Inspiration and Pride – Thank you, George

The greatest moment at the Bakersfield EdTechTeam 2018 Summit was Tuesday morning when George Barcenas gave the opening keynote. I will summarize only two points from his speech ONLY because you deserve the opportunity to experience George in person. My good friend received a well-deserved standing ovation after sharing the story of his family and the struggles he faced growing up as a Mexican-American student. The man in the photo standing next to George is his proud father.

“George” is not the name his mother wrote on his birth certificate paperwork. In fact, his mama wrote “Jorge” three different times, but the nurse ignored her. All too often our society ignores the wishes of those who are different and forces them to conform so that people who look like me have it easier. An adult now, George has always been called George, which is odd to say when you add his last name – George (English pronunciation) Barcenas (Spanish pronunciation).

Often times, we as teachers don’t realize how the words we use confuse our students. George shared an excerpt from a Media that Matters video called Immersion. I am linking the video but I am purposely not embedding it because you deserve to experience George’s keynote in person.

I am bilingual. I know what if feels like to feel lost in another language with an unquenchable thirst to learn and share. I also make mistakes with my own students who are learning English as a second language or who lives in a non-mainstream culture. What is known and obvious to me may not be obvious to someone new to our language or someone who must learn to code switch.

Take, for example, the Mensa Society, the organization that provides a forum for the intellectual exchange of the top 4 percent. I have heard of the organization. I would think that Sheldon’s character on the Big Bang Theory is not only a member but the one who wrote the bylaws. And like, George’s boarding school teacher, I would make the mistake of recommending Mensa membership to my students. Not because people like George don’t belong but because the word does NOT translate into Spanish with the same meaning. In fact, the meaning is the opposite.


Please go to Google Translate and look up the words bobo and tonto. These are not nice names to call your students who may already question if they belong.

What we as teachers forget is that students struggle – not just to learn but also to belong. The words we use really do matter. Es importante for our students who speak Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic, and other languages or who must code switch between cultures that we don’t make assumptions. What is obvious to us may not be obvious to them. The words may not directly translate. The words may confuse them. It is imperative that we look our students in their face, see them for who they are, and truly communicate. When we truly see our students, we can truly teach them.

Thank you, George, for your inspiration.