I never really thought much about whether or not having a teacher you could ethnically or culturally identify with made a difference in terms of interest or motivation in subject matter. Probably because I didn’t have a Latino teacher until I went to community college! In fact, this wonderful professor influenced me so much that I decided to major in English Literature because of my experience in two of his classes.
When I started community college I had this intense motivation to do well in school. I started high school with the same enthusiasm, but it slowly dwindled as my classes became more and more tracked ones. The track I was on included students who worked; at the time I had three jobs. I’m sure they tracked us based on test scores and other criteria blah blah blah, it’s not right in my opinion. These classes pretty much consisted of students doing umm nothing. Seriously, in one of my English classes half the class would sleep while the teacher spoke about nothing. One day I decided to ask him, “Mr. Monotone, why do you keep “lecturing” when half the class is asleep?” His response: “Well because I know most of you work and all you want to do is graduate.” I was speechless. He refused to teach or attempt to engage us because he had already decided our intentions AND our future in a way.
Several of my classes from science, math, to English were set up like the one above.
I can still remember my first day of community college. I’ll never forget it. I arrived on campus about an hour before my first class began and opened up my math textbook. It was pre-algebra. A very basic pre-algebra like they probably shouldn’t have named it pre-algebra. At any rate, I sat there, staring at my book with the intention that I was going to make it! To make a long story short I ended up getting a “D” in that class and had to make it up.
The following semester I enrolled in another course that was also required: English 101 with a Mr. Garcia. I purposely picked his class because we shared the same last name and it was a required course, so I thought, “Perfect, I’ll just take the course with him.” As it turned out we were born in the same city, Brownsville, TX and he attended the same highschool as my parents. Even at that time I had no idea that having a professor with a similar background as me would make a difference, but it did. He not only loved teaching writing, he loved to write and share stories. He got me interested in writing. The following semester I decided to take another required course taught by him, but this time we were studying literature, in addition to writing. If it weren’t for my experience with him I probably would not have pursued a B.A. in English Literature when I transferred to the University of Texas at Austin (UT). In fact, I ended up taking a course with his uncle!!! The only reason I learned that they were related was because they were sharing similar stories in class. I had to ask Dr. Hinojosa-Smith if he was related to a Mr. Garcia. They were to my surprise!!
This blog posting may seem as if I were talking about just any other professor who cared about his students and in many ways I am, BUT I whole heartedly believe that he caught my attention, my interest in English Literature because we are both Chicano, which means the stories he shared resonated with my Mexican-American background. In fact, current research states that when children can identify, ethnically or racially, with a teacher; they are more engaged/interested in the subject matter.
The last time I communicated with him I was asking for a letter of recommendation for a Masters program I was applying to and letting him know I was also recently engages. At the end of the conversation he said, “Make sure you let me know when you get your PhD or have a baby whichever comes first.” If only he knew that I’m working on both, as I write this post, but that the baby will most definitely come first.
Thank you, Mr. Garcia!