Early one morning, Jose’ came running to his English teacher, Mrs. Thomas, hands in the air, big smile on his face, and a piece of paper in his hands. He wrapped her up in a bear hug, almost spilling her morning coffee.
“Mrs. Thomas, I’m the happiest, luckiest guy alive!” he said with a smile so big, it would light up a dark room. In her surprise, the favored English teacher asked, “What, Jose’? What’s going on?”
“I got it! I got it!”
“Got what, my dear?” Mrs. Thomas asked with growing anticipation.
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Jose’ lowered his voice and his smile. His tone shifted into a quiet respect. There was silence for a moment, and Mrs. Thomas said, “Jose’, are you OK?”
Tears soaked his face. He lifted his eyes to his English teacher and replied, “Mrs. Thomas, I got it. I’m a United States citizen. I’m a legit citizen of the greatest country in the world. And now I can say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and mean it.”
He took a step toward the front of her room where the American flag hung atop her bulletin board, put his hand across his chest and began, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…” Then, he bent at the waist and burst into sobbing tears.
Mrs. Thomas walked to the new citizen and gently put her hand on his shoulder. There was another moment of silence.
“You don’t understand, Mrs. Thomas,” Jose’ said through his dampening sobs. “Now I can go to college.”
He proceeded to share with Mrs. Thomas the stifling situation he left in Mexico and the bleak and uncertain future he was destined for if he had stayed in America in his current status or was forced to leave because of it. Jose’ was overwhelmed with the opportunity his citizenship would afford him and his family. He shared his hopes and dreams with Mrs. Thomas, and she sat in mindfulness of not just his former plight, but the awe with which he reverenced our great country.
Such reverence is not seen a great deal in today’s public schools, especially cynical high schools. Many of my students will stand for the daily Pledge unprompted, but not all. Some need a little encouragement to get out of their seats. And, sadly, most don’t even say the words.
So, when Mrs. Thomas shared with me Jose’s excitement about his new citizenship, her refreshed enthusiasm was contagious. She was noticeably bubbly and thrilled and, I think, changed. This is what teachers long for – the stories of our kids making it out, making a difference, making a way for themselves. We thrive on the ensuing delight when we watch a child set himself on a course of potential and possibility. At the end of every year, we let go of a new crew, waving to them in the distance like proud mommas and daddies, hoping and praying they stay the course. And we bubble with pride, like Mrs. Thomas did, when we know, full-heartedly, that most will.
Jose’ is that kind of kid. He’s the kind of kid that looks predicament in the face, sets his course, then claims his liberty.
We may have different opinions about a person like Jose’. But in the public-school classroom, teachers don’t see colors or religions or nationalities or political views. All we see is a bunch of kids trying to escape hopelessness and find their way into hope. We celebrate when they do, and we cry when they don’t. And it’s as simple as that.