Several months ago now I downloaded an interesting talk by Pearl Arredondo, who started a school in California. She grew up the child of a high-ranking gang member in East Los Angeles but, with the help and encouragement of her mother, moved beyond that to go to Pepperdine University and eventually become a teacher.
Arredondo shares some of her story and how it affected her schooling. She says:
So, see, kids like us, we have a lot of things to deal with outside of school, and sometimes we’re just not ready to focus. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t. It just takes a little bit more. Like, I remember one day I found my dad convulsing, foaming at the mouth, OD-ing on the bathroom floor. Really, do you think that doing my homework that night was at the top of my priority list? Not so much.
I could not help thinking of my own students. Many of them have similar stories to tell. The difference is, they ended up in prison, not starting their own schools to help kids like themselves.
Arredondo’s story is remarkable, and she uses that story to reach her students.
So I began my teaching career at the exact same middle school that I attended, and I really wanted to try to save more kids who were just like me. And so every year, I share my background with my kids, because they need to know that everyone has a story, everyone has a struggle, and everyone needs help along the way. And I am going to be their help along the way.
That is what my students need: to know that someone cares enough about them to listen to their stories and to share their own. They need to find people who don’t give up on them just because they are in prison. They need to find people who will treat them as human beings — and believe that they are.
What I learned from this talk was that what I do is important. Even though I am far from happy with my job, I love my students and what I do is the most important thing I have ever done in my life.