The more I worked with Katy in class, the more of myself I saw in her – driven, stubborn, confident. Arlin has these traits too – but they became apparent while coaching her after school in flag football. I push them both to work hard because I know they’re capable of greatness, regardless the arena. In doing so, they push me to do the same.”
“I can’t do this, I’m stupid,” Wendilyn would say. “Not true. Quit making excuses and come see me during lunch.” I ate lunch with Wendilyn and her best friends, Cristina and Mariledy, two to three times a week this year. If any of them missed a homework assignment, talked too much during class or needed more individual attention, they were “mine” for lunch. Conversations ranged from algebra, to weekend plans, to long-term goals. In the end they taught me just as much, as I taught them.
Yesica is a perfect theater child – loud and crazy in the best way. Yesica isn’t one of my students, but I got to know her really well when she got the lead in the musical and I worked as her vocal coach. I learned that she was struggling with math, so I reached out to her teacher to see where she needed help. We started working on assignments before rehearsal. Combined with after school sessions with her teacher, this helped bring her grade up. I was so proud of her when she showed me her first passing exam score this year: an 85%.
Nelson used to come into class upset and put his head down–usually the result of struggles at school or home. Once he started showing up to school 45 minutes early to hang out, I realized all he really needed was someone to talk to. Since then, Nelson started interacting more freely with his peers and with his teachers. This shift brought him where he is today: He scored a 72 on the Integrated Algebra Regents Exam. As a student with special needs, he only needed a 55 to pass.”
Chris goes through periods of working very hard and then suddenly not. I started texting him to make sure he did his homework. One day he replied with, “I want to come in early to prepare for the test.” A few days later, “I want to study more tonight, what can I do?” Finally, I opened my phone to see, “Yoooo iiii paassseeedddd the test!!”
I began working with Yesenia and Rusmaldy in my small groups in class. Once we got to know each other better, they started wanting to stay after school to work. First it was math, then yearbook, then crochet club, and now they even come ask me to read their English papers, help with science homework, or just to hang out and talk. Spending this kind of time together makes us feel like family. When they hurt, I hurt. When Rusmaldy cried after she got a mock regents score back, I had to hold back my own tears in class. I want to do more because it’s not just my job. I want my kids to do well because I love them.”
My students have taught me about the power of individual moments. The power of one word, one smile, one pat on the back, one look, one question, one correction, one sticker. The power of hope and the power of expectations—both low and high. The power of confidence and small (some may say minute) successes. Every minute, every second, every word, every interaction counts.”
I think about the fact that James came into school not speaking English and still managed to learn the language, learn the material, make friends, and work hard to pass the Regents. That inspires me. If they can do that, I should be able to do anything.”