Episode #93: Why Schools Need to SEE Students with Carissa Duran

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Carissa Duran is a Teacher, an ELD/Literacy/EdTech Instructional Coach, and Testing Coordinator at Del Lago Academy in the Escondido Union High School District in the San Diego, California area. I met Carissa at the Aurora Institute where she was awarded the 2019 Personalized Learning Teacher of the Year and invited her to share her story on my podcast.
Your background 
I am a Californian native, born in Orange County, grew up mostly in Riverside County, and now live in San Diego County. Southern California is kind of my stomping ground. I did spend a few years living in Oregon right after my first year of college and then returned back to southern California to get my degree at UC Riverside. 

A fun picture of me with siblings and cousins
I am the 7th of 9 children. We were raised by my mom and grew up in Riverside in one of the more disadvantaged neighborhoods and was exposed to a lot of diverse cultures from people from different backgrounds in my community and in my schools. 
What it was like for you as a student
School for me was a place of privilege. I used to think I had no privilege at all. I grew up really poor as a minority female in a single-parent home. The first day I was terrified of the unknown with a puddle of tears. My teacher, Mrs. Takanaga, welcomed me in and gave me time and let me hide under her desk for four hours until I was ready to come out. She made school really safe for me because home was not a safe place for me. Because I felt safe [at school], I went all in and was really privileged because traditional school was more or less became natural for me. Being successful in school changed the entire trajectory of my life.
I was one of those under the radar kids who didn’t demand a lot of attention. My school had no idea that my family lost their home between 8th and 9th grade and that I started high school homeless. They didn’t know what was going on when it was happening. I was good at school and making myself small enough to fit into that mold, but the school didn’t see me the way I saw it. I was able to stay under the radar. That’s why I was unprepared for life after high school. I dropped out of college after my first year and moving out of state for three years before I realized what I had to do to be successful and how to navigate the system on my own before I returned to get my degree. Success was all about how I felt about a school not about how school saw me.
Your journey as a teacher
I did not always feel I was going to be a teacher. At one time, I thought of political science, pre-law, but none of that worked out. I became a teacher partly because of a dare and another part because of a tragedy. I haad a friend that was trying to become a teacher and was having a tough time passing his exams (CSETS) for his credential. He dared me to try to pass the exams myself. I passed on my first try. But I was close to graduation at UC Riverside. A couple of months later, my brother’s life was unexpectedly taken. I was a mess and couldn’t think of planning my future.
My friend reminded me that I passed that exam and should apply to the school of education. I got accepted to earn my credential and masters in education. I started teaching 9th grade English right out of my graduate program, but I was also given a release period to Educational Technology teacher on special assignment. I was later assigned a 7th-grade remediation class for high school seniors who had struggled to pass California’s HS exit exam and were in danger of not graduating and had scores in the elementary test score range.

After the first day, I realized that a handbook with worksheets for students to go through to prepare them for the test wasn’t going to work. I stopped using that handbook and didn’t use a lot of teaching and content delivery methods. I did a lot of relationship building and talked with them about where their skills were and t…