Student Spotlight: Rachel ReHage

I came to the University of Redlands because I wanted to be a better teacher than the teachers I had when I was a kid. I am severely Dyslexic and was deemed “too hard to teach” in 1st grade. My mom had to teach me to read herself. I finally learned to read at the start of 2nd grade. Perhaps my early struggles lead me to teach English; I know how important it is to learn those skills. I came to the University of Redlands because I did not fit in at the elementary school and was picked on because I always smelled like the cattle farm I was proudly raised on. Instead of reprimanding the students who harassed me, my 6th grade teacher harassed me along with them. I wanted to learn how to stand up for students, not push them down further. I came to the University of Redlands because in 7th grade I looked like an 11th grader and the boys treated me like an 11th grader. In my advanced science class one of the much older boys rubbed my back every day. I was uncomfortable with it, but my teacher told me I should feel privileged that an older boy liked me. I wanted to learn how to honor students feelings in my class. I came to the University of Redlands because I wanted to be a teacher. I could have learned to be a teacher at almost any university, but I knew that at Redlands, they teach justice in and through education. I wanted that goal.

My own experience in school gives educational justice a stronger meaning than it does for many. Educational justice is the reason I wanted to learn to become a teacher at Redlands. It means I have the research-based knowledge to stand up for my students and not just be an advocate, but also to be an educated voice for many voiceless students. It means demanding appropriate rigor for all students, and not just the ones who look like they will go to college. It means formulating meaningful relationships with my students and giving them a voice and choice in the classroom that we all share. It means giving my students control of their education, and valuing their cultural capital in my lessons.

Educational justice can be an intimidating concept, but I have spent almost seven years at Redlands learning not to back down from intimidation, but to embrace it. The trans student who needs someone to talk to deserved that. The senior who was told everyday they would never go to college, but has always wanted to be a dentist needs that. The minority girl who wants to see authors that look like her in her curriculum deserves that. My students deserve the courage it takes to be an educationally just teacher, no matter how hard it is sometimes.

It is because of my students that I have continued to pursue my Ed.D. Every time I meet a student I have not learned how to help, my research interests change a bit to empower, affirm, and support that student. Because of this, I have taken more electives at Redlands than were required. I was not just pursuing an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, I was trying to be a more culturally proficient teacher. I took more classes than the minimum to do that. I could have transferred credits from my M.Ed. to my Ed.D., but I wanted to become a more prepared educational justice advocate so I took extra classes to learn about all types of students and all types of strategies and leadership skills to empower them. I went to the Philippines with Drs. Lalas and Hamilton in an effort to raise my cultural awareness. Because of the diverse perspectives of all of the professors I have had at Redlands, and the diverse voices of the researchers I studied, I understand how to advocate and empower students.

I am not perfect, nor do I know everything, but these diverse perspectives over a multitude of classes helped me learn about this subject and have truly made me a life-long learner.

Even after I finally graduate next year, I will always meet new students to advocate for. The diverse voices and perspectives I was exposed to at Redlands will help me to learn to support those students on my own, or seek out my Redlands family if I need additional support.

I think it was because of those diverse perspectives in my classes, and my readings at Redlands that I developed as a teacher and a person in my time here. I grew up in a small farm town on the east coast in which every person looked like me, and no one except my German teacher spoke a language other than English. I didn’t even really understand that racism or whiteness or homophobia were things until I moved to California when I was fifteen. The University of Redlands taught me to be socially aware and how to honor and affirm all people. I understood my White Privilege here. I also understood that I needed to help my students of sexual minority amplify their voice and find teachers who affirmed them. The diversity in faculty at Redlands allowed me to find a mentor to help me learn to advocate for this population of students. Through my research and my research-based practice in the classroom I am helping my students to be comfortable with themselves and in their own skin. I wish there had been more teachers who did that for me. But then, perhaps, I wouldn’t have come to Redlands to learn to teach. And maybe I would not have learned to advocate for educational justice for all.