The Price of Education and Teaching: Part III

Using tragedy as an opportunity

My mother, two brothers, the first American family I met, and me 

My mother's death numbed me for weeks or months, and I literally lost all sense of time. I kept going to school only to not be home where mom's life had ended, and I wasn't sure I could live there much longer, but I knew I had to stay in school.

I pictured myself working at McDonald's or some place similar for the rest of my life if I were to quit school; I know working at such or similar places is not bad, but it wasn't for me; the thought of doing that kind of work literally forced me to like, appreciate, and stay in school.

I focused in school and on working as hard as I could to get decent grades, and except for maybe science, I did.

Living with my brother and his wife was a nightmare; I had to cook, clean, and eventually take care of my twin nieces, but my sister-in-law was never happy about my cooking or cleaning, though she never said anything about my nieces. She'd criticize me so much I was reaching a boiling point, and to make matters worse, I lived in a cold, isolated garage with no utilities or restroom facilites, so I had to go outside at night and take care of business in a can.

I told my brother I couldn't take the treatment I was getting, and he told me not to cook or clean anymore, but I soon found a room with the lady's sister and moved out.

After I'd moved, I realized I now belonged to another school, but I wanted to keep my friends and teachers, so I chose to walk to and from school everyday. Many times the walk was treacherous due to inclement weather, but I hadn't found a ride yet.

My landlord's husband got into the habit of waiting for me by the restroom and scaring the life out of me when I came out; it got so bad I wanted to scream or smack the pig across his cheating face; of course, he kept all his dirty secrets away from his wife, but I almost couldn't hold the urge to tell her what he was doing to me. I found a ride to school from a classmate and her brother, but sometimes they'd be running late, and when I was going to use the landlord's phone, it was always locked because other tenants abused its use, and I paid for them again; I'd end up walking as fast as I could so I wouldn't be late. Soon after I moved with my best friend's family, and that was the best decision I'd made again; I was treated like a family member.

My best friend and I graduated the same year, but she'd gotten married while still in high school, and we didn't see each other for a long time after that.

I moved to another city where I quickly found a job and started college. I started working as a teacher's assistant at an elementary school not far from where I lived; after school, I rode my bike to the community college. The bike was a ten-speed, men's, and too high for me, but that was just about the only way for me to get to school and work in order to be punctual.

School and work were going well, and I started thinking about my next step in my education and knew I didn't have the resources to pursue a career, but I was determined to find a way. At the community college I joined a group of students who'd signed up to work with migrant students in local schools; I was placed in a second grade classroom but quickly saw things I didn't like and my parents wouldn't approve of.

The teacher was being very mean to her students, especially a newcomer. I told the director of the program about my observations, but her response was: I've worked so hard to put this program together, and you're not going to destroy it for me.

My thinking was: I joined the program to help students, not to destroy them or their future, and my conscience wouldn't allow me to witness abuse and let it go, so I went to speak to the principal and then the director of migrant education at the district level.

I was then placed in another classroom and would see the other teacher go 'for walks' with her students; that's what the principal said she'd ask the teacher to do when she was getting too frustrated.

The college migrant director wasn't happy with what I'd 'done,' but I knew I'd done right by the kids, especially the one she told: Don't you embarrass me when we do our singing in the cafeteria, and when the program was over and everyone was back in the classroom, she gave all the students a sticker of a happy face but told the newcomer: You embarrassed me! Here's a picture of a pig!! The little boy was so shy, and that horrible experience probably followed him forever. In fact, one day I was somewhere in the community and I saw a somewhat familiar face; the man who turned out to be the little boy's dad told me: Thank you for being such a good teacher to my son; the other one was very mean to him. This was a few years after the incident.

The director of the migrant program at the college was usually late to the class she taught for us; taught us to cheat on applications, and forged signatures on letters of recommendations, and good thing she didn't write one for me; and to think she was 'teaching' us to be role models for migrant youth. Many of her student protégés quit school and never went to university.

I'd been visiting my academic counselor on a regular basis even though one didn't encourage me to go to college, and the other one was involved in some questionable matters with track and field students; I quickly dumped him as my counselor. However, when it was time to apply to transfer to university university, I met with my counselor to go over my credits, and everything was fine. She gave me the application to fill out, and we made an appointment to go over it and turn it in.

When I'd finished it, I called her, and she told me to drop it off so she could review it; she would let me know if we needed to make corrections or additions. I didn't hear from her, and the deadline was approaching, so I went to admissions to inquire, only to find out she'd never turned it in, and that she was on vacation. I'd already paid the fee and everything. I insisted that someone check her office because I didn't want to miss the deadline. Somebody went to her office, then came back with my application; she'd found it under a 'huge' pile of papers. If I hadn't insisted, I wouldn't have graduated or transferred to a four-year university. Now it was just a matter of waiting for a response from the university, but I was getting big time butterflies.

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