English teacher, cross-country coach and co-chair of Punahou’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Planning Group
As an eighth grade English teacher at Case Middle School, Christina Torres inspires students with her love for writing and reading, but also her desire to live healthfully, happily and consciously. The native Angeleno, who moved to Hawai‘i in 2012, blogs about her life and such issues as social justice and race relations on her website, christinatorres.org. She’s also a gifted runner, who recently clocked in at a marathon in just three and a half hours. We caught up with her to learn more about what drives her passions.
Have you enjoyed your time teaching at Punahou?
I love Punahou because I’m in an environment with other teachers who are really innovative and interested in pushing themselves. I think that’s really hard to find in any profession, so the fact that Punahou teachers consistently want to try new things and do new things has been really awesome. I also love teaching middle school. It’s, by far, my favorite age, when kids are still sweet, goofy and silly. Yet, you’re able to have these intellectual, really thoughtful conversations with them. There’s just so much growth happening, and it’s a sweet spot of transition.
Can you tell us more about your writing?
Most of the writing I do is narrative nonfiction. I write a lot about my teaching experience or about education as it pertains to race, sexuality, gender and social justice. It’s a really powerful way to process my experience in the classroom. There was a time I thought I was going to be a professional writer, then I found teaching. But it’s nice to do both, and be able to write and express myself, while still getting to be in the classroom with kids, which is what I really love.
You do a lot of work around social justice. Why is that important to you?
As someone who grew up in a primarily white place, I experienced racism firsthand, and knew how much teachers had meant to me during that time. I re-entered the classroom in 2014 – the same year Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson. The wave of protests and the power of the Black Lives Matter movement were things I’m grateful my students wanted to discuss. It really put into perspective how important it is to do this work with kids, especially since we were having conversations around problems that existed for generations. Unfortunately, the issues I discussed with my students in 2014 are still very real, not just in terms of race, but also injustices facing LGBTQ-positive people, women, immigrants and those without socio-economic stability. Attending Punahou is a privilege, and I want my students to use that privilege to understand and support an end to the social inequity and injustice that still exists. I need them to learn that Hawai‘i is not the post-racial paradise many believe it is. I want to prepare them for the real world if they leave the Island, and give them tools to help support social change. That also means collaborating with my colleagues to ensure we can live up to personal and social responsibilities, embrace diversity and be engaged citizens.
In your personal writing, you’ve been open about your mental health. How important is it to have these discussions with kids?
I think it’s hugely important, because I do think, unfortunately, there’s still a stigma around mental health and asking for help. We try and teach kids to be strong, and sometimes, we don’t really talk about what that means. Kids may internalize that as not asking for help or not being upfront with how they’re feeling. But communicating your feelings is such a big part of being healthy. On a different note,
I know you’re a long-distance runner.What do you love about running?
I’ve done 17 marathons. When I started running, I had never run more than a mile. There’s a program called Students Run LA, where they teach students to run the LA Marathon. I learned to run right alongside my kids. Now that I coach intermediate cross country, I am still learning to run right alongside the kids. They definitely push me to be faster. For me, running is the space I can carve out for myself. With teaching, you have to give of yourself a lot emotionally. Running allows me to be in m own head and be by myself. I do a lot of my best thinking out there.
What’s your best marathon time, and any running goals?
My best marathon time is three hours, 30 minutes and seven seconds. I was seven seconds away from qualifying for the Boston Marathon. But my life goals are changing. Right now, it’s just about staying healthy. That’s something I try and impart to my students, especially since coming to Punahou. I think it’s great our students are focused and want to do their best, but I also want to make sure they’re taking care of themselves and doing things beyond schoolwork.
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