A Teacher’s Story

It’s late in the afternoon of an off-site professional development day. The staff of the elementaty school has shared among themselves an event in their careers that has had an impact on them. One of the teachers has asked to share the story of a teacher in his group with the rest of the staff. It’s a story she is too shy to tell; but that has moved their group. He stands and tells this story…

Mrs. Alverez was in her first few years of teaching in a bad part of the Bronx. She was a second grade teacher and she had a quiet boy, Carlos, who was struggling to learn to read in her class. Carlos was living with his single mother in a run down apartment building in the neighborhood. His father, who had left his mother a few years before, lived in the same building but would ignore his son, acting as if he didn’t know him. He wouldn’t talk to him or eve nod hello. Needless to say, this devastated Carlos and the impact of it seemed to drive him even deeper into his shell. He had no confidence and his struggles at school added to his misery. Mrs. Alverez worked as hard as she could to help Carlos to read; but things weren’t going very well.

Towards the end of the year, Mrs. Alverez received her assignment for the coming year. She was given the opportunity to move to a position in another school. It was a good school and she was really excited.

One day after school, Carlos’ mother came to see Mrs. Alverez. She spoke in broken English, “You have helped my son Carlos this year. Thank you.”

Mrs. Alverez nodded modestly.

Carlos’ mother began again, “He still cannot read. I worry for him. If you would teach him again, I’m sure he would learn. I think he will disappear if he has to start again with a new teacher. I beg you Mrs. Alverez, please stay with my son. Teach him to read.”

Mrs. Alverez went home that night and thought about the plea of Carlos’ desparate mother. It was the plea of an immigrant mother who knew her son, and knew that so much of his life hinged on his ability to read. It would be easy for Carlos to fall through the cracks.

The next morning Mrs. Alverez asked her principal to let her move up a grade with Carlos’ entire class. He agreed. She called and politely turned down the transfer to her “dream job”.

The next year went by quickly. Mrs. Alverez taught as best she could, always giving Carlos a bit of extra attention. She hoped that things would “click” for this shy, frightened little boy. Carlos’ mother didn’t come back to the school that year.

Many, many years later, Mrs. Alverez was teaching at a school in another neighborhood in the Bronx. It was the end of the year and she stayed late to pack her things and clean out her classroom. When she was done she left the building to walk across the street to her car. As she got to the corner, she stumbled and dropped a sheaf of papers on the concrete sidewalk. A gust of wind scattered the papers in all directions. She sighed and without hesitation, she stooped to pick them up.

At that moment, two tall boys rounded the corner and saw her predicament. They both began chasing down and retrieving the papers that by now were all over the intersection. She sighed gratefully as the taller of the two boys approached her with her papers and a smile. “Thank you, young man. Thank you very much.”

Suddenly the young man’s smile disappeared. He murmured, “Mrs. Alverez?” In an instant they both recognized each other. It was Carlos, grown now, straight and tall and handsome. Without hesitation or self conciousness, they embraced. “Carlos, you’re so big. You’re a man now.” Carlos beamed with happiness.

The second boy, who had been chasing papers, interrupted, “Excuse me, you…you are Mrs. Alverez?” asked the boy incredulously. She looked at him, “Yes, I am, and do I know you?”

Carlos’ friend was very serious, “No, you don’t know me, Mrs. Alverez; but I know you. Last week, Carlos and I graduated from high school. Carlos was the valedictorian of the class. He gave the commencement speech in front of the whole school. He told us about a teacher named Mrs. Alverez that helped him learn to read and cared for him and inspired him. It was this teacher, Mrs. Alvarez, to whom he owed all his success. Are you THAT Mrs. Alverez?”

She stood there looking at the two young men. She began crying very sweet tears of joy. Carlos embraced her again. Carlos’ friend insisted on shaking her hand.”

The teacher telling Mrs. Alverez’s story paused for a long moment. He was tearing up, “That’s the story she told us in our group. I had to share it.” I looked around the room, which was completely silent. Our hearts were swollen. Here and there teachers were wiping their eyes.

I stepped from behind the lectern and reached out to Mrs. Alverez, who stood proudly amid the applause that burst spontaneously from the audience.

It was just one teacher’s story; one boy’s journey.

Just beneath the surface, in most teachers, beats a heart of service. It’s good to remember that when we get frustrated with the pace of change. It’s good to honor it, to know it is there. It is the “teacher’s heart” that will ultimately change the lives of our children. It is good to remember this, especially in this season of light, hope, and renewal.

peace

pete

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16 Responses to A Teacher’s Story

  1. A Teacher’s Story (Conclusion)

    I stepped from behind the lectern and reached out to Mrs. Alverez, who stood proudly amid the applause that burst spontaneously from the audience.

    It was just one teacher’s story; one boy’s journey.

  2. Dan says:

    Thank you Pete, for a touching story. It sure took the focus off “blogging” and “technology” and reminded us of what really matters.

    Peace be with you, too!

  3. Margo J says:

    Thanks for helping us get the focus back on the deeper reason we extend ourselves in the classroom. We do impact student learning and their future life outcomes are looking bright.
    Gratefully,
    Margo in Virginia

  4. preilly says:

    Margo,
    I didn’t include it in this piece, but after the session with this group ended, a half dozen teachers lingered near me and waited patiently so that they could tell me their own beautiful stories. There are so many of them. Where do teachers get the chance to witness each others greatness? Wouldn’t it be great to create opportunities for them to do this.
    pete

  5. Tom says:

    That was some story. I hope I make half that much difference in a child’s life.

    I passed on my current position (in ed. tech) to stay with an alternative school class that I really felt needed me to be there. I don’t know if I made a significant difference and it’s likely I’ll never know that’s part of what makes education so hard. You pour in your heart and sweat and hope it matters, hope it makes a differnce. It’s something worth thinking about in this time of standardized tests.

    Tom

  6. preilly says:

    Tom;
    I believe you have a “knowing” about this. You made a difference. There is a feeling inside you that believes that. But, you’re right, teachers get very little outward confirmation of the impact they are having.

    One exercise I have teachers do when I have them in my sessions is to express gratitude for a teacher or coach that made an impact on them. when they were students. The way this gratitude is expressed is by talking to a partner in the exercise, as if that person was the teacher for whom you are grateful. We speak in first person, “Mrs. Jones, I want to thank you for seeing how fragile I was and for being so patient with me…” I have witnessed amazing moments, when we get to go back and thank those who helped shape our lives.

    I have seen that the more I express gratitude, from the heart; the more gratitude comes to me. Trust in it.

    pete

  7. Tracy Rosen says:

    It is the sharing, recognition, and validation of stories like that I believe to be at the core of successful change in schools.

    Stories like that remind teachers of who we are and why we do what we do. They connect us to our values and beliefs, our passion.

    I think if more time were allotted in PD for this kind of sharing we would amaze each other with what we could do to bring passion to our profession.

    Thanks Pete.

  8. Pete Reilly says:

    Tracy,
    I agree wholeheartedly. There are so few places for teachers to tell their stories and there are so many to tell. No matter what reforms we put into place, the relationship of teacher and student is still the most important.

    pete

  9. nana says:

    such a touching story that realizes me how teachers are willing to sacrifice for the benifits of their students…and that students will never forget the deed, when they were given love, care, and attention…

  10. Marie Rose says:

    It’s a very touching story. That’s right! Teacher’s really are committed with their profession. Nurturing young ones is not an easy task, but teachers do it with passion and love to their students. Thank you, teachers! I salute u all…

  11. Bhoxz Enaj says:

    To my all teacher’s in MANUYO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL thank;s a lot for teaching,love & care to all students…

    I LOVE & I MISS MY TEACHER’S IN MANYO….

  12. Bhoxz Enaj says:

    To my all teacher’s in MANUYO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL thank’s a lot for teaching,love & care to all students…

    I LOVE & I MISS MY TEACHER’S IN MANuYO….

  13. loose says:

    it’s not an interesting story…………………….
    i don’t like it…………………very hatingggggggggggg

    • ruby says:

      loose,

      i feel very sorry 4 u that u do not know how to appreciate this story. Nevertheless, i enjoyed this story so much and it made cry. Thank u!

  14. Rose says:

    Thank you for reminding us that teachers need to be recognized for the amazing job they do.

  15. […] meet the Laird Bishops of the world, whose enthusiasm and curiosity can open new worlds for you. You’ll meet students who will put you in a place of honor that you may or may not deserve. Keep your eyes open, keep your mind open, keep you heart […]

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