Jason Torres-Rangel ’03 Named Nominee for 2023 National Teacher of the Year

Jason Torres-Rangel

When Jason Torres-Rangel ’03 arrived at Pomona College from San Gabriel, California, he didn’t have plans to be a teacher, even though both his parents taught. But myriad experiences at Pomona led him down the path of teaching, and in October he was named the California Teacher of the Year and nominee for the 2023 National Teacher of the Year competition.

Coming to college, Torres-Rangel thought he wanted to work in Hollywood and perhaps direct films. He found internships in Hollywood through the Career Development Office. Additionally, the show The West Wing filmed on Pomona’s campus while he was a student. “I kind of snuck my way onto the set, and they ended up giving me an internship for a semester,” he says. “I would go to class, and then at night I would drive to [the studio in] Burbank.”

As much as Torres-Rangel enjoyed those internships, however, the classes he was taking in disciplines such as Black studies, Chicano studies and gender studies made him realize he wanted to go into a service profession. “The classes at Pomona crystalized my political consciousness,” he says.

His junior year, he studied abroad in Kenya, landing there in September 2001. Days later, the 9/11 attacks took place. Torres-Rangel was volunteering at a school in Kenya, and together with the teacher designed lessons to help students process the traumatic events. That experience of healing and fostering community, he says, “solidified my decision to go into a service profession.”

Unsure of what that profession would be, however, he deeply appreciated the flexibility of Pomona’s liberal arts curriculum before declaring his English major. “I proudly say to folks that I did not declare a major until second semester of my junior year. I was psychology for a bit, media studies, archaeology for a bit,” Torres-Rangel says. “But all of that was so wonderful, so beautiful, and it influences how I teach my high school students.”

One day, the late Chicano studies professor Raymond Buriel said to Torres-Rangel, “I think you would make a really good teacher.” Buriel told him about Pomona’s partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation which would fund a master’s in education degree. He also offered to write a letter of recommendation for him.

“He saw something in me,” Torres-Rangel says. “I remember that when I’m interacting with my own students and nudge them towards areas that I think are strengths that they might not entirely see.”

After that encouragement, Torres-Rangel applied for and was awarded the Rockefeller fellowship and enrolled at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Those dominoes fell, and I found myself at a social justice teacher education program,” he says. “On day one, I thought, ‘I’m in the right place.’” None of it would have happened if he hadn’t attended Pomona, he says.

Torres-Rangel currently teaches Advanced Placement English at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles, in addition to pursuing a Ph.D. in education at Claremont Graduate University. He seeks to create “curriculum that is student centered, culturally aware, that tries to show minoritized voices in ways that challenge assumptions in society.”

He says of the teaching profession, “We don’t do this for the recognition. We don’t take the job for the pay.”

Being named a California Teacher of the year “is an opportunity to share the work that all teachers do, to uplift the voices of my students and to help folks remember the critical role that public education plays in this country,” Torres-Rangel says. “It’s important to remember the power that education has to strengthen our communities, to develop critical thinkers and strong participants in this democracy.”

“You can’t put a price tag on that,” Torres-Rangel says.