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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

COE Grads 2019: Building Trust

Class of 2019 grad Cassandra Drake


As she started her teaching career in 2007, Dr. Cassandra Drake thought herself well-prepared to teach in a multicultural classroom. After all, she’d taken a course in multicultural education while earning her multiple stubject credential. It wasn’t until she started her first full-time position at a Sikh charter school in West Sacramento that she realized how much she didn’t know.

“I didn't have it covered — not at all,” Drake recalls. “I started to realize you can't just have multiculturalism or understanding diversity as this checklist you go through. And I had to start realizing that it wasn't like, 'Oh, I'm here to give back to this community.' No, if you are not from that community then you can’t actually ‘give back.’

“So you have to really invest yourself 100 percent and build trust. If children don't trust you, it's going to be really hard to teach them."

Drake succeeded by putting in that investment. She gave up her weekends to attend events and immerse herself in the local Sikh community. Before long, she’d even become an expert at helping the boys in her class re-wrap their patkas (traditional Sikh head coverings) when they became undone.

The experience was an inflection point in Drake’s career as she developed a passion for preparing future teachers to succeed in diverse California classrooms. That passion eventually led her to the Joint Ph.D. Program in Education offered by San Diego State University and Claremont Graduate University (CGU).
There are so many women of color in this program who helped me understand my positionality more as a white female in teacher education. I wouldn't have got that in other places I think — at San Diego State we really bring amazing people together from all walks of life.
Drake said she loved her experience in the joint-doctoral program for the breadth of courses offered at CGU, the support of SDSU faculty like Dr. Rafaela Santa Cruz and Dr. Marva Cappello and for the resilience and determination she witnessed in her fellow doctoral students in the program.

“You can't do a doc program on your own, you have to have people on both sides of you, arm-in-arm in order to get through it,” she said. “There are so many women of color in this program who helped me understand my positionality more as a white female in teacher education. I wouldn't have got that in other places I think — at San Diego State we really bring amazing people together from all walks of life."

Another opportunity SDSU afforded Drake was the chance to teach in a university classroom. As a teaching associate in the School of Teacher Education, she taught three courses — education psychology, social studies methods and child development — incorporating arts-based group projects inspired by her work and ongoing partnership with Arts Alive SDSU. And she’s made it a point to infuse multiculturalism, diversity and issues of equity into all of her courses.

“This is the reality of our education system, especially in this state,” Drake said. “You are going to have students who don't look like you and who don't come from homes like you grew up in. You have to work hard to make sure you connect with those students, understand their backgrounds and build trust and rapport with them and their families."

Now, with her doctorate in hand, she will start a new position this fall as an assistant professor of liberal studies at California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock, Calif. Moving to the Central Valley will be a homecoming for Drake, who was born in Bakersfield and attended community college and Sacramento State as a first-generation college student.

It’s a homecoming made possible by her experience here.

"If I had been this same version of me, but had gone to another school where I didn't have this kind of exposure and these experiences that inform my research and teaching, I don't think I would have gotten that job," Drake said. "I'm excited to be going to teach there because I know I can connect with the students and community and that’s what being a successful educator is all about."