Sangita Yolanda Diaz-Houston

Learning Happens in Community: Meet High School English Teacher Sangita Diaz-Houston (’99)

Sangita Yolanda Diaz-Houston (‘99) is the new Mount Madonna School (MMS) high school English and creative writing teacher. She holds a Ph.D. in education from the University of California, Santa Cruz, master’s in education from both the University of California, Santa Cruz and California State University, Monterey Bay, and a B.A. in race and gender studies from Pitzer College. High school senior Bella Sol Padilla got the chance to ask Sangita some questions for the MMS student newspaper; following is an edited version of that interview.  

How did you first hear about Mount Madonna School (MMS)?

I first came to MMS with my identical twin sister, Priya Marita Diaz (‘99), when we were 11 years old, as students. My parents sent us to MMS because the public school we had been attending had an overcrowding crisis; there were more than 40 kids in my fourth grade class there. At that time, MMS hadn’t built the upper campus yet, and all middle and high school classes were in the community building or other buildings at Mount Madonna Center. Many of my friends at the school also lived on the land and their parents were part of the Mount Madonna Center residential community. I graduated from MMS in 1999.

What made you want to teach here?

Working here feels natural, like it’s the place I’m supposed to be; I’m coming full circle to support the community that helped me grow at an early stage of my life and beyond. Also, I feel deeply connected to the land itself, the trees, the animals and the spirit of nature.

How do you create positive learning experiences for students?

I think creating a positive experience as a teacher is done through relationships with students, primarily. It’s not something that I can do on my own. I don’t have a magic spell to cast that will make everyone who walks into my classroom have a great experience. Students have to be willing to show up and engage. That said, I see my responsibility as giving them something meaningful to engage with. So it’s reciprocal, meaning both parties have to show up and be prepared to work hard, have fun and focus.

What is your teaching philosophy?

Learning happens in the context of community. In other words, we have our most meaningful learning experiences through interacting and being with others. You could sit in a box and stare at your computer to find out about almost anything under the sun. The amount of information available to us is baffling. But what that doesn’t teach you is how to be in relationship with yourself and others around you, in authentic interaction. If you don’t know yourself and how you operate, how you experience and understand the world, then everything is a struggle. Also if you don’t have guides along the way to talk to, to figure yourself and the world out, or to be challenged by, growth doesn’t happen. Guides are not just teachers. They are peers, extended family, mentors, even younger children who all relate in a web of relationships. That’s why it takes a community to learn.

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