What Esteban Taught Me


For the first time in my 10-year career, I am teaching the child of a friend. I greeted this new experience both with excitement and concern. After all, I don’t want to let my friend down or cause her to question her choice to trust me as her son’s teacher.

Esteban wasn’t scheduled to come to our school. He doesn’t live in the neighborhood. He begged his mother to enroll him in the school where she worked because he knew the staff and campus. He felt at home there. She hesitated, worried that he would rely on her too much. In the end, she enrolled him.

When the principal was scheduling classes, he called Esteban’s mother to see if she would like him to be in the standard sixth-grade elective class or the reading support class I taught. She asked her son which class he wanted. In a moment of reflective honesty, Esteban declared that he should take the reading support class since he doesn’t really like reading and needs to get better. He added something to the effect of, “Besides, Ms. Thomas is teaching it!”

With this deepest compliment in mind, I entered the first day of school enthusiastic about teaching Esteban, the young man I have known at staff parties and gatherings since he was just 3 years old. I figured being his teacher would be easy because I already love him like family, and we have shared memories. But the first day didn’t go as I had hoped. Esteban’s voiced enthusiasm for my class in the safety of his own home appeared much different in the classroom. He put his head on the desk. He seemed withdrawn. He didn’t want to create a colorful nametag or engage in any of the icebreakers I’d planned. 

Had I not known about Esteban’s reasons for coming to our school, had I not known about the conversation he had with his mom about challenging himself to be a better reader, had I not known from my previous interactions with Esteban that he is a helpful, friendly child, I might have assumed many other things about him. I might have assumed that he was “lazy,” “doesn’t want to be here,” “doesn’t want to learn,” “hates school” or “hates teachers.”

Because I know his mother as a dear friend and trusted colleague, I know the quality of parenting that Esteban is getting. In fact, I am certain that the behaviors I saw in the first week of school are masks, attempts to cover up insecurity, fear and maybe even loneliness. (He left his own neighborhood and the friends he had there to come to our school).

Never again will I be able to see a young man with his head on the desk and think, “He doesn’t want to be here.” I’ll think, “He wants so badly to be here! I have to help him see it’s okay to show it.” 


Thank you for sharing your

Submitted by Anne Mong Cramer on 1 October 2013 - 9:38pm.

Thank you for sharing your story. I am going to read it to my sophomore pre-service teaching in our Classroom and Behavior Management class tomorrow. We are talking about the importance of supporting our learners and helping them to feel a sense of belonging in our classrooms. Your post could not have come at a more appropriate time. Thanks again for sharing!

Tell us more. How is it

Submitted by Rick Cardis on 27 September 2013 - 11:16am.

Tell us more. How is it going now that you've been in school for a few weeks? I am 17 year teaching veteran and I know I might have thought many of the deficit-based thoughts you identified. I am making a sincere effort to view my students assets much, much more than their perceived deficits. I wonder what classrooms would look like if teachers were constantly looking to use what students CAN do as a platform for growth rather than looking at what they CAN'T do as a reason to limit them.

Sometimes we can look into

Submitted by Agen bola on 24 September 2013 - 8:48am.

Sometimes we can look into children's eyes and have a flashback how happy and truthful we were. That can teach us something to be back free from lies in our attitudes that society forced us to acquire.