Chills took over my being yesterday when my husband told me that Jaime Escalante passed away. This man was amazing. Legendary. His passion for teaching has inspired me since I first heard of him when American Playhouse aired ‘Stand and Deliver.’
The news of his passing immediately took me back to my original passion – teaching. I remembered the insatiable desire to teach and to change the world. I didn’t want to be Jaime Escalante. He was his own person. My goal to be a teacher began when I was six or seven years old. I remember my parents telling me I was loud and bossy and would make a good teacher. For some reason it seemed like a good idea! The older I got the more I realized what a teaching career meant. The more I heard, regardless of negativity, the more I wanted it.
The word “Ganas” was displayed in my locker throughout high school. I would see that word and remember how dedicated Mr. Escalante was in everything he did. I like to believe I was too. People have always accused me of being an all or nothing person. Black or white without seeing any gray. It’s probably true. My adolescence was spent digging in to fulfill my dreams. Nothing was going to stop me.
My dreams included far more than teaching. Ganas got me through it all. I am still in awe that I am living my dreams today.
I remember college. It was not easy. I can now look back on it fondly as one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. I remember my education classes and the electricity that would surge through me as I sat in class. There were so many girls who were in education because it would be an easy career for raising a family. I was never in it for the ease and convenience. Every once in a while I feel remorse for becoming a statistic. The girl who became a teacher, sought a job in Utah where it was oversaturated with girls just like me, got the job, taught a few years, then quit to raise a family. It was never my goal. But sometimes you can’t plan life.
My passion for teaching was obviously fueled by Mr. Escalante. But he taught me so much more. He taught me that anyone can succeed with the proper motivation and enough hard work. Intro to Special Ed was a required course for education majors at my school. When my professor described Special Education as a way to level the playing field I was hooked. I double majored in Elementary and Special Education as a result. Jaime Escalante leveled the playing field for his students.
Jaime Escalante was not afraid to try something different. He was willing to try things that nobody else was willing to try and to believe in people others had written off. I did that as much as I could as a teacher. I continue to live my life that way now. Dozens of my own personal success stories with students and youth I have worked with at church, come to mind when I think of Mr. Escalante’s legacy.
Today I watched ‘Stand and Deliver.’ My six year old decided to watch with me. I tried to explain the story as best I could but I know he is not yet mature enough to understand. He hated the beginning of the movie and said the kids were mean. Even though he didn’t fully grasp why they made the choices they did I believe he could see how they changed when Mr. Escalante inspired them to aim higher.
My son wants to be a teacher. He knows I used to teach so he may be emulating me. One day he will get it. One day he will understand how significant Jaime Escalante’s influence has been in education. For now he wonders why the good people have to die.
Jaime Escalante may have reached old age and lost his battle with cancer but his legacy will always live on. My life has been changed significantly because I watched his story when I was 11. Who knows how many more lives will be touched after all the lives he has touched already.
Part of my teaching philosophy is a quote I love. “You can count the seeds in a single apple but you can never count the apples in a single seed.” Jaime Escalante is the definition of that quote. He is amazing.