12: A Student Teacher Who Made a Difference

12: A Student Teacher Who Made a Difference

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

A Student Teacher Who Made a Difference

A teacher affects eternity.

~Henry Adams

At the beginning of my senior year in high school, I had no intention of applying to college. Honestly, I thought that people like me didn’t attend college, for many reasons. I am a Mexican American who was born and raised in an “under-served” urban community with limited educational resources. I attended the local community high school where college wasn’t encouraged for the average student like me. The scholarships and college-related events were offered to the honor students.

The only contact that I had with my high school counselor was to choose my courses. As far as family, no one had ever attended college, and I had no idea where to start, and if I could even afford it. My thought process was that I would graduate from high school and get a job. My father had suffered a back injury while working in a factory and was unemployed for many years.

I felt that it was my responsibility to help provide for my family and contribute financially to the household. Besides, I could never envision myself as a college student completing a degree. It just wasn’t for me.

Although I viewed myself as just an average student with average grades, I never realized that some key people at my school did notice my potential. I clearly remember the day that my psychology teacher abruptly interrupted my English class with some interesting news. She was excited about sharing some news with the English instructor as well as the entire class. She had just graded a research paper from one of her classes. Before she began reading it to the class, she stated, “I want to share a brief passage from this well-written paper that has college material written all over it.”

It took me a while to realize that the paper she was reading belonged to me. Me, college material? No way. I blushed in front of my peers as she recognized my work. Of course, after a while I thought to myself, I got lucky. Although I enjoyed expressing myself through writing, I never thought that I was actually good at it.

The first semester was coming to an end and I heard many of the honor students talking about being admitted into the college of their choice as well as scholarships that they had received. I knew it was too late for me to start anything. I figured there was no point since I was so far behind.

It’s funny how fate works, because all it took was one ordinary day, that became the turning point in my academic life. It was a Friday morning during my English class. Our student teacher invited the entire class to attend a youth expo at Navy Pier. The expo would take place the next day, which was a Saturday. I took a permission slip home and had my father’s permission to attend. The plan was to meet my student teacher at the train station and go from there.

When I arrived at the train station that Saturday morning I noticed that my student teacher was waiting by herself, and no other students were in sight. She greeted me and we chatted for a while as we waited. Fifteen minutes passed, and no one showed up. We decided to go anyway. Throughout the train ride and the field trip my teacher talked to me about her college experience and how she was excited that I would soon experience college too.

I told her that I was too late and that I would not attend. She was genuinely surprised and disappointed. She was completing her Education degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago and she mentioned that I should apply. I didn’t know much about this university but I gave it some thought. She also mentioned that she felt that I was a good writer and that I would do very well in college. I enjoyed hearing these words very much.

On Monday morning, I built up the courage to pay a visit to my guidance counselor to inquire about the whole college process. I remember feeling very nervous about the whole thing, but thinking it was something I had to do. I walked into my counselor’s office and asked about applying to UIC. My counselor looked at me and handed me the application with no further explanation. The meeting was over. Being that I was a very timid student, I didn’t bother to ask additional questions.

I decided to approach another guidance counselor about the application process. The next counselor took the time to sit with me, and basically informed me that UIC was too much of a school for me and that I should apply to a city college instead. She looked at my ACT score and warned me that the university would not be a fit for someone like me. I can still recall the warm feeling rushing through my face and my heart pounding in my chest. I felt rejected and like a failure.

I informed my student teacher about my experiences with both guidance counselors. She brushed it off and said to me, “Don’t worry about it, I will help you out.” She helped me with the application and registration process. A few months later I proudly informed her that I was accepted to the university and received financial aid to cover tuition and fees. I also decided to apply for several scholarships that I can proudly say I received. I obtained one for four years consecutively. At one point, upon receipt of a scholarship, I was invited to read my scholarship essay during the recipient ceremony, in front of over 300 people.

Overall, college was such a great experience and I learned the value of perseverance and self-confidence. I decided to take on a new challenge and completed a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. I am currently in the process of applying to a doctoral program in Policy Studies in Urban Education at UIC. These achievements are still surreal to me.

As I reflect on my educational journey, I am grateful to that one individual who not only believed in me, but guided me through a crucial point during my senior year in high school. Thanks for everything, Ms. Tracie.

~Elizabeth Herrera

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