Alumna Tianna Mae Andresen has been busy since graduating from the University of Washington, where she double majored in Education, Communities and Organizations (ECO) and American Ethnic Studies. Since 2022, she has been teaching the first Filipinx American U.S. History class offered at Seattle Public Schools (SPS). This is a yearlong, general credit course that fullfills SPS's 11th-grade American history requirement and is open to all interested students across the district. The class is offered virtually with in-person field trips and community events organized throughout the school year that students are encouraged to attend. So far, a small number of students have experienced the Filipinx American U.S. History class — less then 10 students enrolled last year, allowing Tianna to create an intimate learning experience for the group — but interest in being pre-enrolled remains high and suggests SPS students' growing interest in taking ethnic studies classes that allow them to learn about the experiences and contributions of different groups that are often unacknowledged in traditional U.S. history classes.
Learn more about Tianna's leadership in our Q&A with her. Please note that responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did you come to teach the first Filipinx American U.S. History class at SPS? Please tell us about how your education, family history and/or other experiences have informed your preparation and passion for this role.
I was lucky to grow up in a community of Filipino activists and educators in Seattle who taught me the value of learning my history and culture early on. They engrained in me a sense of community organizing, social justice and making sure to give back where I can and pass on knowledge and resources to the younger generation. So from an early age I seized every opportunity I could to be involved with Filipino history, culture and community, which ended up leading me to the American Ethnic Studies and Education, Communities and Organizations majors at the UW. As a student of the school district, I also knew how important this class was and could have been for my own development. This fueled my fire further in wanting to pursue a role like this, and so I am here now!
I want to show up through community-based education with a focus on storytelling and creativity. I want to give back what my elders have given me. In general, my mission is to educate and empower marginalized youth through education based on social justice community organizing principles. Together we will foster solidarity networks built on collective learning, growth, healing, creativity and hope.
You worked on the curriculm for the course as part of your dual major in ECO and American Ethnic Studies at the UW. What did that process look like and what does the curriculum include?
The process was super collaborative with other fellow students and community members. A lot of the research we did was through the telling of stories and tying it to major events in Filipino American history, as well as making connections to other marginalized groups' histories as well. Working with community partners made sure that we also were being critical of the content that was created already, and updating it to be more inclusive and relevant. The curriculum itself is catered to meet the U.S. history requirements of Seattle Public Schools but encompasses so much more. I want to highlight that the class really centers community building and empowerment through it all, as we bring in guest speakers and go out into the community on field trips and as encouraged in some assignments.
What is expected of students once they are in the class and what are the intended learning outcomes?
This class is completely for community by community, and so students should expect to be learning through a different lens and mode than they are traditionally conditioned to learn through. The course focuses a lot on identity and making sense of the world's systems in relation to history, and how that history impacts us today.
How do you aim to show up in your role? What have you learned is important about how you support your students and become part of a community of learning?
As a high school teacher especially, I see how my young students are preparing for their lives outside of their current school system. Each student's needs are different, and they know their solutions best and you have to trust that. Many educators fear teaching high school because they think students are more rowdy or something — and perhaps their pedagogy isn't as prepared for more intense critical thinking — but in reality, a lot of students just want to be treated with respect and know that someone will show up for them. I want to show up for my students in a way that lets them know they have someone in their corner, both in class and outside of class. This doesn’t have to be me if I am not what they need, but I want to at least connect them to someone in the community. I want them to feel like their story matters and to do that I show up with my own vulnerability.
This current school system is super colonial and capitalistic (among all the other -isms). My goal is to show them that they are implicated by this system AND another way of education is possible. Which is why we try different tactics of learning that differ from traditional learning — such as using ethnic studies as a practice — in my class.
Why is it important for students to feel empowered in their own identities?
It literally saves lives! It shows students that they can honor their own humanity and honor the humanities of others. Having a sense of pride and empowerment, especially backed by community, creates a stable network that youth can grow up in that a lot of marginalized communities are shut out from. Especially within the systems of oppression we live in, our marginalized students are constantly told they are less than. Supporting them in seeing their own power and tapping into collective power tells them they are worth fighting for and able to fight for each other together.
How did your experiences at the UW — and specifically your experience as an ECO major — shape your work and/or outlook today? Was there a specific experience, course or assignment that sparked something important for you or otherwise supported your leadership journey?
For a long time, my only pathway was teaching through a school system or through non-profits but through my experience with community I saw all the different ways that community can be infused and how the educational systems can be dismantled and molded into something better for our students. When I entered ECO, I was exposed to a network of community members who had expertise that I learned a lot from. For example, Kriya Velasco teaching the Filipinx and Indigenous Studies electives really got me into ECO to be honest. They were the first critical ethnic studies courses outside of American Ethnic Studies that I experienced. I also specifically remember Kayla Chui teaching Community Based Research and Practice and it basically shifted my pedagogy and honestly checked my ego. University students often get in this savior mindset but Kayla reminded us that we are working WITH community not FOR them (because they can and have been working for themselves; we are just another addition). I also remember Dr. Jondou Chen's course and he accomodated my needs and my learning, which also completely shifted what I thought was possible in a school setting. During my capstone year, Dr. Edmundo Aguilar connected me with folks outside of school and has continued to support my growth as an educator even today. In his classes, I really felt empowered and he gave us tangible ways to practice what we preached for the last four years and he taught me what it really means to show up.
What sustains you as an educator and leader? Do you have guidance you can offer to others who share your mission-driven calling?
I would not be here without the support of my community. I would definitely recommend doing some work to think about the community resources you have and make the effort to reach out and incorporate them in a meaningful way. Especially within the system of capitalism, we are always expected to do it alone and for a low wage. This is not true at all and we know that together we can thrive. Find people who relate or can at least stand with you through your struggles. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to stop or take breaks. Stick to your work life balance plan and if you feel like you don’t have one, then make a plan so you can.
Nurture your hobbies or other activities in the same way you do your educator role. You are a human, too, and you are more than your job as an educator. Plus, bringing in your non-educator self to education spaces often forges stronger relationship building and tells others that we are allowed to be more than our jobs in these spaces. Being seen helps you also see others better.
Do the work of unlearning bias, discrimination and the -isms within your practice. You are not only doing that for the sake of others but it also will free you. It's okay to make mistakes as long as you own up to them and commit to doing better.
Charleen Wilcox, Director for Marketing & Communications, email@example.com