacher from California so I’m the first and my students are peace builders. My ninth graders are actually the ones that are learning about using diplomatic tools for conflict resolution. They’re going to create children’s books and we’re going to share those books. They’re going to take peace-building tools and pick a conflict that they’ve witnessed or that they know about within their own school setting. Then they’ll write a book about it and the resolution, and we’ll share it with the younger students here in El Centro.  

Nati Rodriguez [37:15] 
That’s lovely. Wow.  

Haydee Rodriguez [37:18] 
I’m so excited about it. It really is. It was a dream come true to have been selected. I’m so happy about it.  

Nati Rodriguez [37:25] 
Thank you for sharing that. That’s such a big accomplishment and also the work that the students will do will be incredible. Haydee, is there anything else that you would like to share with us?  

Haydee Rodriguez [37:34] 
Thank you so much for the invitation. I really appreciate it. I do hope that we can find creative ways to recruit teachers of color and to recruit new teachers into what I consider the most beautiful profession in the world. We have the privilege of accessing young hearts and young minds, and it’s not a privilege to take lightly. It’s exciting to be part of the Annenberg [Learner] Podcast because when we started the school in East Palo Alto and I was a student teacher, my classroom was featured in the culturally responsive pedagogy. It was a lesson that a group of teachers and myself designed and it had to do with colonization. We read Bartolomé de las Casas, and looked at some of the changes in culture and colonization. It was the Annenberg project, so it’s nice to reconnect this way.

Nati Rodriguez [38:49] 
Yes, yes, definitely. We have beautiful series that a lot of our educators around the world access. It’s great to be interviewing you and coming full circle after so many years and watching your journey.  

Haydee Rodriguez [39:04] 
Thank you and the series is wonderful. I receive the emails and I often go in there for my own professional development. It’s something that I can do here at home. I can, sit in my comfy chair on my iPad and watch some of these lessons and they’re masterful so great curation.