Transcript Sergio Rivera

Kelly Bron Johnson (00:04)

Hi, and welcome to this episode of the Intersections on the Spectrum Podcast. The intersections on the  Spectrum podcast is the brainchild and passion project of Doug Blecher and Kelly Bron Johnson. Created  to discuss intersectional issues within the autistic community and give visibility to commonly  marginalized, repressed, underrepresented, or erased identities and issues. We aim to introduce you to  the people and stories you didn't know about but needed to hear. And hope by seeing yourself  represented in the community allows you to feel seen. 

Doug Blecher (00:40)

I have mixed emotions today because, I'm sad cause this is the last episode of season two, but I'm  thrilled that we get to talk with Sergio Rivera today. So Sergio, thanks for joining us. 

Sergio Rivera (00:55)

Hey. Yeah, yeah, it's fun. It's, this has been fun so far. 

Doug Blecher (01:00)

We wanted to start off, like we usually do on these episodes and learn about your identities. What  would you say the identities that you connect with? 

Sergio Rivera (01:11)

Yeah, so I'm a male, Latinx, autistic, first generation American educator. And as an educator, I'm really  concerned about making sure my students feel safe and making sure that they feel empowered  throughout, what I do. Cause I'm a sped teacher. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (01:31)

Yeah, we're just about to talk about that. So you have a master's in special education and you teach in  the, in the United States. So was there something about your upbringing or your educational  background that inspired you to want to teach in special ed? 

Sergio Rivera (01:48)

Yeah, definitely. I think my, like lived experiences, my lived experiences, kind of led me to like special  education. because, uh, growing up my dad worked in a homeless shelter in Los Angeles, like the Skid  Row. So it was like, there's a lot of people there. And he just worked as a maintenance man, but, every  summer he would take me to kind of work with him and <laugh>, I was like, I really don't wanna do this  as a living, like, working with my hands like that. But I think it exposed me to a lot of different type of  people and like kind of the spectrum of like people in general. So that gave me like different skills and  stuff to deal with different types of people. But, and then I got into like some volunteer work and then  some of the students that I was working with they were telling me about like their IEPs and like, it was  kind of like a puzzle. 

Sergio Rivera (02:53):

They were telling me like, Oh yeah, there's like an adult that kind of helps me out at school. And I like,  what is that? Like? I didn't really know. I think I went to advocate for one of them or like talk to their  teacher and then they told me a little bit more about it. Because when I went through school, there  wasn't really, I'm 32, uh, class of oh eight for high school and I don't really remember there being any  special education teachers that were like inclusion. There was like separate classes for students that  needed a lot of support. So I learned a little bit about what an IEP was like in current day, like schools in  like an inclusion. But then the <laugh>, how I actually became a SPED teacher was, when I was in college  I wanted to be a teacher and I was kind of running out of time and, and money cuz I, I struggled a little  bit to get through school. 

Sergio Rivera (04:01)

I had the support of my parents, but, that patient was kind of running through, I think I needed a lot  more, um, accommodations and just general support. I know we're gonna touch on it a little bit later,  but I did lose sight, my eyesight for like two years. So during like my trying to transfer college and  whatnot and I didn't know what an, services were like in IEP or, or student services were. So there was a  program that was offering like at it was a, they were offering like an accelerated program, like a master's  for special education. And then I went to one of the info sessions and I was like, Oh man, I could do that.  Like, that's, that's easy. Like, so I applied and I got in and ever since then I was like, Oh, this is it. I love  this way more than being a regular teacher. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (05:06)

It's nice. It's always like, for me, when I, I started tutoring before I became a teacher. I was a teacher for  a little bit. And for me it was seeing the kids, like you see the light bulbs go off on top of their head, you  know that there's a moment where you start to see it and you pop and they can tell that they  understand and that they're getting it and that they're, I don't know, I think that's cool. I think that's one  of the coolest parts of it. 

Sergio Rivera (05:29)

Yeah. And then there's no turning back once they get it <laugh> like they'll get it. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (05:34)


Doug Blecher (05:36)

Sergio, you were talking about, your father living, uh, working at a, a homeless shelter. Um, so I imagine  you got, um, good amount of experience with that. You know, the few times that I've, volunteered at a  homeless shelter, it kind of reminded me about privilege that, that we all have, we all have different  privilege. So I was wondering how that kind of shifted your perspective? 

Sergio Rivera (06:05)

One thing that my dad did say was one thing that he did well with me, I think was giving me a different  perspectives. Growing up he would always talk about El Salvador. So he left, El Salvador during the Civil  War. So his perspective is like completely different. Like, a lot of violence, a lot of poverty, like extreme  poverty. So, when I was growing up I heard like, Oh yeah, it's so easy, all this stuff. And I didn't really  

understand that, as a kid. But I had some opportunities to go to El Salvador and kind of see some of that.  But, working in the, the homeless shelter was like another reminder, right?

Sergio Rivera (07:16)

That things can change, very suddenly for people. And yeah, it's just a completely different environment.  Definitely growing up and especially in Los Angeles, like Skid Row is basically its own little city within the  city. Back then it was much larger, than it currently is, but it's still a lot of people that are experiencing  homelessness. And a lot of these people are like some of the most vulnerable people in our society. So, I  mean, I got to meet a lot of these people. A lot of these people were, you know, my dad's friends  because he worked there. They were all very nice to me, <laugh>, they were like, Oh, this is Sergio. So  yeah, and then we would have holiday parties and all that with, at the homeless shelter itself, like during  the hours that they're open. 

Sergio Rivera (08:15)

So yeah, it, it gives you a different perspective of like how people can live and like, I think it changed, like  that was always my like, I guess my perspective was just like a little bit more open. I can see now as an  adult, like going to different places in the country, it seems a lot nicer or at least the parts that I've been  to. It seems like some experiences are, you could you'll never run into like a skin row kind environment.  So, or like, it's hard. Imagine that when you see, when you go to like Boise, Idaho and you spend time at  the university there, it's like very hard to imagine a skid row 

Sergio Rivera (09:07)

Now getting back to your, uh, teaching. You've taught in a state that is historically, , democratic as well  as a state that is historically Republican. What if any differences do you see as a teacher of color in those  states? 

Sergio Rivera (09:25)

Yeah, as a teacher of color, there's definitely less teachers of color in my experience. So like to truly, So I,  the blue state that I taught in was California. The red state was Arizona. I taught and been in education  in Los Angeles for a long time. So I went to school there. I taught as like the, the lead teacher for five  years there. I worked at a bunch of different districts and in Arizona I've worked in two different  districts, both in Phoenix, but as a teacher of color, there's a lot less teachers of color in Phoenix in my  own experience. I don't know if that's true, but it definitely feels like it. That's, I think that's the main  thing. And then also the, the teachers are a lot older out here. In Phoenix generally I'm 32 and I'm  probably one of the youngest teachers. 

Sergio Rivera (10:35)

And I would say the other thing would be, since there's less teachers of color, there's kind of less efforts  like on a school based, like on a school based culture thing, like I really wanted to celebrate Dia de Los  Muertos, but it was really hard for me to partner with any of my current coworkers, because they didn't  really know what that was or , it's just different. I would have to explain to them and kind of teach them  and then kind of give them like my idea. Like I would have to teach them the idea and then hope that  they would partner with me to do that. But in Los Angeles it was a lot easier to do the alter and stuff like  that. So yeah, there there's some differences, but at the end of the day, it's still basically the same thing. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (11:32)

I think it's interesting how we talk about having, I think, adequate representation in, in schools. We talk  about it in work too, right? But what I have found interesting about my conversations with America, so  I'm, I'm Canadian, I'm in a, I'm in Montreal. I'm in a major metropolis that's extremely multicultural. And 

so the experience of my children and the schools I pick, you know, is the United Nations a hundred  percent from top to the bottom, from the student body to the, to the teachers that are involved. And  when I kind of question my friends about what kind of schools they're sending their kids to in the US and  not just the US I'm sure this is also across Canada and other places, small towns and stuff, they're like,  Oh yeah, we have like, you know, we have like one Indian teacher or something <laugh>, and they're  like, Oh yeah, that's diversity. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (12:28)

And I'm like, that's, that's not enough. And I, I would never even if, even if I had white kids, which I  don't, but even if I did, I would not want them to be in an environment that has only one or two little  sprinkles of color <laugh>. I don't, I don't think that's adequate. I don't think that's, I don't think that's  beneficial for anybody to be completely honest. And so like as fighting for space and fighting for your  space, is part, part of your work in a sense which isn't, you know, it's not part of your paid work, but it  becomes like you, you end up becoming part of that, right? 

Sergio Rivera (13:05)

Yeah and then for anyone listening for the American listeners, the United States, American, I know Kelly  just said, uh, uh, Indian, which is in Canada is politically correct, but in the United States we usually just  say Native American. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (13:24)

I'm not talking about natives. No, no, no. I'm talking about Indians from India. 

Sergio Rivera (13:28)

Yeah, I got mixed up cuz in Canada I learned that that's how it was. I learned that difference. But yeah,  and sorry about that. 

Speaker 2 (13:41)

We can talk about terminology. So I'm talking about India from India, Like Indians from India, like real  Indians. Oh, I would never use that. So my son is indigenous, one of my sons is in a, so in Canada now,  we use indigenous for the whole group that breaks down to First Nations, Mitzi and Inuit. We don't, I  would not be able to use the word Indian towards, uh, a native, first native person, First Nations. They  

can call themselves that if they want and usually they'll use Ndn, like the, like the letters ndn, that's how  they'll refer to themselves. But as me as a non-indigenous person, I can't call another indigenous person  Indian. And we don't, we don't even really say native so much anymore. So it's, it's really we're talking  about the specific groups, the First Nations, the <inaudible> and the Inuit, which are the indigenous  people we have in Canada. But I know that in the US I often still hear Native. And I had a teacher who,  um, my, my last teacher actually, was a professor who was, uh, Onondaga, and so, or Oneida and he  would say native, or he would use the name of the tribe that, the group that the people were specifically  from. So I respect what people want to call themselves, but like I would never, I would never say Indian  to somebody who's not Indian. A hundred percent from the country of India. 

Sergio Rivera (15:09)

<laugh>. Yeah. I mean, I don't know, but like, it's, yeah, it's like the US where there's a, there's a street  here in Phoenix called Indian School Road, and on that street there's still an Indian school up, there's a  park and there's a school there.

Kelly Bron Johnson (15:28)


Sergio Rivera (15:29)

And it's just, it's just how things are in Phoenix. But there's a lot of native, there's a lot of Navajo people  here because the Navajo nation is right next, to the city. It's so close. It's, and yeah, it's completely  different than the city of Phoenix. It is kind of its own thing. But what were we talking about before? 

Kelly Bron Johnson (15:55)

Like, Oh, I was just saying like how, how, you know, you having to kind of represent, and it's that kind of  an extra labor, extra part of your job that's not your job, Right. But it kind becomes your job when it's on  your shoulders when you're trying to represent for any sort of representation like, and just 

Kelly Bron Johnson (16:15)

Sort of like culture at any, you know, anything that's other than white culture. 

Sergio Rivera (16:19)

Yeah, I wanted to, you know, create my alter for my students and kind of show them because they kind  of know it cuz of cocoa. Like they've all seen it, but I want them to see how like someone actually  celebrates it. So I wanted to bring in pictures of my family and stuff like that. And a lot of those things  that I had before, I lost them during the move, you know, so when I thought about having to reacquire  all those things, you know, that's so much work from just one teacher that has to do all this other stuff  that it just seemed like, I was like, I don't have the energy to go and explain this to you coworkers and  set it up and buy the things. So yeah, it's a lot of like individual, collective. But I've been trying to, you  know, partner with other teachers and with our shared culture. So yeah, it, it is important. And just  seeing me and telling them like, Oh yeah, I speak Spanish, you know, because a lot of, from where I grew  up in Los Angeles, people that look like me usually speak Spanish. But here, you know, people that look  like me might be Navajo or they might be from a Spanish speaking country, but they just don't speak  Spanish. Like, it's just not as common. So yeah, I mean, I just existing sometimes is a lot 

Kelly Bron Johnson (17:48)

<laugh>. Yeah. That's, that's kind of what I'm trying to say. Yeah. Then and that a lot gets like a burden  gets put on your shoulder just existing. Yeah, 

Sergio Rivera (17:55)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I try to explain to them like, Oh, you know, my, my parents are from El Salvador  and, or El Salvador and Guatemala. And then like, I gotta show them the map and all that. So there's  always fun things when kids inquire a little bit more. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (18:13)

So I also read, we spoke about, uh, positionality and its relation to education. So how would you define  positionality as it relates to, to the students that you teach? 

Sergio Rivera (18:28):

Like, that was the one question that I, I, I kind of wanted to clarify with you guys now that I'm hearing it  again. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like is it my positionality of how I view my students or how the students  view me or 

Sergio Rivera (18:47)

Something else? 

Kelly Bron Johnson (18:47)

I think it could be both, I think could be interesting. 

Sergio Rivera (18:54)

All right. So I'll answer it mainly from like, the first perspective that I said. Uh, cause I don't know how  <laugh>, I could only speculate on how they view me. So the way that I view students, usually the  students that I'm working with are K through 12. Currently I'm teaching 12th graders. I always view that  the students have something to teach me and I am only trying to help them find their own their own  way in education. Because I don't really see t the state standards from what I've seen in California and  Arizona are basically the same. I don't necessarily think that they're the most important things in the  world. I feel like the students should feel safe and be excited to learn. Because a lot of the learning that  I've seen in SPED that we kind of mentioned earlier with Kelly was that, u once you see the light bulb  come on, our students just kind of take off from there. 

Sergio Rivera (20:02)

So I'm just trying to get them to get to that light bulb moment and from there they'll keep learning. So  just getting that confidence up in them is a huge thing that I try to do in my classroom. And yeah, like I  know that they have things to teach me and I have things to teach them. And I think one of the most, I  think that like positionality that I take has been a little challenged a little bit I think this year. Cuz I'm  

working at a, like a rural high school and, well, it's on the very edge of being the very edge of the city. It's  not necessarily rural, but it's at the edge of the city. So I have a lot of, students that are also white and  then their parents are like super into Trump. 

Sergio Rivera (20:59)

So a lot of my students have like Trump stickers and stuff like that. So at first it took me aback a little bit  and like I talked to some of the parents and some of the interactions were, a little not smooth, but I am  the case manager for their children, so they kind of have to work with me but the students themselves,  

you know, they're just, they're young, they're just, that's the environment that they're in. They don't  necessarily believe those things about me or, so I have a pretty good relationship with them. A working  relationship I would say. But yeah, like relationships are like super important for me. I don't think  students can learn from someone that don't have a good relationship with, that they respect and feel  safe around. So that's like, that's like my big thing as a SPED teacher. I usually teach, students that are  like in the general education classroom. But I think it goes for, for any type of student in the school. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (22:10)

No, that's, that's super important. And what I've, you know, kids who are scared, who don't feel safe  can't learn a hundred percent, it's just not gonna happen <laugh>. And it's not unique. It's not unique to  SPED or anything. I was thinking about how like my, my youngest son is just starting kindergarten now  and his teacher is basically like, she's like, I don't do any pedagogy for the first like, month or two at all. I 

don't, She's like, I just, the kids come here, they learn the routine they play and I just build a relationship  with them. You don't touch like nothing. Don't do math, don't do anything, you know. And she's like,  don't, don't have, you know, as a parent, like, she's like, Don't be too concerned. Like, you don't worry.  Your kids are gonna learn. But she's like, I don't do any schoolwork for the beginning until they establish  that relationship. Cuz it's, she's like, it's not gonna happen otherwise, it's just not gonna work. So I really  appreciate that. Like I appreciate that, that approach, you know? 

Sergio Rivera (23:10)

Yeah. Especially the, at that age, like kindergarten, like they're learning while they're playing, like yeah, it  helps their brain development to play outside. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (23:18)

Yeah. So there's no point to do more. There's no reason to rush everything. It's, it's gonna happen. It's  gonna be okay. <laugh>, like everybody just used to chill out. <laugh>. 

Doug Blecher (23:28)

Sergio, earlier you touched on it briefly that you had lost sight in your one eye, I believe for a period of  two years. So, how did that change, um, your perception as you continued to move forward in your life? 

Sergio Rivera (23:53)

I think it really changed the way that, as a young man, like I was like 21, 23, like through the whole thing.  When it was happening, I had no idea what was happening. I didn't know if I was gonna get my eyesight  back. I didn't know, technically what was happening and like what the next steps were, just in a lot of  despair. But I think what I learned was that I can, that disability can happen to anybody basically at any  time. And it really, it gave me a different perspective as well, like, you know, like thinking about the  steps and stuff like that I could have taken as a student individually, like receiving student services and  stuff like that. Like if I would've known those things, I would've, you know, felt a lot more supported. 

Sergio Rivera (25:19)

I think it just really gave me a, an appreciation of like how many disabled people there are in our society.  And then just being more aware of being able to accommodate them and making sure things are  accessible for other people. Because there's so many, I mean, I did a podcast episode on this, it's called  like Hidden Disabilities. Like you might not know what someone's going through by just looking at them.  So just making sure, you know, people are taken care of. That's something that I try to teach like well,  or, or learn about and then teach to my friends and to my loved ones and anyone that will listen really  to the podcast. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (27:06)

So that's a great question about your podcast as well. So you started a podcast called Inclusive  Education In Real life, what do you hope to get out of listening to your podcast? 

Sergio Rivera (27:19)

Yeah, so I, I just want people, I made it, I started it during the pandemic and I kind of was just talking to  my therapist about this and he was saying like its an audio diary, especially cuz I'm going through and  I'm editing my own stuff and I can hear what I'm thinking about. I could hear what I'm struggling with. 

But I think the real reason I made it was because when I was looking for like special education stuff  online, I couldn't really find anything that I like resonated with. Like it, and it's, it's hard, like we're all  using the same kind of words, like inclusive <laugh>. So there's, there's cool things out there, but I was  like, I can do this. I can make a podcast. Because I felt like pretty experienced. I knew that I had  experience that if I shared it, people, could learn or connect with. So I'm just trying to share what I've  learned as a teacher of color and then hopefully somebody, you know, either likes it, dislikes it. I mean,  I've had, episodes about all different types of things like, uh, being autistic, like critical race theory. Like  what do I think about that kind of thing. And yeah, it's been fun. It's fun to, to do. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (28:43)

Nice. So where can people find it? Where can people find your podcast? 

Sergio Rivera (28:46)

Definitely on all the different podcasts, platforms. So like Spotify, Apple, Amazon I think is the third one,  but there's even more than that. If you just type in inclusive education irl, you can find it. And then you  could also find me on Instagram and Twitter on inclusive education irl if you type that in, you'll find me. 

Doug Blecher (29:13)

Well, Sergio, I hope people check that out, that our listeners of our podcast as well. And, thanks so much  for, uh, joining us on the last episode of season two. And thank you, Kelly. It's always, an honor to be a  part of these podcasts and along with our amazing guests to see you interact with them and, um, the  banter that you have. I I love every time we get to do that. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (29:44)

Yay. I love it too. I appreciate it. I appreciate you and I appreciate everybody who, well, Doug especially  for behind the scenes for doing a lot of this work behind that. Nobody notices. Maybe I notice <laugh> 

Sergio Rivera (29:56)

<laugh>, they were great questions. If Doug wrote the questions. Yes. When I read, when I read those  questions I was like, whoa, this person actually listened to my podcast. <laugh>. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (30:09)

Doug gets deep, he finds everything <laugh>. 

Sergio Rivera (30:13)

Yeah, it's good. And yeah, it was, it was been an honor to be on here, close out the season. It's  awesome. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (30:19)


Sergio Rivera (30:20)

So much for the opportunity guys. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (30:21):

Thanks. We appreciate it.