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Ed. Magazine

Hollywood Never Stood a Chance

California Teacher of the Year on his journey
Jason Torres-Rangel
Jason Torres-Range standing in front of Roosevelt High
Photo: Courtesy of Jason Torres-Rangel

When Jason Torres-Rangel, Ed.M.'04, found out he was named the 2023 California Teacher of the year, he was honored, and his parents, both former public school teachers, were “over the moon.” Torres-Rangel, an English teacher at the Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District and an adjunct professor at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, talked to Ed. about teaching and how his career almost took another path. 

You initially wanted to work in film and interned for The West Wing, but changed your mind?  
At the same time that I was interning in Hollywood, I was taking undergrad classes in Chicano studies, Black studies, gender studies, and media studies. These classes and my own upbringing informed my burgeoning political consciousness. I realized that I didn’t want to be part of the Hollywood machine; I wanted to go into a service profession of some kind where I could really give back to my community, a place that had given so much to me. The only people who were surprised I switched career interests were the people I was interning for in Hollywood — they tried to persuade me to stay, but I knew a different path was in store for me. 

It was actually 9/11 that made you realize that path might be education?  
I was studying abroad in Kenya during the 9/11 attacks, and the outpouring of support and concern from my host family and the whole Mombassa community about my family back home was humbling and profound. It was one of those moments where you truly appreciate the deep connected nature of humanity. At the same time, I was interning in a school, and I helped the teacher create a lesson the next day that helped students process the event. In that moment, I saw the transformative power of education, and while the lightbulb to become a teacher didn’t go off for me yet, l realized that I wanted to go into a profession that would directly impact my community back home.

One of your undergraduate professors said you’d make a great teacher. Is that what finally led you to the classroom?  
Despite being the son of two teachers, I hadn’t considered the teaching profession for myself — but sometimes there’s a mentor in your life who sees something in you that you don’t yet see in yourself who helps you discover your path. 

"Sometimes there’s a mentor in your life who sees something in you that you don’t yet see in yourself who helps you discover your path."

How would you describe yourself as a teacher? 
I try to do what feels right in my heart. I think it’s important for teachers to be authentic to who they are; to lead with radical love; to make space for play and games and humor. Sometimes it’s right to ditch the content lesson you had planned and go outside and engage in some fun community-building activities. And no student is too old for play and games and fun — even high schoolers love activities designed for elementary students. Especially after COVID, all students are still just craving the basic things: friendship, camaraderie, connection, safety, trust, and love. Start there, the rest will follow. Also, I once heard, “treat every student as if they could be the next president of the United States.” In our most frustrated and frustrating moments, I think it’s powerful to go back to that adage. 

One of your students and their mom nominated you for the teacher of the year award, correct?  
The student who nominated me is a phenomenal social justice warrior for women’s rights and her community. She writes for our school newspaper, The Teddy Times, and has authored articles on combatting toxic masculinity, reproductive rights, and more. In her letter nominating me, she talked about how she had moved around a lot and had been in several different schools, and how she didn’t feel at home until she got to our school, Roosevelt, and my class being a part of that “home away from home” feeling. As a teacher, you can’t get a higher honor than that. 

Your teacher parents were “over the moon,” you said, when you told them you had been nominated. How did that feel? 
It’s been an incredible journey being able to share this with them. I am who I am because of the two of them, and so I try to include them every chance I get. I recently got to take my mom to Washington D.C., where she got to meet Vice President Kamala Harris in person. That was incredible to see my mom tear up as she met her. That made my whole year.

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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