As I move into my fourth year of teaching, I leave my position and move to a new situation. As my trustee told me, Sure, we hire the young teachers, train them, then they move on for more money. I took a position at School in a Soybean Field, a small 1-8 school, as teacher of sixth grade and science teacher for grades five through eight. Thus it was that three periods a day my homeroom class was under the care of another teacher while I made the rounds of grades five, seven, and eight to instruct in science.
In my homeroom was a young man, Paul Ramirez, whose family were migrant farm workers.* In the fifth grade was his brother, Jesus. Two boys could hardly have been more different; they could have been from different planets rather than from the same home.
Paul was a dedicated student who had determined to get the most from his limited opportunities for an education. He spoke and wrote immaculate English, and his grades were solidly in the "A" range in all subjects. In the introductory paper at the beginning of the year, Paul delineated his ambitions and hopes for the future. He asserted that following university he would enroll in medical school, and he had already set his sights on Baylor. His aim in becoming a doctor? He would follow the migrant stream from the south all the way into Michigan, then back again to the Rio Grande Valley in the late fall to provide medical attention and wellness instruction to the people, for this was an area of great need.
I once asked Paul if he had been christened "Paul." No, actually, he said, my birth name is Pablo. I just think Paul is easier and more readily received and it is the same, anyway. Mama calls me "Pablo." This from an eleven year old boy.
Jesus was a year younger than Paul, and though he was in fifth grade it was clearly a placement he had earned simply by staying alive year after year, for he had no academic record to support that placement. Jesus was not dull-witted or lacking in basic intelligence. This I know, for while he obstinately and steadfastly refused to learn English, I communicated with him via the expedient of using his brother as translator. I asked if he knew English but refused to use it. No. His Mama spoke Spanish, his Papa spoke Spanish, so he too would use Spanish. Had you not picked up some English over the years simply by being exposed to it? No. I get what I want; why do I need language? Do you have any ambition? What are you going to be when you grow up? I am good worker; I will pick fruit and plant crops like my Mama and Papa.
This vignette could be utilized as an illustration for so many things. I choose not to be judgmental even though Jesus frustrated the living daylights out of me when I was his teacher. Teachers often find themselves in the position of having higher aspirations for some students than the students have for themselves. And yet...
*Thousands of farm workers follow the labor needs of agriculture, starting in the deep south and moving northward, finally going back to the South, usually in late October. Thus so far as students are concerned, in our area we usually had the youngsters in our charge from early May through mid-October. In a different school from the one in which this tale is set, I have taught in the summer migrant program, learning sufficient Spanish to tell my charges "No!" in their native tongue.