By Evelyn Archibald and Mytrisha Sarmiento
Milagros Morris, Spanish II teacher at Summit Shasta, has been a strong and recognizable presence on campus since joining last school year. “Some people think that I’m – that I look shy, but I am not. I am very outgoing, I have an outgoing personality. I have a great sense of humor, I find humor in everything,” she said.
She defined herself concretely, “I’m a very positive, strong willed woman. I am … resilient, because I’ve been going through a lot [throughout] my life. And I think that yeah, I’m a very positive person.” The glass is “always half full” for Ms. Morris.
Ms. Morris’ strength and positivity is sustained by her religious faith. She said, “I am strong and I have a strong faith, too. And I believe that everything is going to be okay. Because God provides and I have seen that in many, many, many parts of my life.”
Ms. Morris grew up in a small town in Puerto Rico and attended a “boring” all-girls high school. “We didn’t have extracurricular activities, only PE,” she said. “You know, I am not like that. I wasn’t that sporty when I was your age, I was a nerd.” She laughed and said, in regard to gym class, “I was on the benches.”
Though in Puerto Rico, Ms. Morris took English classes from kindergarten, she ended up re-teaching herself later in her life. “If you don’t practice, you don’t learn too much. But I always watch T.V. in English and I read a lot [in English]. That’s how I learned.”
“And then I went to the University of Puerto Rico, I got a BA in psychology,” she said. “I was studying all the time, because the University of Puerto Rico is really … rigorous, so I need[ed] to study a lot. But in my free time I liked to go dancing, because in that era it was the disco, you know?” She danced in place and laughed, “Disco!”
After getting her BA in Psychology, Ms. Morris went on to finish her Master’s in education in Virginia, where she began teaching. She also taught in Puerto Rico, Maryland and Chicago, before ending up in the Bay Area to teach at Shasta.
But to get to where she is in her life, she has also had to overcome numerous hardships. She gave an example, remembering a time when she taught in Virginia. “There, I was bullied, I was discriminated [against]. By everybody, people my age.”
“I’m not talking to you about, you know, the kids or anything,” she says. “The kids were fine, very good, but people my age discriminated [against me].” She shakes her head as she recalls her treatment. “They were not compassionate at all … My colleagues were the worst.”
She remembered what she describes as “the hardest thing she has had to overcome” – the death of her mother. “She always lived with me. She helped me raise my kids because I was a single mom. And she passed away after six months in the hospital. And that was the worst six months of my life, when she passed away. You learn to live with the pain, but it’s always there. That was the hardest thing.”
Ms. Morris has tight ties to her family, living with her two sons and her sister. She says, warmly and with ease, that her favorite moments in her life were holding her children in her arms for the first time. “That is something that you cannot describe how you feel, when you have your baby for the first time in your arms.”
Ms. Morris is a strong advocate for Hispanic and Latino students at Shasta. In class she encourages students who grew up in Spanish-speaking communities to be proud of their language and their culture, and she takes pride in her own identity as a Puerto Rican woman.
She is proud of her culture, but said what she loves most is “the food.” She laughed. “[We are] a very resilient people too, because we have been through a lot. You know that we’ve been through Maria, the storm, and now we’ve been through earthquakes very recently, and we come back, always.”
An inside joke between Ms. Morris and her students is her love of football player Eli Manning. Ms. Morris briefly gave her thoughts on the athlete, “[In 2018] he was treated like me … you know, they benched him, and now he has to retire. Now, he has a lot in his tank, he could go ahead and play two or three more years, because there are a lot of older quarterbacks out there. But he was forced to retire. And I think that was unfair.”
Ms. Morris resonated with his treatment. “It was like my situation. It happened to me. … So unfair, but I am in a better place right now. And maybe he’s in a better place right now.”
Ms. Morris feels strongly about pushing her students, “especially with the girls” she said, to be the best. “I would like the girls to see that I love them like I love the boys. But I am a little more strict with the girls, because I want them to be strong. I want them to be assertive. I want them to be powerful women and that’s why I’m very, very strict with the girls.”
She said, as a message to her students, “For my — for everybody, my kids and everybody — all my students: wish for the stars, because even if you don’t reach the stars, you will land on the moon and you will go far away in life.” She continued, “Always be positive and have faith that you’re going to get it. You’re gonna get your goals, and that’s what I believe, that all my students really can get it done.”
Ms. Morris feels passionately about the students in her mentor class doing well, she encourages them to be their best. “It [makes] me so mad when they’re wasting their time. Because it’s true, you know, sometimes I’m mean, because, you know, I want you to be the best class. Like my mentees, you know? I tell them, you’re going to be the best class!” Morris reiterated, determinedly, “Be the best class!”
Featured Image(at the top of the page): Milagros Morris reflects on her defining life experiences. (Photo Credit: Evelyn Archibald)