Women's History Month graphic

Each week during March — Womxn’s History Month — we’re profiling womxn faculty members who have pursued academic careers in male-dominated professions and have made significant contributions to their fields.

Unlike many professions, education is considered a female-dominated field. However, a 2023 article in Education Week noted, “Education is largely powered by women, but in the rooms where big decisions are made …, the power brokers are often male.” 

Those decisions are made in the offices of school superintendents, 71.5 percent of whom are men and 28.5 percent of whom are womxn. Not surprisingly, a pay gap exists, as well, with womxn making 94 cents for every dollar men make.

Karen Escalante is the co-director of CSUSB’s doctorate in education program and an assistant professor of teacher education and foundations in the James R. Watson and Judy Rodriguez Watson College of Education. She teaches pedagogical courses grounded in social justice and humanizing pedagogy. Escalante is the president of the California Council on Teacher Education (CCTE) and serves as part of the research team and advisory board for UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools' California Educator Diversity Project. She has been in a community partnership with the Riverside County Office of Education for three years, with the established partnership providing statewide support to institutions of higher education and local educational agencies. Her line of research focuses on mentoring, the throughline between culturally responsive teaching and teaching performance assessments, teacher candidate/in-service teacher belonging, and operating within the third space (boundary spanning) to support preschool through grade 12 and teacher preparation programs.

What year did you become a university faculty member for the first time, and what was your experience like?

I was a lecturer at Cal State San Marcos, Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State Long Beach. My first tenure track position was here at Cal State San Bernardino. I started in 2019-20, which was the first year of the pandemic.

In that first year, when all of us tried to figure out how we navigate this space, I didn't wait for individuals to tell me what to do. I immediately asked my students, “What do you need?” I shifted with them and supported them however I could. That was my first-year experience as a faculty member at CSUSB. I jumped in with my students and became a family and cohort with them. That's how I operate as an educator and as a teacher — what do my students need, and how can I help them be successful?

Karen Escalante
Karen Escalante, co-director of CSUSB’s doctorate in education program and assistant professor, teacher education and foundation

How do you think the leadership and pay gender-disparities in pre-K through grade 12 education can be addressed?

The teaching profession in pre-K through grade 12 is predominantly women and has been historically. Women make up three-fourths of the profession. We begin to see a split from women to men when you look at the role of school principal and then a complete shift to predominantly men when you look at the school superintendent role. In my doctoral dissertation, I studied the role of becoming a principal, mentorship and “tapping” those individuals to become principals. I saw more male teachers get tapped and promoted, which often surprised me. We see that at the collegiate level, as well. I see that men, even though they may not demonstrate the knowledge, skills, abilities and capacities to be in the leadership role, are selected for those positions. It continues right up the pipeline.

What is the best advice you were given when you became a faculty member (or when you decided to pursue a career in academia)?  

One of the first pieces of advice I received was from two amazing colleagues, also college professors at different universities, who were on an assessment committee with me for the state of California. One is a womxn who is older than me, the other, a gay man. Both of them said to me, “Karen, find spaces where you can laugh and be joyful.” Receiving that advice to find spaces where I can be authentic and true to my goals, my values and my mission was really essential.

Given the leadership gender-disparities in pre-K though grade 12 education, what advice would you give female students who plan to teach in PK-12?

When I was completing my own teacher preparation program at Cal State Long Beach 25 years ago, Erin Gruwell, the founder of the Freedom Writers, was one of my instructors. Something I learned from her, which I still continue to carry with me, is: If you have to, break the rules to benefit your students — ask forgiveness, not permission. It's never about you, it's about what is best for students. So, if those rules are ridiculous, break 'em. Go out and make a damn difference.

At CSUSB, we intentionally spell womxn with an X as an objection to the patriarchal idea that womxn are an extension to men and the inclusion of all womxn go beyond just cis-women.