By Marc Mendoza, AVID Teacher, Sidney Lanier High School, San Antonio, TX
Marc Mendoza was the teacher speaker at this year’s Summer Institute in San Antonio. Below is an excerpt of his speech as prepared. You can also watch his speech!
Let’s start off with some vocabulary words: inner city, at-risk, needy. These words are used to describe the kids I teach and the neighborhood they come from.
These words garner admiration from teachers who don’t work at schools like that, but their schools aren’t the norm; their schools are the exception, or so I’m told. Teachers who leave my school get hired right away at schools that are just getting their share of challenging students because they know how to “deal with them.” I don’t “deal with them,” and I hate labels. There is no place I’d rather be than the school I am at right now. I don’t teach inner city, at-risk, or needy. I teach kids.
When a teacher takes a look at my AVID kids for the first time, they might see a pair of apathetic, indifferent eyes, but they definitely won’t see what I see. I see a pair of beautiful brown eyes. I see empathy. I see yearning for acceptance and understanding. I see someone wanting to fit in, struggling to please, pushing and shoving against decades of statistics that say them succeeding is an impossibility, and that it’s easier to drop out and get pregnant, since that’s what they see in the neighborhood on their way home. I see myself in each of my students.
There’s the bookworm who loves to read, but doesn’t quite get why Nathaniel Hawthorne has to overwrite. I explain to her that she shouldn’t complain about exposition until she reads Melville.
There’s the kid who doesn’t understand why he can’t relate to his father, and why the few times he meets up with him, his father asks him for money. I explain that the thing that ultimately fixed my relationship with my father was moving away for college. Now, everything is great.
There’s the kid who has trained herself to smile genuinely so no one asks her what’s really wrong.
One is almost forty years younger than his parents.
One kid’s mother won’t give him his visa because she knows he’ll run away to Mexico because he’s convinced himself he has no future in this country.
Another lost her mother when she was just a child.
One of my kids was homeless for some time.
Another hasn’t lived with his parents in four years.
One is just such a good kid, right down to her heart, but given her surroundings it’s a miracle she’s not pregnant, on drugs, or in a gang.
One used to be an extreme loner.
And yet they all come to school, have great attendance, and somehow keep getting better at it, when other students have fallen by the wayside. Inner city, at-risk, needy? How can I see such labels when I’ve gotten to know these kids perhaps better than their parents? This is my second AVID group. They constantly ask how they rate compared to the last one, and which group I will miss more. It’s a matter of pride with them, since we’ve cried together, grown together, laughed together, and even fought together. Being in AVID used to have a stigma associated with it, but now, ask any a random student in the hallway and the answer you’ll most likely get is, “Oh AVID! Oh that’s for smart people. I wish I could get in.” Oh, the times have changed. It would be cliché to say, “Oh my kids are so good despite all the obstacles they go through.” But AVID kids are recommended for this very reason. And yet my students persevere. They are on the cusp of greatness - yes greatness - because it isn’t every day someone goes to college in their neighborhood. In my 14 years teaching I’ve seen parents shell out ten thousand dollars for a quinceñera and not a dime for their daughter’s first year in college. By the time my kids are seniors, they too can see this irony.
Two years ago, I almost lost my AVID class. It didn’t fit in the master schedule for me to have an AVID class among my English and tennis coaching load. My kids complained. My AVID coordinator spoke up. I never said a word, but a week later, official word came that I was getting my class back. I was relieved.
In the end, what is the job of the AVID teacher? I doubt there’s time to explain that today. But I know the most important thing I do for my kids is offer stability, loyalty, honesty, love.
I’m a father, a motivator, a listener, a disciplinarian, a coach. I’m an AVID teacher.