May 17, 2021 | Abby Liu
This is a part of a new video interview series so that you can get to know our Middle School faculty. We hope that you enjoy learning more about them!
Abby Liu: Hello, I’m Abby Liu, the Director of Marketing and Communications at Mustard Seed School and today I’m here with Tania Oro-Hahn, who is our Spanish teacher but also the Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion. Welcome! Thanks for joining me.
Tania Oro-Hahn: Thanks, Abby.
Abby Liu: Alright, so we’re gonna jump right into the questions. Tell us a little bit about what you studied in college.
Tania Oro-Hahn: I have a BA in visual arts with a minor in Art History, and an MA in Urban Education with a specialization in Spanish, or second language acquisition, and a certificate in leading Diversity, Equity and Inclusion network.
Abby Liu: Excellent, and that’s why you use a lot of arts in your work with the Spanish students.
Tania Oro-Hahn: That’s right.
Abby Liu: Great. What are you most passionate about in terms of teaching content?
Tania Oro-Hahn: I think my job is to help others see, whether it’s the Spanish classroom or the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion. I see it that way. So for example, sometimes a young child who’s a new learner will say to me, “I don’t really know Spanish.”
[Towards the end of the year in their first year.] And then I’ll walk them through a quick quiz, and I’ll ask them a bunch of questions, like what does that mean?
And they’ll say, “Oh that means park!”
And they’ll begin to tell me all the things that they know. Language is so human to us, the way that we learn is so intuitive, it’s sort of secret inside of us, so children don’t know they’re learning when it’s happening. And they only see it as a flip, like it happened. And so when I help the child to see, “Look at what you’ve learned, what you’ve acquired, you don’t even notice it.”
They walk away and their eyes get bigger and they realize, “Oh I did know how to read that. I know what that means, but I didn’t realize that I knew.”
And so I think that’s super fun for me to see that moment where they’re recognizing what they’re learning, and then I get to see children learn that they can read in Spanish. Sometimes they’re looking at the words in Spanish and saying to their friends, because it says here blah blah blah in English, you know, it’s just like this magic that happens. So I love that about teaching Spanish.
Abby Liu: You’re the Sneak Attack teacher.
Tania Oro-Hahn: It’s super fun.
Abby Liu: Tania and I both love Kim’s Convenience. That’s what that’s [Sneak Attack’s] from, if you ever watch that show.
Describe a moment when a student was challenged beyond what was expected in class, and can you tell me what the work looked like and what was exciting to you as a teacher?
Tania Oro-Hahn: So as a teacher I would say, what I love to see is when children who sort of been quiet, watching from a distance when we do things like drama, where we act out the scene to help us understand, we act out the story of the chapter that we needed to understand in a different way. And even those who are struggling with words, they can see it acted out and we work through it, even if it’s not perfect. But today towards the end of the year, we had four boys in fourth grade who don’t usually want to act. They’re shy, it’s not their thing. And today, one of them was really great, and he said, “I want a role.”
You know, kids are like raising their hand trying to get a role, but because he’d never done it, the whole class goes, yeah of course he’s taking a role. Everyone encouraged him, and the moment he did it, then all the other boys were like, “Well I want a speaking part, too.”
And for the first time ever, boys who had never acted volunteered to take the main roles in our last drama, this year, so far. And everyone applauded! It was just a delightful thing to see kids be brave, and then you get to see what what they can do, you know, because they’re reading their lines out loud to each other, and so it’s fun to see what they can do and it’s fun for me to see them be brave in the Spanish classroom.
Abby Liu: Sounds like it’s one of those, This is why I teach! moments today.
Tania Oro-Hahn: Super fun. Yeah, and you know so much learning happens in that process. They’re learning what they can do. They’re learning how to speak out loud. They’re learning to read more fluently. They’re learning from each other. They’re learning the content and so a lot of fun things happen, good things happen.
And Abby, so I’m talking a lot about the Spanish classroom. And I wonder if I could talk a little bit about the work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
Abby Liu: You know what, that’s the perfect segue. Actually there are two areas.
We’re thinking about belonging, one is Universal Design for Learning, and of course the other is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. And so I’m wondering if you could speak about both things. What are you trying in your classroom in terms of Universal Design for Learning and then tell us about your work in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Tania Oro-Hahn: So in the Universal Design for Learning, I still feel like I’m a learner too. We are challenged all the time in this area. One thing that has stood out to me the most, is that I could take small steps as I grow, and how to implement that in my classroom. And one way that I’ve started to implement it is to make sure that I can give choices for how students demonstrate their learning. That sometimes I’ll say, “Well here’s the written questions, write back the answers and you get a grade for that.”
But for some kids maybe writing is harder, or typing is harder, or that they can demonstrate more fluently, more beautifully through audio or recording. And so one thing that I started to do was just to provide a few different choices for how to demonstrate learning and give kids opportunities to kind of choose how they want to show that. That’s one small way that I’m trying to implement it in class.
Abby Liu: All right, tell us all about what your work on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion looks like.
Tania Oro-Hahn: So I mean this is a hugely moving and exciting thing for me, that I have a chance to to take on this role at our school. You know, I started doing some of this work last year, but this year, I took on a more formal role. I love to work with staff, and help to train staff to think through how they’re seeing. So again, I think it goes back to how people see things.
And so, a series of talks that I’ve been giving are helping, our staff as a whole develop our culture. How do we see things, not just that kind of interpersonal way, because I think we want to be a highly motivated interpersonal community, but also how do we see things systematically? And so how do we begin to have lessons that allow us to assess our classroom spaces, our curriculum, our practices in our policies as a school. And I’ve been able to help our staff begin to think through these things, not change everything, but rather just think through, so how can we make it better. How can we move towards greater equity and inclusion, and make this a place of belonging for all people? So that’s been an exciting thing for me this year.
Abby Liu: Yeah, I know personally, I can attest to how meaningful that work has been. Especially thinking about implicit bias, I mean, obviously there’s so much to unpack and so much work that we need to do but it feels really good to be working on this. I’m personally so grateful for your leadership in this area.
Tania Oro-Hahn: One of the things that is constantly on my mind, is that there’s nothing that’s culture-void, you know, there’s nothing that isn’t full of culture and context. And so helping us to see our point of view, or the point of view of a particular text, like for example in the classroom, sometimes, you know, we have Spanish Readers, and most of them are not authentic literature. They’re not literature that comes from the country that we’re reading about. It’s sort of like an American view of the culture that we’re looking at. And sometimes things have a perspective that’s missing: what it means to be from another country or another culture. And so one of the ways that I can help bring kind of an equity lens in the classroom is by constantly asking students to reflect on what’s the point of view here? What does it mean to be, how are Latinx people portrayed in this book? Do we agree with it? Is that what we see, what does that say, how are the whites in this particular book portrayed? What are we noticing? What’s true, what’s good, and what needs to be tweaked? And so, again, constantly asking ourselves to reflect on what we’re seeing. I think it’s pretty neat.
Abby Liu: Yeah, it’s such important work, so important. What motivates you and inspires you?
Tania Oro-Hahn: Abby, I love to learn. I never want to stop. And I love to play. And if I can figure out how to make work play for students and for me, than I love my life. And so I want to make work, play, and I want the work that we do feel like play for students. And then I want us to learn together. That’s definitely it.
Abby Liu: That’s beautiful. Is there anything else that you want our families to know about you?
Tania Oro-Hahn: I love food. I’m big fan of tasting flavors and foods from all over the world. So I feel like I would say, I’m hungry for those experiences via food.
And I’m also hungry to keep learning. So secretly, I think it’s not a secret to everybody, but I wish I was working on a PhD right now. Not instead of learning or teaching, but in addition to it. That would be really hard, but I love to learn, and I love to eat things.
Abby Liu: Two great things! Alright, let’s get to the quick questions. How long have you worked at Mustard Seed School?
Tania Oro-Hahn: For as long as my son has been alive: 18 years.
Abby Liu: Wow. What’s the last book you read?
Tania Oro-Hahn: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.
Abby Liu: Good book. What is a show that you are watching right now or recently enjoyed?
Tania Oro-Hahn: A really hysterical, quirky show called Resident Alien.
Abby Liu: Oh, I have never heard that one! What’s the first thing that you’re going to do when the pandemic is over or at least the major restrictions lifted?
Tania Oro-Hahn: Eat with my extended family. My mom and dad, who I haven’t seen very much, my sister and my family.
Abby Liu: That will be a good day. Favorite dessert? Although I know you’re not much of a dessert person.
Tania Oro-Hahn: Crème Brulée!
Abby Liu: Oh, that’s a good one! Name a name or a band or artists that you enjoy listening to.
Tania Oro-Hahn: I love Mexican artists, there are a few of them. Natalia Lafourcade, another group from Colombia called Bomba Estereo. We listen to their music in class sometimes.
Abby Liu: Very fun. Okay, last thing, what’s one item that will always be in your fridge?
Tania Oro-Hahn: Okay, I decided to change it. It’s always going to be in my cupboard, it’s peanut butter.
Abby Liu: Oh, yeah.
Tania Oro-Hahn: All natural, sometimes crunchy, sometimes smooth, no sugar, peanut butter.
Abby Liu: Can’t go without it. Same in our house too. Well thank you so much, I’m so glad you joined me today! Thanks for taking the time.
Tania Oro-Hahn: I appreciate it.
Abby Liu: Bye!
Tania Oro-Hahn: ¡Adiós!