The Price of Education and Teaching: Part IV

Finding myself; finding my path.

When I finally got my letter of admission to the only university I'd applied to, I was just happy I'd been accepted and almost decided not to go. However, the teacher I was working with as an assistant told me I had to go. I told her I'd already missed the deadline and would have to pay a late fee; she told me to pay the late fee and get out of her classroom; if she hadn't said that, I wouldn't have budged. I turned in my resignation to the district and started making packing plans.

It hit me that I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going to live, or how I'd pay for rent, food...

Fortunately, I'd met a girl during summer school who was already going to the same university and had three roommates; they were looking for a fourth one; I'd struck gold! Now I just needed to find a job as soon as I'd settled in or before, and it was before. I made some calls to San Fernando Valley Elementary schools and inquired about TA positions; I found one opening close to the university and set up an appointment.

I moved to Northridge, CA as soon as summer school ended and met the rest of my roommates; now four of us would share a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a building across from the university, CSUN, and that suited me just fine because I'd only need to drive to work, and that took me about 25 minutes.

The teacher I worked with had at least thirteen languages in her classroom, but every time she got a new student she'd throw her arms up in the air and almost scream: He/she doesn't speak a word of English! She forgot she got that group for a reason, so I ended up working with a girl from Brazil, and I quickly bought a Portuguese dictionary; I'd use my Spanish, English, and the Portuguese dictionary to establish communication, and it worked. Later the 'poor' teacher got another new student, this time from Russia; I knew I'd be the one doing the teaching, so I bought an English/Russian dictionary and used some of the same strategies I used with my Brazilian student, but this was more challenging because of the dissimilarities between the languages and the fact that my Spanish was useless in this case. I did whatever was necessary to get concepts across, and both students were learning English; it also helped that they were bilingual when they started with us.

One day the director of their bilingual program called me to her office; I already knew it couldn't be good, and I was right. This person was upset that I had stood up for another aide who didn't speak English fluently and had asked me to translate for her; I didn't think that would be a problem, but I was wrong. Suddenly, somebody changed my hours to interfere with my school; I reminded the director and the principal that both were aware I went to school and had a copy of my schedule, but it made no difference; I knew they were looking for baseless reasons to let me go; they labeled me a 'social instigator' for having helped the assistant, and I knew I'd lost my job, so I told them I'd be doing private tutoring in my neighborhood. My Brazilian and Russian students cried when they learned I was leaving, but that meant nothing to the powers that be; they'd much rather keep their incompetent teachers.

I joined a tutoring group on campus and found two brothers who needed help and went to school much closer to where I lived. They were from Peru. I went to meet them during lunch and had my first cultural experience; as we sat to eat lunch, I saw a bunch of pigeons, 'pichones' to me, but the brothers started laughing loudly. I asked why they were laughing, and they told me I'd just said a bad word; the little brother said: You said this, pointing down there. I told them that's how we called them where I came from and asked what they called them in Peru; the little brother told me they called them 'Palomos.' At least they taught me something new first.

After the first meeting, the parents wanted me to tutor the boys at home, so that's what I did after my morning classes. Then came another shocker; about the third time I showed up, I was wearing shorts, and one of the boys asked if that's how I'd gone to college, and I said yes. He told me his parents would kill him if he went to 'colegio' that way; I understood they were required to wear uniform or other formal attire, not your everyday rags. I learned fast, and left faster after the little one started playing pranks on me by placing tacks on my chair; I told mom, but I got the feeling she didn't believe me. I was also expected to stay longer each day without pay; I said adios and took my raggedy self away from the pranksters.

University life was a bit strange for me since I only focused on my studies, but I was also feeling lonely and missed home. To make matters worse, I found out I didn't fit in; I was constantly asked if I was a Chicana, Mexican-American, or Mechista, and the 'Chicanos' would get angry when I said I was Mexican. I spent a lot of time in the Chicano Studies Department to see what the deal was, but I wasn't impressed; there were many 'Chicano' students whom I was doing homework for because they were too lazy to do their reading assignments for the tests and quizzes.

I was also being penalized for doing well while others, including my roommates, were being rewarded for flunking almost every class, and I brought this up to the chair of the Liberal Studies Department, and I was able to show him and the Chicano Studies Chair proof of what I was talking about. The Chicano Chair wanted to 'negotiate,' but I said, "No, thank you; I just want you to see what you're doing."

I went back 'home' for Winter Break and visited my twin nieces and reconnected with my high school teacher who was happy to learn I'd transferred to university...

Martina R. Gallegos
Martina R. Gallegos

Ms. Gallegos came from Mexico as a teen; she went to university, and got her teaching credential.She graduated with her M.A. June 2015 after a severe stroke.Works appeared in Silver Birch Press,... https://poetry309.wordpress.com

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The Price of Education and Teaching: Part IV