By Nabiha Charolia, Contributor
As Payton welcomes the class of 2026 into the building for the first time, it also welcomes a new cohort of teachers. This year, there are 22 new staff members joining the WPCP community! I met with Mr. Rodriguez, a new history teacher at Payton to hear his story.
Paw Print: Why do you teach history specifically?
Mr. Rodriguez: I teach history because there’s definitely a sentiment that history is boring, right? There’s definitely a narrative like it’s about old dead, white people or whatever. The reason why I teach history beyond any other subject is so that I can show people that history doesn’t have to be about memorizing facts and dates, and people that have been long since gone. But rather, it can be something that’s really genuinely interesting, and more so about how you interpret those facts instead.
Paw Print: What made you want to be a teacher?
Mr. Rodriguez: To start off with, I went to grammar school in Humboldt Park in Jose Diego. So if you’re not sure where that is, it’s like by Clemente. And it wasn’t necessarily the best neighborhood; the school was really underfunded. From there, I went to high school at Lane Tech, a school fairly similar to Payton in the sense that it’s a selective enrollment, so there are really high standards. The transition between grammar school and high school was really difficult. It was kind of a culture shock in the sense that like, there was a lot of trauma that I had normalized and didn’t realize it was not okay until I reached high school… And it was my junior year of high school when I realized that I didn’t want anybody to have to go through what I did alone. And so by my junior year, I decided that I wanted to be a teacher so that nobody would have to go through that trauma as I did. Or at least if they are they can at least know that they’re not doing that alone. That’s why I teach.
Paw Print: If you weren’t teaching right now, what would you be doing?
Mr. Rodriguez: I think I would either be in theater, or in like an acting profession, or I would be involved in like politics or political engagement.
Paw Print: What are your first impressions of the school? The students?
Mr. Rodriguez: It’s quite a culture shock to be here. As a young teacher, and as a young teacher of color in a department that’s pretty homogenous, you feel like an outsider. There’s a lot of imposter syndrome there in the sense that like, even as a teacher, I’m not sure how much I belong when most of my students don’t look or think like me. And yet, there are a lot of students that do look and think like me. And so it’s been a constant reminder that those are the kinds of students that I’m here for the ones that don’t feel like they belong, the ones that feel and have been marginalized their entire time at Payton….Those are the students that I’m here for. And that my first impression of them is that you guys are great. But because you go to school like Payton, a lot of times your problems are ignored. And that’s something that I want to change.
Paw Print: What impact do you hope to have at Payton? What do you hope your students will be able to achieve by the end of the school year?
Mr. Rodriguez: To be perfectly honest, I’m not worried about any of my students. I think that regardless of maybe how I teach, or what is being taught, I think that a lot of you guys are going to succeed, no matter what. I think what’s more important for me as a teacher, that I hope my students will achieve is knowing that, that they are capable of that kind of thing. I’m really more so concerned with like empowering my students so that they feel like they have some agency in what they’re learning. And so that they can do that while also respecting their mental health. Because I know that a school like this for a fact is one in which those kinds of conversations aren’t happening. So I’m sure my students can achieve literally anything and everything. I’m more concerned about, if they can do that, while also just acknowledging that mental health is something that plays a role in how you go about school.
Paw Print: What do you think are the most important challenges students will face when they leave high school, and how do you prepare students for those challenges?
Mr. Rodriguez: I think one of the most challenging things about leaving high school, for Payton students, and even just in general, is understanding how to work and collaborate as a team. I think there’s a level of understanding that needs to be developed in terms of an individual’s worldview, especially in regards to things like equity and diversity. While I think this school does a really good job of exposing you to those ideas, I think that that’s something that develops with experience. And that experience can be a culture shift and a culture shock in its own right. And then how I prepare my students for that beyond is just by exposing them to different ideas and cultures within the classroom. I think just how I teach in the classroom in regards to equity, diversity, and inclusion is a start in terms of modeling what that experience can be like for Payton students once they leave high school.