Coming home to my first readers
By now I’ve probably said this in a dozen different places, but here goes again: I wrote What Can’t Wait for my students in Houston. Last weekend, they came out in full force for my booksigning. They rocked my world by coming through that door all afternoon long, by enduring my hugs, and by giving me “the rest of the story”: what they’re doing now, who they’ve become. Moments like these are what we teacher folks live for.
We teacher types also LOVE hearing that our former students have become teachers themselves, as was the case for one of mine, Vivian Fernández, who now teaches high school math in HISD. (Harder than you thought, eh, Vivian?) Jessica Guillen, Elizabeth Flores, and Roston Veal stopped by to tell me that they’re working on becoming teachers as well. Jessica Van Ravenhorst, another rockstar scholar, now runs her own home daycare, which is a goal she’s had since her days in my classroom.
One of my students, Cassandra Flores, brought in a copy of the original manuscript of (the novel now known as) What Can’t Wait for me to sign along with the finished novel. I taught Cassandra in 2006. The fact that she kept that tattered pile of pages (with its regretable opening chapter) was the sweetest vote of confidence. Diana Alvarez, another early and immensely helpful reader of the first draft, also came by with her million-dollar smile.
The “kids” (got to put quotation marks since these guys are all adults now… and older than I was when I started teaching) in the picture at the top of this post were in my AP Lit class (except for Christine on the far left; she’s just a groupie that I WISH I had taught). Other folks who stopped by from their class included Juan Torres and Larry Vuong. Jonathan Gomez, an AP Lit scholar from the previous year, put in an appearance with his partner in crime, Vivian Rodriguez.
Another student, Baltazar Diaz, helped me hold down the fort for a good hour, and his visit was special because when Baltazar was in my class, he H.A.T.E.D. to read. Oh, how the mighty have fallen… fallen in love with books! Baltazar is now a reader, but he hasn’t lost his sassy sense of humor. I taught Baltazar for two years (before he escaped my grasp his senior year), but there was also a crew of kids who had me for sophomore, junior and senior year. Did we bond? Yes, we bonded!
From that group, I saw Ana Figueroa, Eric Vitales, and Rey Mejía. Ana’s gone from giggly girl to a serious student and mother on her way to being a dental assistant. Eric inspired me by sticking with writing in my class and working through many lunch periods to get through tasks that weren’t always his favorite. Rey carried Harry Potter around like the bible and infected me with his laughter daily while persuading lots of his classmates that reading is actually pretty kick-ass. One time Rey wrote about a math teacher he’d had in the past who shared his own goals and dreams (becoming a college prof, I think) with his students. I remember having a kind of Aha! moment… You mean I could share something of my life with my students? Get out!
From the very first group of students who I taught as seniors at Chavez back in 2004, I saw Roston Veal, Rocío Vasquez, Jeanette Perez, and Andrea Mouzakis. They’re all grown with kids of their own, but they honored me by remembering me and coming out to show the love.
I also saw Hector Gallardo, who wrote a play in my class that was a finalist for an Alley Theatre competition and has the distinction of being the only student whose name I (TEMPORARILY) forgot. Sorry, Hector, but do I get any credit for remembering what the play was about? Alberto Garcia came by with a bear hug and news of other students–he didn’t love my class from the start, but I remember him as slipping appreciative notes and apologetic looks my way when his best buddy got out of line.
If I missed anybody in this note, y’all know I love you and am just getting old! Thank you, scholars, for helping me celebrate the book that wouldn’t exist without you.