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.