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Member & Activist Spotlight

Yesenie Cano: I Wanted to be a Teacher

Yesenie Cano is an aspiring educator at Oklahoma Panhandle State University and a member of the NEA Aspiring Educator Advisory Committee
Yesenie Cano
Published: May 17, 2021

I was in high school, helping other students with math when I saw that special look in the eyes of one of them who grasped a concept.

That’s when I knew I wanted to be a teacher. 

I grew up in Hooker, Oklahoma, where my parents moved soon after immigrating from Mexico more than 30 years ago. I am the first in my family to attend college, and I’ll graduate from Oklahoma Panhandle State University and go on to teaching—though I have other plans beyond that. 

As I moved from high school to college, I found that critical issues for my community and others who are underserved were important to me and I found that I had some ability to be a voice for them.

It struck me first when the Upward Bound program I was involved with told me about concurrent classes for credit in high school and college and urged me to enroll in them. When I did, I noticed that no other students looked like me. It became clear that access to those classes wasn’t easy for students from minority communities so, for me, inequity—particularly in education—came clearly into focus. 

Beyond that, here at my school, I noticed that despite its designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) to specifically serve the Hispanic community, my college was not living up to that role. It wasn’t meeting the real and unique needs of Hispanic students.

Because of my experience, I’m more aware of other things that should change on campus, including the need for more teachers of color (I had never had one) and a better representation of Hispanics in the administration. I’ve led raising these issues on campus, for example, ensuring commencement activities will be bilingual.

I’ve also been very active in NEA’s Aspiring Educators and the Hispanic American Leadership Organization along with several other state and national organizations supporting my community and profession. 

I see great possibilities in education and I want to see that look in the eyes of my students when they gain an understanding of something or get excited about learning. 

I want to study educational leadership—I’m not sure where that path will take me, but I think working on policies that affect public education and my community would be very fulfilling. 

National Education Association

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.