Greeting his students brightens every day for Marquette teacher Rogelio Aguilar
Marquette School of Excellence teacher Rogelio Aguilar sees a lot of himself and his family reflected in the mostly Latine students he serves. He is the son of Mexican immigrants, parents who worked hard to provide a better life for their family.
Many of his ancestors worked picking fruit in California, so he understands what it means to have a union to protect workers’ rights.
“When I think about a union, I think about a lot of the early labor leaders like Cesar Chavez, who fought to provide rights to people in the fields, like my family members, who didn’t have the rights they should,” he said.
A varied path to teaching
Born and raised in Aurora, Aguilar moved to Chicago for good in 2016, but his road to CPS was a circuitous one. Before becoming a teacher, he hosted a punk rock, underground radio show and, while putting himself through school, worked as a roofer with his dad.
“I’d go to a fast food restaurant bathroom and change out of my dirty clothes and wipe off all the dirt. Then I would drive to the university for my organic chemistry class,” he said.
That was when he was working toward his bachelor’s degree in medical science from Dominican University, hoping to attend medical school in the Caribbean. But the teaching bug bit him after working as a tutor and mentor for students while in college and then, many years and career changes later, as a substitute teacher in Aurora.
After earning two bachelor’s degrees, he earned a master’s from National Louis University. He started as a bilingual teacher at Marquette in 2017 and hasn’t looked back. He spent five years as a bilingual teacher in first grade and now is in his second year in second grade.
Proud union member
Rogelio joined CTU his first week on the job. Since joining CTU, Aguilar has served on Marquette’s 2019 contract action team, as associate delegate and now delegate. He also has been active in the CTU’s bilingual education committee and recently was elected as an elementary functional vice president on the CTU Executive Board. He also attended the 2018 conference in Mexico of the Trinational Coalition to Defend Public Education (composed of groups from across Canada, the US and Mexico).
Aguilar said he finds it frustrating that more people don’t see the value of his union. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there, but everything we’re doing is for our students, our families and our members, but a lot of people don’t understand that,” he said. “We truly have only good intentions.”
Difficult first year
Aguilar said he remembers his first year teaching, being the only bilingual first grade teacher with a class roster of 31 students, as the most difficult year of his career.
“While I grew my practice in the classroom during the day, I spent my evenings translating the curriculum that we had from English to Spanish so my students could have access to the same content others were given,” he recalled. “Even though it was a lot of work, my students deserved it.”
Priorities for the next contract
That’s one of the reasons he puts enforceable class size limits, especially for the primary grades, at the top of his list of priorities for the next CTU contract. He remembers, with pride, the 2019 strike that, for the first time, won enforceable class size relief in the CPS/CTU collective bargaining agreement. His school received a TA as a result.
As a bilingual teacher, he also wants to see increased access to quality bilingual resources and professional development — resources that are not just bad translations of the materials and learning that is available to monolingual teachers.
Aguilar also wants a better school day for his students, with opportunities for enrichment and learning that is broader than just math and reading. His definition of a well-resourced school is one that has “enough teachers for the students to learn all they want to learn and all they need to learn to be successful.”
Best job ever
In his classroom, Aguilar tries to instill tenacity and curiosity in his students with a Super Mario Brothers theme, as they compare their learning to playing the popular video game.
“I tell them that if we make a mistake and don’t jump far enough, Mario doesn’t save the princess. But any possible failure is an opportunity to learn and we try again until the objective is met,” he said. “I feel proud when my students make mistakes but acknowledge them and try again.”
Aguilar recognizes the challenges of being a teacher, but said it’s the best job he’s ever had. He loves working with his students and finds it rewarding and meaningful.
“Being a career changer, I’ve worked at places where I dreaded going into work. Not this job,” he said. “I tell my students that as soon as I see them walk into class smiling, my day gets brighter.”
With a teacher like Mr. Aguilar, we’re sure his students feel the same way