School Leader

Tania Hernandez

I got into teaching because I wanted to be a role model for children of color, especially young girls. When people ask me what inspired me to go down that path, I tell them about Ms. Harrison, my fifth grade teacher. She was always so well-dressed and put-together, exactly how I thought a teacher would look in my head. She told us that, if you’re a girl of color, you can be whatever you want to be, just like her. I was already getting that message at home from my mom, but this was the first time I heard it from someone outside of the home.

One day, I was watching Ms. Harrison use a typewriter. She was typing so fast, her long red nails clicking on the keyboard. I said, “Where did you learn to do that?” She said, “I learned when I went to college at UCLA. When you grow up and decide what you want to be, you can go to college too.” I remember that conversation so vividly, realizing that I could learn to do things really well just like her if I set my mind to it.

I went to college and eventually made my way into classroom teaching. After starting out in district schools, I became a founding teacher at KIPP Raíces Academy in East Los Angeles. I taught the founding first grade class and then became a founding second grade teacher the following year. Eventually, I realized I wanted to make a bigger difference, beyond the 100 students per year I was teaching in my classes. So when the opportunity arose to become Dean at KIPP Iluminar, I decided to take the leap.

I am entering my fifth year in this role, and I still feel like I’m learning new things every single week. I already knew I loved working with kids, and now I’ve learned to love working with adults just as much. My teachers, colleagues, and school leader have pushed me to grow every year. For example, during my second year as Dean, our school was on a split campus and I was in charge of the first grade campus. I struggled to coach my teachers, who told me I needed to improve in my listening skills. I learned a lot about myself that year, and by taking teachers’ feedback I was able to become a better leader.

I’m still figuring out the best ways to be a role model for all of my students. Already I’m seeing the impact on the students at KIPP Iluminar. During our founding year, we had a Career Day where the students dressed up. One little girl, Brianna, decided to dress up as me (which led to this photo)! She said she wanted to be a teacher and then a Dean, just like me. Now Brianna is in fifth grade and she’s still following her dreams.

I hope that little girls like Brianna will see me and the other women in our building, and feel the same way I felt about Ms. Harrison. I hope they say, “I want to do what she’s doing,” or, “I know I can do whatever I set my mind to, because Ms. Hernandez did too.”

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