Teachers are one of the most prominent members of any community; spending countless hours with students and their parents, and ultimately shaping a generation of neighborhood residents.
In honor of Teacher Appreciation week, LoganSquarist spoke with a seasoned teacher who has spent years living and working right here in Logan Square.
Miguel Santana currently teaches and manages technology (and currently overseeing the recent grant to their technology program) at Chase Elementary, where he’s been for over a decade. But his teaching extends back over 24 years, working at various schools and grade levels across Chicago.
Originally born in Chicago, moved back to Logan Square after living most of his childhood in a small, rural area in Puerto Rico.
When he first moved back to the Windy City, Logan Square looked different at the age of 12.
“Back then most of my neighborhood was just factories,” Santana said. “Now there’s so much to do around [here].”
Santana also recounts how different the school systems were back then.
“The programs I attended as a kid were not as well managed as they are today, particularly the bilingual programs (which Santana has worked on throughout the years),” he said. “Back in the ’80s, I was never taken to a computer lab as a bilingual student, there just weren’t enough resources to expose a kid to both.”
As a teacher, one of Santana’s greatest motivators is exposing kids to technology in the classroom, and making sure each student is digitally literate beyond Twitter and Instagram.
“There’s nothing wrong with kids tweeting or hopping on social media, but a lot of students don’t initially understand the value of these tools or how they can be used for education,” he said. “I try to help them realize they can use technology for their betterment.”
Santana is also an avid tinkerer, constantly fixing IT problems at Chase. In his spare time, he also helps friends and family fix computers and other gadgets as a cheaper alternative to repair stores, and he tries to instill that DIY spirit in his students.
“When you teach them how to replace a laptop screen, or install RAM, you’re also empowering them to troubleshoot and problem solve issues,” he said.
Aside from teaching, Santana also spends his time coaching students. To him, after school activities like these, especially sports, help students. While a lot of remediation programs provide extra academic support, they don’t always address the social pressure skids face outside of skill.
“A lot of these kids end up getting pressured into bad paths anyway,” Santana said. “Sports can teach a lot of kids skills that may not necessarily get picked up in the classroom.”
With so many years of experience under his belt, Santana realizes that experiences outside of the classroom can have just as much of an impact.
“There was one student who was always in trouble, I’d always see him outside of the principal’s office. I’d sing the ‘Bad Boys’ song whenever I saw him and would try to just talk to him about his frustrations or what was going on,” he said. “Really, I was just trying to give him someone to talk to that wasn’t trying to discipline or punish him.”
Santana saw the impact of that when one day the boy’s sister delivered a handwritten letter and Christmas present from him to Santana (the boy was currently in a juvenile center), thanking him for always being there and having the student’s back.
“That right there was one of my proudest moments as a teacher,” he shared.
Having lived in Logan Square so long, Santana has noticed the change the neighborhood is undergoing, particularly among the schools.
“A lot of families move away as the neighborhood starts to gentrify,” he said. “Friends I grew up with moved away, whether out to the suburbs or out of state. A lot of families just can’t afford to live in the neighborhood anymore.”
For Santana, improvements and growth in the neighborhood aren’t all bad, but a balance needs to be struck.
“When I was growing up, a lot of the advantages the neighborhood have now weren’t available and didn’t trickle down to Logan Square,” he said. “Now that we have them, it’s important that we support the families that are already living here.”
As the neighborhood has changed, he said the population has decreased and there are less children from low-income families at Chase. Santana understands how this can be hard for students particularly with changing demographics in their schools.
“One thing I really like about being a teacher is, now, if you look around, you typical see teachers working in the schools where they grew up,” he said. “Thinking back to middle school, I never really had a vivid recollection of a local teacher.”
His connection to his students and mentorship skills make him a teacher to be appreciated this week and every week. He said he can use his experience to educate students in more ways than one, which speaks to the importance of having local teachers in local communities.
“For me, I try to be a local resource for students,” he said. ” As a kid, I never went downtown because I could never really afford it. Now, I try to push these kids to break out of their comfort zones because I know what it’s like to grow up around here.”