86 - Roles That Impact Education Policy with Danielle Guillen
Roles that impact education policy - The Teacher Career Coach Podcast

86 – Roles That Impact Education Policy with Danielle Guillen

TeacherCareerCoach

On this episode I interview Danielle Guillen, a cross-sector leader and policy expert that specializes in building equitable governmental systems, about the best career pivots for teachers looking for roles where they can continue to make a positive impact on education.

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Roles that Impact Education Policy Transcript

Daphne Gomez:
Hi, Danielle. Thanks so much for being here today.

Danielle Guillen:
Thanks for having me, Daphne, I’m excited.

Daphne Gomez:
So I wanted to interview you, because I was specifically looking for people who are working in education policy, maybe people who have experience working in politics in general, and helping to make some sort of change for educators. And one of the things that I learned about you on top of that is that you actually are a former teacher who went into these roles, which is something that I did not realize at first when I was looking at your impressive LinkedIn. So I just want to hear a little bit about your transition from working in the classroom and that very first politics position that you had.

Danielle Guillen:
Yeah. So I worked on the Eastern side of the Navajo Nation. I was a seventh grade math, and then I switched to social studies teacher. And I learned a lot about myself. I come from a family where I have aunts and really close family friends who are teachers. So I knew that coming out of college, it was a profession that I loved and respect fully. And it was their teaching that I just realized, the American education system kind of broke me. And I realized that I just needed a mental health break. So I ended up moving back home thinking, “What do I do? I know that I just needed a little bit of time from the classroom if I decided to go back in.” I actually spent three years from like, when I had decided to leave teaching to when I became a policy director. I ended up going to grad school to get my master’s in public policy, because I am one of the first in my family to go to college and to get a master’s degree. So, that was also something that was really important to me.
And it was there when I went to the University of Southern California and I was doing my NPP that I really got to understand the state of education policy in a state like California. I’m born and raised out here in Southern California. It took three years, two years in grad school, and then my first job right out of grad school is working for a school board member in Los Angeles Unified as their policy director doing both policy and community organizing.

Daphne Gomez:
So the first question that I know every teacher who’s listening is going to want to know is, do you, with all of your experience working in a variety of positions, you’ve been a campaign manager, you’ve worked on these really large school district boards, do you think that going back to school for grad school is a 100% definite you have to do that in order to make a pivot into these types of careers? Or are there other ways that you’ve seen former teachers kind of transition into those types of careers as well?

Danielle Guillen:
Yeah, it definitely is not something you have to do. I think I was just in a space where I wanted to do it because like I said, I’m a first generation college student. So I got my master’s degree, and my dad at the time had just finished his bachelor’s degree. Because he was inspired by me, he ended up enrolling into an online master. So we did it at the same time. So I think it was just for me something that I know I wanted to do for myself and for my family.
But now that I’ve been with so many people who have entered into politics in so many different ways, I don’t even think you have to be politics adjacent any longer to really influence the political sphere. So for instance, I was talking to somebody’s field rep for a California State Assembly member, and they were an actor prior to entering politics. And so I think that now that I have gone through this path, I don’t think at all. I even advise my campaign staff, if you want to do this, there are different ways to pivot into it and to also learn the skills needed to do policy work.
I do think with policy making, however, you definitely want to then make sure that is something you know you want to do. And specifically when you enter the civic sector, make sure you’re as close to policy making as possible. So whether that’s an advocacy role, or working in an electives office, or learning about policy via some other programs and trainings. There’s a lot of ways to enter it. I think community organizing would be one of the ma best ways to kind of enter the policy-making sphere.

Daphne Gomez:
Do you think even as somewhat of like a stepping stone working as far as advocating for unions, if you’re in a union school district, potentially if you are a former teacher and able to get on the school board. Do you think that’s a good stepping stone to kind of understanding some of this world?

Danielle Guillen:
Oh, absolutely. I think if you’re a teacher you should just run for office. I think that if you’re a former teacher, you should run for office, and it doesn’t matter what level of governance. It doesn’t have to be a school board. In Southern California, the majority of women get their political start in school boards. But I also think that there is a whole state legislature looking for teachers and the perspective of specifically women teachers, or women-identifying people. We need you in all levels of government.
And so I think if you want to run for office, we can definitely talk through that, but that is probably one of the best ways to learn your local political map, especially because a lot of times, I don’t know, Daphne if you felt this, but in my classroom I felt like my whole world was my classroom, and my whole world was my students and their families. Those are votes. Those are people who work on your campaign. Those are people who are on your team. So if anything, if you are currently or have just left the classroom, those relationships, I think, puts you in an advantage for running for office.

Daphne Gomez:
I’ve read up some, and I’ve read that there are nine key dimensions that are considered crucial to any comprehensive teacher policy. It would be teacher education, initial onboarding and then also continuing teacher education, recruitment, retention, deployment, teacher employment, and working conditions, teacher reward, teacher standards, accountability, school government, I might be missing one. Did you find yourself throughout your career working on all of those different topics, or were they more super-focused on specific areas for the roles that you had?

Danielle Guillen:
That’s a great question. When you are in government, so working for a school board member in the second largest school system in the nation, I got really good at things like facilities and facility contracts. Really good at things like pensions and teacher pay. So you kind of have to know it all, and you have to make judgment calls based off of the people in your board district. And so I know a little bit of it all. And even when I worked nationally, the issues weren’t always just around mental health supports or condition changes for students. Sometimes they were around teacher working conditions or just these bigger again, facilities is a huge one. And so to say that, no, I didn’t just specialize in one, but was able to really think through anything that intersected with school, like traffic, and having to manage the city council members or the different governmental bureaus and agencies that oversaw that particular problem.

Daphne Gomez:
With facilities, do you mind going more into detail? What does that mean? You said, it was something that was really important and probably a bulk of what you were doing in that specific roles. So what other types of things would you be doing as far as facilities are concerned?

Danielle Guillen:
So in the state of California, a lot of school districts get bonds for capital improvements, which means anything you can grab and touch. For schools the two biggest capital improvement projects are actually the physical, what a school physically looks like, anything to do with pavement or any upgrades that you need for a school, and technology. So things like computers. So those fall under a lot of these bonds. So a lot of my role was making was actually around like what a school looked like. And so you had principals or teachers, or sometimes you had law accessibility, like ADA requirements. And so you would oversee the projects that in this case, LUSC’s facilities department would do in order to improve the physical built environment of a school. So just the school site itself.
So for instance, we had a school that wanted a new playground, and they wanted to do some upgrades with some of the bonds money. And so we oversaw and brought in the environmental team and brought in some of the city people we would need, in order to make sure that we were building a compliant school ground. And so that was a lot of my roles, making sure all those people are talking, making sure we are in compliance with state and federal law and any local level laws, so county level laws, and then making sure that the work actually got done within a reasonable timeframe. I hope that answered your question.

Daphne Gomez:
Oh, it 100% did. I think where I was struggling was, are you building new facilities? What types of updates? And that was a perfect answer. And it’s really interesting to think about, you kind of got project management experience as far as construction goes with this type of role, which is not something that I would’ve anticipated you telling me when I just surface level look at what your job titles were. I’m sure there are so many people who are thinking the same thing, that it’s the same question. It’s probably the first question that you get from a lot of teachers. And it’s probably one of the most frustrating parts of this position as a former teacher and knowing where my next question goes. But you were talking a lot about the funds that you’re getting for capital improvement and for all of these facilitation, probably improvements as far as technology goes and updating different classrooms, but that is a different funding bucket than the teacher pay increase. You cannot use any of those leftover funds for teacher pay. I’m sure you get this all the time, but how do we fight for a teacher pay increase when so many of the funds are being allocated for other things at the schools as well?

Danielle Guillen:
I think this is a great question. And I think it goes back to the need for locality specifically school boards to really fight for state and local level, and to fight in conjunction with the state and federal delegations with their area to increase just the pot of funding for education as a whole.
So in Los Angeles Unified when I was there, it was during the 2018 teacher strike. And one of the things that was absolutely true is that teachers deserved to get paid more. And that was definitely not in question. And so after that particular strike, the teachers, UTLA, and the district were able to work together to put a measure on the ballot that did not pass, but it was to increase property taxes, and to change California state law because prop 13 set property taxes, which so many school systems rely on in order to fund education.
And so when we think about that, that means people have to be buying houses, they have to be paying property taxes. There’s so many things that go into that. And so this was to increase the property taxes for commercial properties in particular, and that would’ve increased the whole state allocation, but it would’ve really increased the district allocation of money that could go towards teacher pension, teacher pay, and other things like professional development opportunities. Those things that are so scarce in school systems right now, because a lot of budgets are going towards labor, which includes everyone. But also everyone deserves to get paid more because teaching is a fundamental job, and we’re doing a fundamental service for society.
It’s interesting because we can think through like what would sales tax look like? We have a lot of examples I think from the environmental justice movement where if we tax a plastic bag, and that goes towards a fund that is then allocated towards whatever environmental justice program a city wants to do, what could we do with sales tax? Could we put sales tax towards our school system to supplement it?
And I think that’s where the bigger political sphere, and what it kind of prompted me to want to learn more about policy making outside of the school board in particular was because there’s so many barriers for a school district, because in terms of governance, we’re oftentimes the most expansive. We expand multiple jurisdictions. We have joint unified school districts. Those are multiple cities, but oftentimes the cities are not working as well as the school system is to service that particular area of constituents.
And so things like this ballot measure failing, and being voted on, that is one of those things that, that’s a bigger political issue and that affects teachers, that affects students, and what we’re able to spend money on. So I particularly think that it’s not educators and people who are pro-education and pro-funding in schools. I think particularly the bigger political sphere doesn’t really know how much it costs and how much it takes to educate a child, and to educate somebody well. It’s a lot of money. It’s a lot of money.

Roles that impact education policy - The Teacher Career Coach Podcast

Daphne Gomez:
Yeah. And it’s not a popular thing to vote on. Anytime someone looks and that’s on the ballot, increasing taxes to go towards X, Y, or Z, no matter what the X, Y or Z is, it’s not going to be something that is necessarily popular. And that’s one of the biggest challenges. How important do you think it is for people who are advocating for changes to funding, or just to try and keep pushing more things on the ballot to increase funding, to get pay raises for teachers, to write their local government, their local legislators?

Danielle Guillen:
I think it’s fundamental to this. Let’s look at prop, is it 227? The anti-bilingual proposition that happens in like 1998. That’s one guy with an idea who had the audacity. And we have millions of teachers across the nation with the actual experience and expertise in school systems to be designing policy. He got enough signatures to get on the ballot and convinced enough people with a media campaign to vote for this and that. Law doesn’t get overturned until recently, like a couple years ago. But it impacts an entire generation of bilingual educators, children. It really sets precedent for how powerful one person could be. And granted, I think he was a millionaire, but I think that sets precedent for how powerful multiple groups of teachers, or parents, or students themselves could do to shape what political changes we demand for our school system. So I need to answer your question. It gets me so excited, but yes, absolutely. And if you need help, let me know. And I think California, in particular, ballot measures are so straightforward to put on the ballot that we’re really just… I’m like, let’s just have the audacity, let’s go. We’re ready.

Daphne Gomez:
I think one of the saddest parts is just feeling this sense of being beaten down and like we’re losing, and nothing that we are going to be able to do is actually going to make a change. And so we don’t try and fight, but we have tens of thousands of people who listen to each of these podcasts. We have a huge community of people who are all fighting for the exact same thing for anyone who wants to put the effort in, to take a couple of minutes, and to believe that we can make a difference. In episode 46 of the podcast, we interview Sharon McMahon. She walks through exactly how to find your local legislators. And we actually have a template linked in there for anyone who wants to save some time on how you can actually write them. So please go to episode 46, if you want to learn a little bit more and do that. Going into a little bit deeper of a dive on just how to actually get a job doing this, because you are obviously very passionate, but this is your full-time employment as well. What are some of the career titles that teachers might be interested in looking into that would touch district level policy making that you’ve heard of?

Danielle Guillen:
So I think there’s three routes into this. I think one route is your local level area map. And the thing that’s interesting about that is that doing some sort of community organizing group or having some sort of community organizing title, I think sets you really nicely to be a part of the bigger advocacy space. And I can speak for Los Angeles and Southern California, but in a place like Los Angeles, oftentimes these advocacy groups are pushing for very specific policy changes, but are also looked to as the experts in that particular policy lens. And that’s across education, across policy groups like housing. And we know that all those issues affect what happens in our classroom for us and for our students. And so those are really good places I think to go for full-time employment, if you want to be a community organizer, like I said, you have a built in network from being a teacher. And that oftentimes is one of the most powerful things.
So in my role when I worked at a nonprofit, I was doing national education policy. I was working with teachers who were learning community organizing and working with their students. And oftentimes that is the voice missing at the table. The teacher voice, the student voice. And that is something that is easily accessible, especially right after you decide to leave teaching, and if you decide to stay in the area that you are teaching in. And so that’s powerful. My aunt’s a principal and her students, she can go to any market and see a family or a student. I’ve had this conversation with her that whenever she’s ready, she’s able to take that to the next level because your direct impact on the lives of people is known in your community.
And so I think that sets you up really nicely to be in the advocacy space if you’re looking for an incremental increase into having a job title. If you’re wanting to dive in and you’re tired like I was after teaching, and you’re like, “I’m angry and I’m mad and things don’t move fast enough.” Then I would really encourage people to run for office. Oftentimes those positions are not paid, but we have seen just working nationally, I’ve seen so many incredible teacher electeds be able to move things, because they’re directly experiencing things. There was a group of electeds who are also in the classroom in Santa Clara County that I was able to work with. And because they were experiencing the digital divide firsthand alongside their families, they used their positional power as electeds to form a digital equity coalition that made the county board of supervisors in Santa Clara County reallocate millions of dollars to their school system so that they could buy computers for their kids. And that work is leading to Santa Clara County considering the first municipal-owned broadband network in California. And so I think that’s another avenue.
And I think the third avenue, if you want to be more towards the policy making side of this. So when I say that, I mean actually in a city hall or actually in a school board and doing the research and doing the writing and doing the constituent meetings to look for community engagement roles within specific governance office. So this could be your state legislature. This could be your school board members. And I want to preface this by saying that just having worked nationally, a lot of these state legislature positions are often not fully funded. They often have one staff member. It really depends on the state and how they choose to fund these elected positions.
But what I have seen a lot of people do is hold a research group position, like an analyst, or even just a coordinator role, and then do all of this elected work in their free time. And so I think it’s probably, Daphne, a bigger conversation of you can teach and being elected, but also you can pretty much do anything and be a part of the policy-making process. Because I don’t know if most localities fund these roles. A lot of times these elected are really volunteer. So I think it’s harder for, depending on your state and depending on your local elected cycle, but I think it’s possible to both teach and be in the policy-making process and have that be like a full-time role. But I think if you have a state that has a year cycle for your state legislator, looking at the state or Congress and roles that are community-facing are really good first time roles for teachers.

Daphne Gomez:
So just for transparency and visibility, these are not the types of positions that you are leaving the classroom, you’re getting into this, and that assumption that many people might have, that anyone in politics is just making a ton of money and they’re not working a lot. This is not that role. This is for someone who is intrinsically motivated and wants to make a change. However, you’re going to still have some of those negatives of low pay and not a lot of support that you may have in the classroom. Did you find yourself burning out in these new positions in the same way that you were as a teacher?

Danielle Guillen:
I would say it was less severe. When I left my classroom, I needed a full two years just to get my mental health back in order. I’m preaching to the choir. It was so taxing, and I saw so many things happen to people that I loved, my students and their families, that I physically just needed a break. And I don’t want to go too much into the specifics, but just witnessed a lot of like what we asked families and teachers to take on. And one of the reasons I actually jumped into policy work, not really knowing a lot about it, but knowing that I was going to be better than the superintendent that I had in Gallup McKinley County Schools was because he had done this thing my second year teaching where he rearranged all the principles.
And so he had put principals who, and my district was a 200 mile radius. So he put principals from one part of the district to the very other part of the district in hopes that they would leave without severance packages. And I just thought, there has to be a better way. There has to be a better way to honor educators, to honor teachers and principals. There has to be a better way than all of these other people making decisions for me in my classroom that negatively impacted at least me and for sure my students, and we saw that just with the change in leadership. And so that, I think, for me was the final straw near the end of my second year, because I truly thought I was going to be in the classroom a really long time.
My aunt was in the classroom for seven years before she transitioned into administration. She is my favorite person in this world. So I really thought I was going to be a lifelong teacher, and I was really excited. And I think that was the last straw for me to be like, absolutely not. I don’t know what’s happening at that school board level. I don’t know what’s happening at the federal government level, but I know that my heart is with my students and with my families. And I know that this pisses me off. And so I left really heartbroken, and I lived with my grandma, tutored part-time, tried to get my life together, because unfortunately I didn’t come from a family where I had anyone to ask.
And so I remember calling one of my old college sorority sisters and being like, “You work in politics. How did you get there?” Her answer was very typical for what it’s like. She’s like, “You have to do free labor, and then you get in and then you can be a part of it.” And I, like many people who are listing, didn’t have that luxury. I don’t have a luxury to just volunteer for something. And so that is kind of where I started. And then I landed on grad school, like I said previously, and kind of then learned that in bigger cities there’s a lot of roles, and so I can be more specific there. And then in smaller municipalities, more suburban and more rural roles, that’s where we see a lot of people, do two jobs in to make sure they’re part of the civic sector there.

Daphne Gomez:
So you went into the roles really working directly with school districts, and then you’ve since then even pivoted and started working as a campaign manager. Is that correct?

Danielle Guillen:
Yes. I managed a whole campaign team of 30 people. Not as hard as the 200 students I taught, but definitely a large group of people.

Daphne Gomez:
Is that, if you mind me asking, something that is paid or volunteer work as a campaign manager?

Danielle Guillen:
That is actually a great point. So campaigns can be both paid and volunteered. Mine happened to be paid.

Daphne Gomez:
And how long did you work for them?

Danielle Guillen:
I was on for a full year. So I was on the campaign for a full year. And then towards the end, it became really apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to work my full-time job and do this campaign wholeheartedly. There was a lot of factors involved, but ended up being really grateful that I was able to come on full time to the campaign. And it was really life changing of an experience and was not something I’d ever imagined doing in the civic sector. And in fact was something that I was still really nervous about doing. I was a city council campaign for Los Angeles City Council, a hundred thousand voters. We got The LA Times endorsement, which was huge. It was really, really cool experience. Raised over $300,000, fund raised. It was massive, but it was such a cool experience. Had a campaign team of 30 people, mostly from the community, mostly from backgrounds like being first generation American, being undocumented currently, or formerly mostly women of color, or queer youth. So it was like a campaign that I feel is very representative of America and of the people that we teach and our families. It’s been a really cool experience. It ended the first week of June, and I’m still reveling from how amazing it was.

Daphne Gomez:
For that role did you apply like you would apply for any other job? Did you get it through networking? How does someone land a campaign manager role? I feel like I’ve watched the TV show Veep, and I think I know politics from a couple of really good TV shows, and that’s it.

Danielle Guillen:
I think it’s pretty accurate. So I got this one through meeting the candidate through a friend. And I think, what I will say though, for anyone that’s interested how I was when I first started this journey, a lot of times, just cold emailing people that you admire goes a long way. Looking at the organizations in your area, thinking you do something cool, and asking for 15 minutes of their time and explaining, I’m a teacher. I’m looking to pivot from my classroom. I’m looking to pivot into advocacy or policy or elected leadership. Could I talk to you for 15 minutes on how you did that, goes a long way in building like a social network. And actually when I was in grad school, that is something that I took really seriously. So, where I grew up in the inland empire in California of like things like democratic club meetings or your political party meetings, those things are really obscure.
Everyone’s friends. I had no idea how to get involved there. And when I moved to Los Angeles, those things are really open to the public. They’re really transparent. And so I was able to go and just start meeting people and talking to people. And oftentimes that’s all it took was deepening that relationship and asking somebody to dinner, or somebody to go on a phone call during your lunch break, or those things that I know are sacrifices in the moment, because like your time is precious, but it’ll also go a long way to helping you build a network of people that you really identify with which I think is the key here.
For me, I do equity-based policy work or social impact policy work. That was something I was really interested in doing. So I think that’s definitely where to start. I met Dulce through a friend, and one of the things that really drew me to her campaign was that I had moved back to the inland empire to be with my grandma during the pandemic, and found myself really enraged with the school systems and ended up running for school board and losing there. And when I thought about my next steps, I thought, I should come back to LA. This is where I’ve built my social network, and where I’ve built a lot of my friendships just as an adult.
And when I met her, and she had this really ambitious goal. LA City Council’s not for the faint of heart in terms of campaign world. I thought, let me be a part of this, because it’s so hard for women of color to get campaign staff, to get funding, to get endorsements. That was something I felt as well when I did my run for school board. Like I said though, if you want to be involved in a campaign, it really takes showing up. We had people message us on social media and then become a part of the campaign team. We had people find us on TikTok, and then be a volunteer and be a part of the campaign team. My staff had never been a part of a campaign team before, but because you’re willing and you’re willing to put in the work needed and you’re willing to support that particular candidate, it’s really easy to then get involved in campaign life.
None of my stuff knew each other beforehand, but we just went to someone’s little sister’s Quinceanera this weekend. It really is initially very scary, but a lot of it is just putting yourself out there and connecting with the candidate via social media, because you don’t realize how valuable, just even like an hour of phone call, like phone banking or text banking is for that candidate. And it’s really essential to the democratic process. So that I think is a great way to get involved, and to know somebody’s team, and to know people in that political sphere.

Daphne Gomez:
And that networking continues to help you if this is the actual area that you want to work in for the long term. Many of those people are going to go into their own different directions, but keeping in contact with them, building those authentic connections, this is now a solid network of people who are aligned with your values that are probably going to be working in new areas, aligned with your values that you can reach back out to in two years or five years, if there are opportunities that sync up with what you’re looking for. Right?

Danielle Guillen:
No, definitely. I think something I didn’t realize before going into campaign world was that everyone knows each other. Just an example of this. I have a lot of friends here in LA who met on the Obama campaign and are now since married, but that whole world knows each other. So for a lot of, even my time as a policy director, I was like, “Oh shoot, I’m catching up, because so many of these people knew each other in college volunteering for campaigns.” But, like I said, as long as you show up to do the work on a campaign, you’re going to also start meeting all of these people. And a lot of times that’s how, not only does everyone know each other, but that’s how they continue working in the bigger campaign political sector. So yes, just even if you meet. Yeah. It’s just worth it.

Daphne Gomez:
Okay. So this is like, I’m now somewhat connected to Obama is what you’re telling me. Through like Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation, I can maybe find Obama on LinkedIn and try and connect with them?

Danielle Guillen:
Maybe like 10 degrees, but yeah. I’m moving more up, and you’re coming with me, Daphne. We will meet the Obamas one day.

Daphne Gomez:
So you working on this campaign. It ended. It’s somewhat of like a contract position as far as how long it’s going to last, but it did end up with helping you find a new opportunity, isn’t that right?

Danielle Guillen:
Yes it did. I’m going to be working as a senior analyst for a social impact consulting firm. It’s a woman owned. They do equity-based, social impact consulting. So they’re equity based, which like I said, which is important to me, but it was really random, because I met the owner through another connection with someone who previously worked with me in the education policy space. So it felt really happenstance and she’s great. Jessica’s great. She’s used to be a community organizer. She’s worked in LA. She’s worked in LA politics. And so we had a lot in common even though her and I had not yet overlapped, but I think yes, to your point, hat was really cool to just have one to two people that we both knew that we both could connect with each other. And in finding this role too, because it wasn’t a job posting that was super posted. It was really kind of a word of mouth thing.

Daphne Gomez:
Do you have any insight into what your day-to-day duties and responsibilities would be for this position?

Danielle Guillen:
Yeah, so I’ll be covering a lot of our governmental programs work. So I will be working on a couple key projects that departments within different governments across California are wanting to do. So for instance, one of the projects that I will be closely working on, although I don’t quite know what the day-to-day looks like on this, will be working with a department within Los Angeles city to help them just really strategically think through the different supports that they offer, and help them really fine tune some of the programs that they have to make sure what they say they want to do is actually going to do the things that they think it’s going to do, within how they set up that particular program.
A lot of consulting life, I think, though I start Thursday. But a lot of consulting life is really very similar to the work that I did at the district. A lot of talking to people, a lot of researching, a lot of making sense and meaning for other people. And a lot of just recommendations that in this case, governmental agencies will take up, and then seeing through implementation of that. So making sure that things are, like I said, things are doing what they say that they need to do and what we know they need to do. So that’s kind of like the day-to-day. Very similar to policy director role stuff.

Daphne Gomez:
You are so well-versed and knowledgeable about everything that we’ve talked about. This is more of a weird hypothetical question. Not going to be easy to answer, but do you think that past teacher you would recognize this version of yourself?

Danielle Guillen:
Got me in my feels. No. Well, no, I take that back. Somewhat. I remember in my classroom, in my school district, we had what I would consider a major violation of IDEA, like the legislation for students with disabilities at the federal level. And I remember thinking, “This is so unjust. My students get one semester of social studies and one semester of science.” To me, I knew everyone was working super hard. We were super understaffed. We didn’t have enough teachers. We were doing everything we could. And I was like, there has to be a better way. And so I remember being really scared researching it, because I had no idea what it was, but I knew this was what decided the environment for my students with disabilities.
I read it. And I was like, my gut is telling me that we’re not doing this right. That is like what my gut is telling me. And so then I asked some people. I called the number. And I was like, “What does this look like normally? I read some of the papers.” And I brought it to my assistant principal and I was like, “Hey, I know you all are doing the best you can for kids, but I think we’re doing this wrong.” And I don’t know if this is the best we can do. And so then we ended up working. It’s me and a couple other teachers that ended up working with scheduling, because obviously we had vacancies, a lot of them. Part of that is why I switched over to social studies, because that was an open role. And I knew that we could get a math teacher, and we were able to get a really good math teacher so that my students could have a full year of history and a full year of science.
It was a really complicated problem to solve the scheduling, but it was something that I think that was the impetus for, I think I could do this at a bigger level. I at least care enough to talk through this. And so I think my teacher self would be very proud of just the policies that I’ve been able to help pass, the number of teachers that I’ve trained on community organizing and policy, and the number of teachers who through going through a policy win with me have now pivoted to other roles within the civic sector, the bigger political sector. I know she would be really proud, but I also think that I just had a little bit of that. I just didn’t have the network of people telling me that’s what all you needed. You just needed that. So, oh, that’s such a sweet question, but yeah. So I think that she would be really proud.

Daphne Gomez:
I just feel like for myself personally, I came from a situation where I was beaten down and told you’re not even being a good teacher, nothing that you’re doing is good enough. You need to be constantly doing more, doing more, doing more. And so it was so hard for me to recognize any value in myself. And so I just came into whatever I did post-teaching with such imposter syndrome that anytime people, even still, try and compliment me on where I am, it’s really hard for me to wrap my brain around it. And I know that my teacher self would always probably say, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know if you’re even going to make it as a teacher, just based on a couple of parents’ opinions of you.” But I am so-

Danielle Guillen:
Preach.

Daphne Gomez:
I’m so blown away by so many teachers on what they do post-teaching, because all of us are highly educated, highly passionate women. Most of the people who are listening do identify as women, and they are lifelong learners, and they constantly are pushing themselves to grow. And you are no exception to that. One of the most impressive people that I’ve met, and I’m just so happy that I’ve been able to interview you, but I want to end with one question about one thing that you are doing that you are very passionate about, that we have not talked about at all, and that is STEM in the Park. Can you share a little bit with the audience about your work with STEM in the Park?

Danielle Guillen:
Yeah. First I want to go back to the important point that you made, which is that I too felt like I couldn’t do anything right in my classroom. I was burnt out. And I think part of that is the impossible standards we put on a profession that the majority of women embody. And so I think there’s a lot there, but I want to tell anyone who’s listening is like, if you feel that it’s not, that you’re not amazing, it’s that the expectations that we put in this role are not humanly possible for anyone to fulfill. Teaching forever and will always be the hardest job. And also the one that I think through, and I think damn. I’m always so impressed by people who have stayed in the classroom for so long, because it’s not, especially in this pandemic, it is not a profession that has anything… Or those feelings have nothing to do with your work ability, is everything to do with how this, the profession is set up.
[inaudible 00:44:03] I want to say that very explicitly. And I wanted to say that I miss teaching, Daphne. I miss it every day. And I also know that I love the work that I get to do in policy, and policy design, and advocating for people, or working with them to advocate for themselves and making sure that people are listening and changing systems. And I also love that moment where a student learned something and their whole world lights up. That is something that I yearn for. And so I had a very honest conversation with myself when I was at LAUSD, and having been a math teacher, I can no longer sit back and not give teachers what they need or not provide students with the educational experiences.
And so STEM in the Park has looked a lot of different ways from first making bilingual STEM experiences accessible to low-income communities in Southern California, to taking a group of students through the advocacy process and having them advocate for materials in science and STEM that they know teachers and they deserve for hands-on learning, to this third iteration, which I’m really excited for, which is kind of a joint of it all. And that’s because I love teaching. I love that experience. The system of education is not one that I personally know that I can handle just mentally, physically, spiritually. And so I started STEM in the Park because I still needed that space. It’s still a part of me. It’s why went into education initially. And so STEM in the Park works in areas that are what we classify as STEM desert. So these are places where there’s no after school activities, or there’s not a lot of budgets for hands-on science learning. And we kind of try to fill in the gap to the best of our ability to meet even the language like accessibility of that area.
So we have worked with over 450 students and their families or children and their families. We have had kids do public comment at LAUSD for more science resources and try to reallocate budget. So we are pushing to make sure there’s a lot more materials for teachers when it comes to the sciences and mathematics. But yeah, that’s just like a little bit. I’m really excited about this next iteration. But I will say it’s because I still miss teaching. I still love it, and I needed something to do it with.

Daphne Gomez:
Yeah. I know there are so many teachers maybe potentially even teachers in the Los Angeles area who are listening to this and former teachers that might want to get involved. Is there a best way for them to find STEM in the Park, and see if they can help in any way?

Danielle Guillen:
Yes. If you go to STEM in the Park’s Instagram, just shoot me a DM. That’s where we’re at. We just got our 501(c)(3) status. So we’re officially a nonprofit. So I’m officially starting the first round of fundraising. And so that is kind of where we’re at. If you want to help, I will be planning activities for this summer. Would love all the support. And even if you have questions like what it’s like to start your own nonprofit, the IRS process has taken so long from when I first started this to now, that happy to answer those questions for anyone who wants to found their own nonprofit.

Daphne Gomez:
Thank you so much, Danielle, for being here. This has been such a great conversation, and I just appreciate you taking the time to come and talk to us.

Danielle Guillen:
No, thank you. I love this. I love everything about it. If you all need anything, you feel free to reach out to in my personal social media, it’s just Danielle.Gein. I am on Twitter and Instagram, and very accessible. So.

Daphne Gomez:
All right. Thank you so much.

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