Former Student Dropped Out, But Still Appreciates A Special Teacher

Roger Alvarez didn't make it to graduation, but he still wants to thank his high school English teacher. (This StoryCorps interview first aired Jan. 29, 2012, on Weekend Edition.)

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorp. People across this country are sitting down to have conversations that matter, conversations with each other. Today's story started at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. In 2007, Roger Alvarez was a student there. That year the school's graduation rate was just 42 percent and Roger was one of the students who did not make it through his senior year. At StoryCorp, Roger sat down with his former English teacher, Antero Garcia. It was the first time they'd seen each other since Roger quit school.

ANTERO GARCIA: When did you know you weren't going to graduate, like for sure?

ROGER ALVAREZ: For sure?

GARCIA: Yeah.

ALVAREZ: Ever since I started in ninth grade.

GARCIA: Oh, really?

ALVAREZ: There's a certain amount of knowledge you have to have when you enter in a specific grade and I didn't have that. Every class I used to go in I'd be like I don't know this and I'm not going to pass this class. And it was kind of shameful, you know? I don't know, I felt...

GARCIA: What was shameful?

ALVAREZ: You know, like you were determined to help me, but what was I willing to give? I could have actually tried.

GARCIA: I guess I'm curious how could I have reached out to you better?

ALVAREZ: Well, you always helped me. But, I mean, you could pump me up. And then I see other students doing way better. So then I get nervous I get stuck and then my motivation goes to the floor.

GARCIA: Did it feel hopeless?

ALVAREZ: Yeah. You talk to me like I could do it, but inside me I know I couldn't. And, you know, I just don't want you to think that I'm, like, stupid.

GARCIA: Why'd you agree to come and talk to me today?

ALVAREZ: I don't know. It's - I mean, I see school as a tool in life. And all this time I've been missing that tool. It's not part of my belt. But I wanted, like, to explain myself to you now that I'm older and always - I just wanted you to know - I always wanted to let you know that you were a good teacher and I always respected you. Some teachers I kind of felt like they only wanted to teach a certain group of people. But you looked at me and you paid attention. Maybe it didn't get me to graduate, but there's a lot of teachers - they don't take their time to take a look. And it was never your fault.

INSKEEP: Roger Alvarez with his former teacher Antero Garcia in Los Angeles. Now when they recorded this interview, Roger was working the night shift at a loading dock. He said he still hopes to get his GED. Antero Garcia is now an assistant professor of English at Colorado State University. This conversation is archived at the Library of Congress and you can hear more conversations between teachers and their students on the StoryCorp podcast. Get it on iTunes tunes and at npr.org.

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