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Teaching students to find their voices

Music education major Diego Mateo ’23 hopes to become a teacher students can look up to

Oct 26, 2023

Diego speaking at Commencement.

Diego Mateo came to North Central College hoping to serve students in communities needing support for their schools. He majored in music education and found support through the challenges he faced as a first-generation, Latinx student.

Diego made use of valuable resources like the Golden Apple scholarship and North Central’s Teach First program, and his rich, varied academic experience culminated with winning a national championship in forensics and serving as the student speaker at Commencement in 2023. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in education at North Central while working as a graduate assistant for the forensics team.

Why did you want to major in education? 
I wanted to give back to communities like mine in Joliet, Ill., that are home to students who may not have the same resources or opportunities as others. I wanted to serve students that looked like me, as I had never had a Latinx teacher in my entire educational career. I wanted to be the educator that I would have wanted as a young, growing student. 

What has your student teaching experience been like?  
To me, being a first-generation college graduate is a dream my younger, pre-undergraduate self would have dropped a jaw at. I always wanted to have a teacher who could relate and engage with me on a deeper level. The dream came true when I had students at Romeoville High School who identified as queer, Latinx, and first-generation. We'd share stories of our daily lives—whether that be the Spanglish we break out in, food, family, culture, or the struggle. One of them said, “Mr. Mateo, it’s ‘cause you get us.” 

How has your time at North Central prepared you for your career?  
As I build experience in my career as a music educator, I hope to keep on creating safe spaces for my students and the opportunities to take ownership of their learning. Golden Apple and Teach First provided me with networking opportunities and built relationships with like-minded individuals. I would refer any first-generation aspiring educators to these two programs as they will create memories and build relationships with people that will literally last a lifetime.

Learn more about majoring in music education at North Central College.