Posted on June 16, 2022 by Christopher Reichert

2022-mexican-american-teachers-academy.jpeg UTSA’s 8 th annual Mexican American Studies (MAS) Teachers’ Academy will be held virtually from June 20-24. The Academy was launched in 2015 as part of a statewide movement to implement MAS into public schools. It aims to support and instruct K-12 educators and teacher candidates of all subjects.           

2022 marks the third year of the Academy’s virtual format. What began out of necessity due to COVID-19 restrictions has continued to expand access to educators outside the immediate San Antonio area. According to Gloria Gonzáles, a lecturer and co-director of the MAS Teachers’ Academy, hosting the event virtually has resulted in an exponential increase in attendees.           

“It went from under twenty people to sixty people, and last year we had eighty. This year we’re hoping to break that eighty mark,” she said.           

However, while virtual sessions keep cost of attendance low and allows educators from across the state to attend the weeklong Academy, hosting the event online has its drawbacks.           

“The downside is disconnection,” Gonzáles said. “The participants do not get to make those personal connections. In groupwork, breakout rooms are not as personal, and even teaching virtually, you miss that personal connection, the human touch.”             

However, overcoming that isolation is partially what the Academy is for, says Liliana Saldaña, an associate professor and academy co-director. 

“One of our goals is to help cultivate that community among teachers,” she said. “We have to find ways to create that community within the virtual world, and I think we’ve been pretty good about doing that.” 

In addition to the connections made within the Academy itself, Saldaña says they have worked to help teachers feel included and supported the other 51 weeks of the year as well. One such strategy is a Facebook group called MAS Apoyo – a play on words meaning “more support” – which serves as an online platform for teachers to connect and share resources. 

“I think it’s a unique space, and I think one of the only spaces where MAS teachers are able to connect with each other across districts, across cities, across regions,” Saldaña said. “Community is central to the field of Mexican American Studies and to our pedagogy, so it makes sense that we would want to cultivate that in the Academy.”

In a similar effort, this years’ attendees will have increased time to interact with each other after presentations, giving them chances to discuss the material, and work together to decide how to implement it in their classrooms. 

This year’s theme also reflects a slight shift in approach. Typically, Saldaña says, the content has been centered around contemporary history, roughly from the 1840s-1960s. Now they’ll be looking farther back in time. With the theme “Indigenous Histories and Cultures in Mexican American Studies,” the Academy will host several guest speakers, both from the UTSA College of Education and Human Development and other institutions including The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, The University of California Davis, and The University of Arizona. These lectures will cover a variety of topics, like the epistemologies and philosophies of various indigenous cultures. Even for prior attendees, this new content is something they haven’t experienced at the Academy before. 

“We’ve never really had an opportunity in the eight years that the Academy has existed to focus on Mesoamerican histories and cultures, and it is a part of Mexican American Studies,” Saldaña said. “It’s actually a big part of the field.” 

By incorporating Mesoamerican history, the academy directors hope to reinforce the connections between the past and the present. 

“When we think of peoples like the Mayans, we always think of them in the past, but they’re actually still here,” Gonzáles said. “It’s not an old history or a dead history, it’s a living history.” 

For Saldaña, these connections go beyond history, and strike at the heart of community and identity.

“We talk about indigenous people as if they only existed in the past, like our ancestors were indigenous but we are not,” she said. 

By teaching this history through the lens of Mexican American Studies, she hopes to help students and teachers alike maintain a sense of continuity with their indigenous roots and develop a positive ethnic and cultural identity. This goal is yet another reason the academy is open to all K-12 teachers, regardless of subject. 

“It doesn’t matter what subject or grade level you teach,” Saldaña said. “If you work with our community you will become more knowledgeable and more rooted in developing, transforming and amplifying your curriculum and perhaps even rethink or reframe your own pedagogy.” 

The 2022 MAS Teachers’ Academy promises to provide new content and improved formatting, but Saldaña and Gonzáles are still planning ways to improve next year’s event. One idea is to extend the Academy from three hours per day to five. This could give attendees more time to cover material or engage in extra workshops, which all translates into more support and preparation for teachers in the classroom. 

“I think the more prepared they are, the more they’ll walk away with the feeling that they can do this,” Gonzáles said. 

The 2022 MAS Teachers’ Academy has been awarded a grant from Humanities Texas, and this year’s event will be partially funded by the state’s affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

The Academy costs $102 and will be held virtually June 20-24 from 9am-noon. 


- Christopher Reichert

— Christopher Reichert