Welcome. Whether you're a teacher, an educator, or just plain curious, you've found a special podcast series where 2016 State Teachers of the Year are capturing a moment of epiphany and teaching it forward in the letter you're about to hear. In this episode, David Morales, a social studies teacher at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, tells us about his father's gift. Here's David Morales.
I once asked my dad, "Why did you come to the United States?"
He said, "For you."
As the New Mexico Teacher of the Year, I was given the unbelievable gift of meeting the President of the United States, but the week before I was scheduled to leave, my father had to be hospitalized and then took a turn for the worse. He was moved to the critical care unit, and fell into a coma. This turn in his health forced me to reconsider whether I would be able to attend the events in Washington, D.C. How could I leave him? How selfish could I be? I didn't know what to do.
After speaking with my older siblings, who were incredibly supportive and felt I should still go, it was my brother Juan who finally convinced me. He began by sharing a story about when my dad came looking for a job in what is now my hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and how he slept at night on the levy of the Rio Grande River in his station wagon while looking for work.
He knew I was conflicted. I stopped him and asked, "But do you think I should go?"
He bowed his head, took a deep breath, and said, "He didn't cross the river for you not to go."
With that statement, he showed me how important this opportunity was. He validated all the struggles my father had gone and suffered through, so that I might have this opportunity. It took me right back to my childhood, and the numerous times my father told me, scolded me, and spoke to me, trying to convince me of the importance of education. I remember how impressed I was by this, considering that he had only had an elementary education. And then my thoughts went to my students. I saw their faces as I sat in the hospital waiting room.
I began to think of all my students who were immigrants, or the kids of immigrants, and the hard choices they had to make in order to make a great life in this country. I began asking myself, "Why does education matter to the immigrant parents of the kids that are sitting my classrooms right now? What are their fears, concerns, and hopes for their children? Am I their ally? Do I do everything I can to help them navigate a system that can be strange and intimidating to a person that understands English, and much more so to a parent or student that doesn't? Was I doing for the immigrant parents in my class what those wonderful teachers, administrators, and staff had done for my mother and father?"
They gave them hope. Hope that their children would find success here, their adopted home. I want to instill that hope. With a single statement, my brother had caused an avalanche within me.
Two nights before we were scheduled to leave for Washington, my father slowly awoke. After everyone celebrated and showered him with love, I found a moment of privacy with him. I told him I didn't want to go because of his condition. I gently asked him what I should do. He called me over, had me kneel at the bedside, held my hand, and gently nodded, "Yes."
I want to help my students to believe in themselves the way my father believes in me.
I'm David Morales, the 2016 New Mexico Teacher of the Year.