“I’m not sure you’re capable of taking that class,” said my high school English teacher. She was a middle-aged white woman. I had approached her after class to sign a form allowing me to take the more advanced AP English class the following year. My first year of high school, I was placed in the advanced courses in science and math but not in English.
Placement in advanced courses was based on previous grades and PSSAs scores, a Pennsylvania standardized test. As a straight-A student, I spent my first year wondering why I hadn’t been placed in a more advanced course. As Latino immigrants, my parents couldn’t help me navigate the U.S. education system. We all just assumed the teacher knew best. At the end of the year, however, I was determined to get into AP English as a sophomore.
While I don’t recall exactly what my teacher said to me, I do know how I felt. It’s the same way I always feel when I defend myself — my throat closes up, my tongue gets dry, and my body feels inflamed. The discussion consisted of me saying over and over, “I know I am capable of taking AP English and I will get straight A’s.” As a child, you often believe that teachers are always right and have the best intentions for their students. Only a few inches taller than me, my teacher seemed like a giant as I pleaded with her to sign my form.
Throughout my time in high school in rural western Pennsylvania, I was the darkest person in my classes. Sure, there were a handful of students of color, but we were very much a minority among a wide array of white students. Of the five students of color, I was the only Latina and one of two women of color.