I believe that teachers empower children to change their destiny.
My first notable encounter with Javier occurred on a sultry, September day in a last period, remedial class. The bell rang; students leapt out of their seats, hoping to escape the inferno, and I requested that they sit down until we finished reviewing the day’s assignments. Ten of the eleven students thought about bolting but reluctantly complied. One student, Javier, continued to pack his bag and defiantly walked out proclaiming that “School ends at 2:00 p.m.!”
Javier had arrived at our school after a tumultuous time at an inner city school. His legacy included an attendance record — 40 absences and 28 tardies — that should have earned him an Houdini award for his ability to escape school. A voluminous, Individual Educational Plan labeled him as “functionally illiterate.” To complicate matters further, Javier’s mother had recently died, and he had moved in to public housing with his aunt, a single, unemployed parent with four children.
For months, Javier snarled and railed at me on a daily basis for monitoring his progress in all his classes and for “being in all his business.” He bristled when I enlisted the help of the Literacy Specialist and exuded contempt during our daily writing tutorials. He repeatedly accused me of “ruining his life.”
As spring approached and the MCAS — a statewide assessment test for students of Massachusetts schools — loomed, our contentious relationship showed signs of progress. On a good week, I might only confront Javier once or twice about his behavior, or a missing assignment. Days would pass when, unsolicited, Javier would seamlessly continue working on his assignments after the bell. I marveled at Javier’s dramatic academic progress, not to mention his maturation. In the space of merely seven months, his academic perseverance had resulted in a full two-grade level increase in reading proficiency and the ability to compose a series of coherent paragraph.
In mid-April, Javier dutifully endured the arduous MCAS essay, writing multiple drafts over two morning sessions. At the end of the day, I happened to be in the school office when an administrator called my attention to Javier’s folded MCAS booklet opened to the page of the final draft. When I read the carefully crafted five-paragraph essay, I vividly recalled that pivotal confrontation on a sultry, September day. Javier’s essay was a testament to how students can change and experience success. He even acknowledged the Reading Specialist as well as me, whom he referred to as a “grate man” for never giving up on him.
I believe that a teacher’s mission is to nurture the spark of change every child possesses. While Javier didn’t pass the MCAS, he did attain an NI, (Needs Improvement) a few points short of a passing grade. Today, he is a hard working junior in high school who attends standard classes and plans to attend college. He also knows how to spell “great.”
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