Today’s post will be in English but I wish I had the confidence to write it in Spanish. I think I will take up a more serious study of Spanish again. I want to master it so I could be considered fluent, not just at a “business functional” level. I wrote this piece on the plane on Monday on my trip to Mexico in my hand-written journal. I was able to edit the piece down to less than a thousand words, but if I ever write a book someday, my parents will each have their own chapters.
My Dad’s choice of vocation as a bilingual teacher fundamentally “colors” the way I look at the world. His studies of language learning and his countless presentations to school boards on the value of bilingual versus ESL-type programs have shaped my thinking. And the work he and Mom did together to defend and protect educational opportunities for children of (originally) migrant workers in our small town was highly influential.
Dad was called to serve these children and their parents, who needed a strong advocate for their education. He worked with them to help ensure they could get the best education possible. He believed in their potential and was ready to nurture it every step of the way, building a strong base of skills and also self-confidence. His work as an elementary level teacher touched so many young children’s lives in a powerful and profound way.
I think back to my early memories of the schools where he taught, of being in the classroom late at night with Mom and Dad and my sister to put up bulletin boards at the beginning of each new month. My sister also remembers how “cool” it was for Dad to have a key to the school, and he and Mom could work there after hours, when it was easier to get work done uninterrupted.
Having special access to the school meant that we could run down the hallways while nobody was there! Awesome, until Dad accidentally knocked my sister over in the hallway while he was carrying a large stack of boxes and did not see her. But all was well, she was fine, just a toddler so the fall was not so far from the ground.
I remember Dad teaching me to read by the time I was 4 years old. That made my kindergarten experience a little boring, since I was amazed we had to go back through all the letter books. Really?!? Can nobody else read yet? School was a bit frustrating in my early elementary years. I got to skip some boring reading classes in favor of going to the bilingual classroom several hours a day. This saved me from the torture of repeating what I had already mastered.
Dad nurtured that spark of learning within me, and that has been a constant throughout my life. I learn quickly, and greedily, absorbing books. I typically read 3 to 4 times what was considered “A” level by middle school, when we had to keep reading logs of the books we read. Of course, having a bit of challenge with attention, I sometimes read a book twice in order to fully absorb it.
Both Mom and Dad believed in reading to us when we were young, and I think this is why I still love to read. I also audio books because it is a sweet memory to have someone read to me. For sure, my Grandmother had great influence as well. She was an avid reader and consummate learner. I previously told the story of her going back to college in her 50’s and earning her bachelor’s degree alongside my Mom.
Dad was amazingly patient with classrooms full of children. They behaved very well for him. He did not often take sick days but when he did, the substitutes were always amazed his class. He created partnerships with parents and got to know them well throughout the year. Hispanic parents typically do not tolerate misbehavior in school very well. One call from “el Maestro” was enough to get a student to realize they could not misbehave in his classroom without having consequences happen at home. Sometimes Dad brought in psychologists as guest speakers to talk with the parents about how to help their kids at home, and was devoted to helping those young minds open and bloom.
I know Dad faced racism in his experience as an educated Mexican living in a small town, a very “white” town. The parents of his students respected him a great deal, but some of the teachers he worked with did not. Indeed some of the administrators did not, but he did have good principals and one particular school superintendent took special interest in his classes. This particular leader, noticing how respectful and well-behaved my Dad’s classes were, made sure that the direction from the top was to expand the bilingual program, not cut back, as some school boards had tried to do.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from my Dad (and Mom taught me this as well) was that you should treat everyone with respect. A person’s “station” in life does not matter. Whether they are a teacher, a janitor or a cook, you must treat each person with dignity and respect. This is fundamental to the way I interact with the world, and is something I strive to emulate as well.
I am truly grateful to my Dad, and for all the lessons I learned by the way he lived his life, and his partnership with my Mom as we grew up. Teaching is a vocation, not just a job. I like to say I come from a family of teachers, and it is true, multiple generations. I am immensely proud of that. Even though I do not have children myself, I know that I am responsible for passing these lessons onto others, in service to all.