From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

On Teaching

Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students. What better books can there be than the book of humanity?

César Chávez

I am a primary schoolteacher. Growing up, teaching was never high on the list of things to do with my life. I had a world to conquer, I felt, and becoming a teacher would not even allow me to conquer my own backyard. Upon graduating from college, in order to pursue my passion for acting as much as I could, I worked as a substitute teacher. I enjoyed the experience, but still something was missing. Shortly after starting, however, I received an assignment as a “long-term” sub wherein I took over the last trimester (as this was a year-round school) of a kindergarten class. It was that trimester that a tiny light finally went on inside of me. I realized that as a substitute, I hadn’t had the opportunity to cultivate relationships with the kids, to observe their growth and foster their development. To the kids, I was just another substitute, gone in a day or so; to me, they were just another day of work. As a long-term teacher, I was able to experience the true nature of teaching, and I began to fall in love with something that a few years earlier I would not have wanted to do.

The following year, I taught third grade full-time, and it was an incident from that year that affected how I viewed my job, my students, my community, my world and myself . . .

One evening I was visiting a friend in the area where my school is located. As I didn’t live in that area, I never encountered any of my students outside of class. On this particular evening, my friend and I ventured to the local video store to pick up some movies. While inside, I glanced out at the parking lot and saw one of my students. I figured she was just accompanying her parent to the store and thought nothing more of it. Minutes later, as we left the store, I saw her again, a pretty, skinny, little thing, still standing just in front of the entrance. “Hey there, kiddo, what’s going on? Renting some movies?” I asked. “No,” she replied softly as she looked over to an old car parked a few meters away. I looked over and saw her mom standing outside the car. I waved. “So, what . . .” I didn’t finish. I looked in her hands and realized that she was standing outside of that video store, at that time of night, selling crocheted toilet-paper covers, working to earn some extra money for her family. My heart sank. She grew embarrassed. I probed no further as I didn’t want to humiliate her. I made a feeble attempt at pretending everything was fine. I uttered some informal good-bye, told her I’d see her in the morning and made my way to the car. On the short drive back to my friend’s home, a thousand emotions came and went, a thousand thoughts followed suit. I was outraged that this little girl had to live in a world where fate, destiny, whatever, dictated such harsh life circumstances. I felt worthless.

The next morning, as I drove to school still ruminating about the events of the evening before, I remembered the lyrics to a song by Alejandra Guzmán dedicated to her daughter. “El mundo es como es y no puedo cambiártelo, pero siempre te seguiré para darte una mano.” “The world is what it is, and I cannot change it for you, but I’ll always be with you to give you a hand.”

I couldn’t change the life circumstances for this little girl and her family, but I was in a very special position that allowed me to make an impact. As long as she was my student, I had the opportunity to make a difference, to affect her life positively, to stir in her an endless thirst for learning and, maybe, just maybe, contribute, if even mildly, to her reaching her más grandes anhelos. Her biggest dreams. That year, and for as long as I could, I would echarle una mano. Give her a hand.

Today, this is how I view every one of my days with every one of my students. I believe firmly in what I do. I believe in the seen and unforeseen consequences that a good teacher can have on a student. Education, mi gente, is paramount!

I believe in the power of knowledge to effect change and create better lives. I believe in education, not just as a means to an end, but as an instrument of lifelong learning and relationship. I strive to leave an indelible mark on the life of every child I teach, and I never miss an opportunity to notice the beauty and the love in every step we take together.

Salvador González Padilla

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