Scholar Stories: Adriana Toles

How do you use writing or art in your life?

As a kid, I hated to read and write. Not because I struggled with the content, but because I never felt connected in any way.  My teachers all looked the same and all taught about the same thing, regardless of grade level.  The only difference was the older you got, the deeper you dived into the text.  So for years, I dreaded those subjects because they proved time and time again to not be relevant in my life.  When you and your family are struggling to survive, the last thing on your mind is Little Women.  It was not until my Freshman year in college, that my English 101 teacher opened up my eyes.  When I originally received the syllabus for this class, I was immediately thrown into a panic. Six books?!  I have to read six books?!  In one semester?!  I had never even read six books in my life!  The very first book that was assigned, was a book called Trans-sister Radio.  I could not believe it when I devoured this book in a single day.  This was/is a moment, in life, that I will never forget.  I was completely engulfed in the main character’s life, and just had to know what was going to happen next.  This moment was the moment that I learned (for myself) the power of literature.  The power of your words.  The power of your story.  

Now, I read and write every day!  From basic work related activities, to finally beginning my first book!  I write because writing is freedom.  Sharing your story, your hurts, and your pains, truly does set you free.  The pain and trauma that you have experienced can no longer hold you hostage.  This was a lesson that took me 33 years to learn, but a lesson that I am forever grateful for.

What lessons/teachings from your family, home and/or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship?

In my teaching, and now counseling, I take with me my greatest weapons, my faith, my story, the story of my family, and the story of my students.I am a proud first generation United States citizen.  My Nana brought my Mother, Aunt, and Uncle to the United States when my Mother was nine.  Determined to learn, my Mother mastered the English language in just two years! She would learn the language, in school, and was a gentle teacher of English to my Nana. Which resulted in her learning English in a few short years.

My Mother raised three girls on her own and worked multiple jobs for us to survive.  When my Mother was 28, my Aunt Carmen passed from a Cocaine overdose, leaving her three children behind.  Being the hero that my Mother is she raised my cousins despite the circumstances.  Rather than giving up, she was determined to show us that education is your way out.  Education provides opportunity and education will guide you to find what you are most passionate about.

At the age of 17, I decided that I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be the person that I never had growing up.  As a child, when I silently struggled, I never had anyone to talk to.  Some days, I wished that I could talk to my teachers about personal issues, but I always felt as if they would not understand.  I felt like because they did not look like me that they could never understand my struggle. They never asked, and I never told.  Because of that, I wanted to be the teacher that not only looked like my students but understood the silent struggle.  The struggle that you don’t talk about, out loud. The struggle that would bring you to tears, if only someone would listen.  The struggle of going hungry at night because you don’t have any food in the house.  The struggle of being raised in a single parent household.  The struggle of being abandoned by your father before you were even able to show how special you are.  The struggle of having big dreams, but little funds to get there.  The struggle of wanting to change the world, but feeling so small.  The struggle of having so much pain to release, but no one to release it to.

I wanted to be my student’s person.  The person that I wished I always had.  The person that they could go to and confide in, no matter the circumstances.  The person that would not only hear them, but see them for who they really are.  The person that would listen and acknowledge without judgment.  Each and every day, I pray that GOD gives me the strength to do what HE has called me to do, to reach who HE needs me to reach, and to be the steady light in times of both great joy and in great sorrow.

What would you tell your younger self??

I would tell my younger self to love yourself enough to not minimize your gift because you think it is insignificant. For as long as I can remember, I have never felt quite good enough.  From a young age, I have always been connected to GOD, and I know that HE has blocked and shielded me in many ways over the course of my life for something greater than myself.  I know that HE has given me a gift of connecting and seeing kids for who they are, and meeting them there to walk beside them to reach their destiny.  But many times, I will minimize my gift and/or feel intimidated around others.  So, if I could have figured this lesson out, as a kid, it would have saved me so many, many years, even decades, of pain.

Each day, I make sure to build my own children’s confidence and strength in knowing that they are chosen, that they are special, and that they will positively impact the world.  In thinking back, maybe I had to go through and deal with these emotions, so that that generational curse would be broken, and not passed on to the next generation of children within our family.

Advice for new scholars and/or teachers

Be kind to yourself! Teaching is the most draining, time consuming, profession that you could ever enter. But, it is also the most rewarding, life-changing experience.  In entering education, your entire desire is to help kids to learn and grow, but in reality, your kids will teach you the most about yourself.  There will be days when you will cry out of frustration and days you will cry out of sheer joy.  There are days where your heart will break for your students and you will feel so helpless because there is nothing you could do.  Or, so you think. Although you cannot swoop in and fix everything, simply being there is sometimes the most powerful thing you can do. As a kid, who has experienced a high amount of trauma, if I was able to connect to a teacher who I knew believed in me, believed in my dreams, pushed me, and helped me to understand who I was, I would have given the world for that.  

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