Who are Teachers?: The Effects of Intersecting Identities on Educational Relationships

Hey everyone! My name is Tiffany Shou and I go to the Harker School in San Jose, CA. Just a little background on my school, we are located at the heart of Silicon Valley, meaning that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is a very popular interest at my school. Our population is majority students of color, with the Asians having the highest demographic.

In my project, I also attempt to address these inequalities through an intersectional feminism lens, “a type of feminism that looks at how women of different backgrounds experience oppression” (MTV Braless). The diagram below shows just how big the intersection of identities can get.

I’ve included audio from interviews with three teachers, and I’ve also separated questions using the comments on SoundCloud so feel free to jump around and find what’s most interesting to you!

Ms. Rees

Ms. Rees came to Harker in 2013 from teaching six years at a public school in the Boston area. She now teaches AP and Honors U.S. History. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a B.A. in American Studies and Boston University with a M.A.T. in History Teaching.


At my school, Ms. Rees sometimes has the reputation of being a strict teacher whose classes are “hard,” so when I asked her about her reputation, I was surprised to find that she runs a tighter ship at the beginning of the year to establish that standing. Ms. Rees also breaks down how students perception of teachers is influenced by gender (2:46) which works to both an advantage and disadvantage. It seems that students tend to regard female teachers more negatively when their class isn’t “easy,” meaning that it’s hard to get a good grade or that their teacher has certain expectations. In this extreme case from Barbara Salera, a college professor, a white, male student attempted to argue for a passing grade despite not having done many of the previous assignments. As a woman of color in authority, Salera’s judgement was questioned unconsciously by this student because of her identities, and the student blamed her rather than his lack of effort. As the stakes increase up the educational ladder, higher education is exposed as more traditional and amplifies the different backgrounds between teachers and students.

Ms. Chetty

Ms. Chetty has been teaching for twenty years where she previously taught in Calgary, Canada before moving to Harker. She currently teaches AP Biology and Honors Human Anatomy and Physiology and is the Science Department Chair of the Upper School. She has a B.S. in Biology from the University of Calgary and an M.E. in Secondary Science from the University of Portland.


Ms. Chetty mentioned that her appearance suggests a more motherly personality with warm and trusting attributes. In fact, a study has shown that these traits as well as low degrees of conflicts encouraged more positive behavior and greater academic success in students (Baker 8). However, what I found interesting was that Ms. Chetty’s idea of a mother also included certain expectations, in this case academic. When Ms. Chetty brought this up, it really did remind me of my own mom who sets high expectations for me, but traditional gender roles would have urged almost the opposite, implying complacent and unambitious women. Perhaps our perceptions of moms differ between regional cultures, and this expectation from moms stems from high academic competition, as well as the high socioeconomic status, found in this area. Growing up in an area with a high population of Asians naturally resulted in a pervasive expectation of academic excellence. This cultural emphasis on education is also intensified by the competitive atmosphere of Silicon Valley.

Ms. Pianko

Ms. Pianko has been teaching for 10 years and came to Harker in 2014. She teaches Honors World History and History of the Holocaust and Genocide. She received her B.A. in History from California Baptist University and her M.A. in History/Archival Studies from Claremont Graduate University.


When talking about her refugee identity, Ms. Pianko talks about how she connects students to the material through immigration stories of students’ parents and her own. Though only briefly touching upon each region of the world, these personal experiences and development of true connections help create a deeper insight of the students are and the people of history. However, this is not the case at most schools. In a study conducted by Laurie Cooper Stoll, she found that despite including activities of multiculturalism or “celebrating racial and ethnic holidays,” a greater understanding of these cultures was not developed and the inequalities faced by these ethnic groups were not discussed (Stoll 78). Though multiculturalism can be used for more superficial means for learning about the values of various communities, a greater value can be found through it’s ability to connect students to each other and their class’s material.

Mr. Martinez

Mr. Martinez began teaching at Harker in 2012 and previously taught photography at the California Institute of Art and the Berkeley Art Studio at UC Berkeley. Currently, he teaches photography, graphic arts, and AP Studio Art. He received his B.A. in Photography from Humbolt State University and MFA in Visual Art from the California College of Art.

In his art classes, Mr. Martinez recognizes the gender imbalance of students and that “students tend to feel more comfortable discussing personal issues with teachers of their own gender.” He also sees that this gender imbalance is also disproportional in the professional world, with a higher percentage of art school grads being women, but a majority of new-hires are men. Additionally, he feels that “there are a few students who are Latino who [he thinks he] connects with because [they] have similar experiences.”


  • Teachers are real adults who we encounter everyday, and to see teachers that I interact with on a daily basis that aren’t immune to issues with their identity in the workplace demonstrates the true influence of our identities on everyday life and the importance of intersectionality.
  • Both Ms. Pianko and Ms. Rees mentioned that they are much stricter at the beginning of the year to build a mutual respect with their students. Though the caring and kinder traits help when addressing more sensitive subjects, they can work against female teachers when students try to take advantage of these attributes and disregard the established respect.
  • Ms. Chetty felt that her gender impacted workplace relationships more than her race did, which could be due to her upbringing in a white community as well as the area we live in, which is majority Asian.
  • As a Latino male, Mr. Martinez understands that his background changes how he connects with students, and similar to the other teachers, tries to use his identity to reach students and help them better.

How can we get involved?

Part of the success of the current #metoo movement is due to people all over the world sharing their experiences of sexual harassment. Inspired by this movement, I think that sharing our own experiences will bring awareness to both intersectionality and the work we need to put in to create a more equal environment. I also encourage you to ask your own teachers about their personal experiences to learn more about what goes on in your communities.


Made with Padlet


Baker, Jean A., et al. “The teacher-student relationship as a developmental context for children with internalizing or externalizing behavior problems.” School Psychology Quarterly, 2008, pp. 3-15. ProQuest Research Library,

Davis, Dannielle Joy, et al. Intersectionality in Educational Research. Stylus Publishing, 2011. Ebook Central,

Morgan, Kathryn Pauly. Intersecting Axes of Privilege, Domination, and Oppression.

Salera, Barbara. “Intersectionality in the Classroom: My Experience Teaching at the Crossroads of Ethnicity and Gender.” Hybrid Pedagogy, 2014,

Wånggren, Lena, and Karin Sellberg. “Intersectionality and dissensus: a negotiation of the feminist classroom.” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 2012, pp. 542-55. ProQuest Research Library,

“WTF is Intersectional Feminism???” Youtube, uploaded by MTV Braless, 14 Aug. 2015,

Share this project
  1. April 28, 2018 by Sara.Hewitt

    I love your focus on intersectionality and identity! Great job, Tiffany!

    • May 01, 2018 by Tiffany.Shou

      Thanks Sara!

  2. April 29, 2018 by Sidney Derzon

    I really loved the focus of your project and your interviews. The interviews were so fascinating to listen to especially because they all had different backgrounds and reputations within the school. I love how Ms. Chetty was able to overcome many of the typical stereotypes against women and how she strategically organized the departments with a balance between female and male. Great work!

    • May 01, 2018 by Tiffany.Shou

      Thanks so much for taking a listen Sidney!

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