The reason I teach in a public school

Even though some days I take a sick day so that I can write letters of recommendations for my seniors, I realize how brilliant my job is to know the young people that I know and to realize that they know people that they would never otherwise get to know . . .

Admissions Officer:

Yesterday Kyle Gold (not his real name) came to my classroom after school and sat down with a group of newly arrived immigrant students from Guatemala and Mexico to learn how to make paper flowers for the school Day of the Dead Altar. The students spoke almost no English. Kyle listened to them, asked questions and used his Spanish to join the small group and find out more about how they celebrate Day of the Dead in their home communities. Kyle’s paper flower was a flop, but the newcomer students were very kind and encouraging, impressed with his Spanish and his interest in participating in this ritual.

Kyle Gold is the reason that I teach. He is the top academic student at his high school, has won numerous awards for his intellectual achievement, his writing, his computer programming skills and his record of volunteer service. Yet, on a Wednesday afternoon in October, he chooses to spend his afternoon sitting with a group of newcomer students working together on crafting flowers and talking about their home countries. Then he gets up and goes outside to the school lawn to discuss Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby with two other students from the Creative Writing Club. A newly arrived Peruvian boy with intellectual aspirations wishes to join them. Kyle invites him in and helps translate some of the concepts that he and the other English dominant writing club members discuss. Then the group comes back to talk to me, the Spanish teacher, and we discuss Bartleby, the Scrivener. Amazing. This is Kyle – the young man who sees the value and the potential of every human being. A young man who is equally apt to discuss Melville with his teachers and his peers, as well as with newcomer immigrant students who have never once heard of the author.

I could write a long list of Kyle’s intellectual achievements, his incisive and astute comments in Spanish class, as well as in the Creative Writing Club that he founded and I advise. I could write about how his analysis of the CIA involvement in the Guatemalan Civil War in Spanish class was on par with a graduate student of Latin American Studies. I could write about how his high level of Spanish fluency is astonishing for someone who has never been immersed in the language. I could write about how his short stories and poems are well-crafted, original and memorable. I could write about every award and honor that Kyle has won, or that I have recommended him to receive. I could write about how he inspires other students to think critically, to think differently and to think creatively, in and outside of the boundaries of class.

Yet, this is not why each and every one of his teachers and mentors sing Kyle’s praises. Kyle is deep. He is humble. He is a genuine humanitarian. He is curious and intrinsically motivated like few others. And he is inspired by humanity – to reach out, to learn, to grow, to question, to experience and to create. He befriends everyone from every walk of life, and makes a special effort to work with and understand others whose experiences are absolutely not his own. Kyle is the student who went to Haiti and created a computer program to teach other young people computer skills. Kyle is the student who volunteered to be in my AMIGOS tutorial class to help immigrant students with their math, English and how to navigate the Internet. Kyle is the student who was delighted to work with a young Guatemalan girl whose first language was Mayan and who taught him the Mayan numbering system.

Kyle is the student who sees the world as it is, adapts to it, and courageously seeks opportunities for hope, learning, and improvement. He is engaged, motivated, aware and committed. He is action oriented, yet gentle, kind and down to earth. Kyle, more than any student I have encountered, needs a place to develop every aspect of his humanitarian and intellectual prowess – a place that will challenge and draw upon his capacities to devour books, knowledge, language, history, and create, plan and invent. Kyle is the type of student that will not only meet every academic and global challenge offered by college, but, more importantly, will add to the academic discourse, fellowship, and optimism among his classmates and professors.

Sincerely, Maestra Malinche

Spanish teacher

“The question is not, Does or doesn’t public schooling create a public? The question is, What kind of public does it create? A conglomerate of self-indulgent consumers? Angry, soulless, directionless masses? Indifferent, confused citizens? Or a public imbued with confidence, a sense of purpose, a respect for learning, and tolerance? The answer to this question has nothing whatever to do with computers, with testing, with teacher accountability, with class size, and with the other details of managing schools. The right answer depends on two things and two things alone: the existence of shared narratives and the capacity of such narratives to provide an inspired reason for schooling.” ― Neil Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School

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