In August of my first year of teaching at Rocketship, just one month into the school year, I was standing in the front of my classroom delivering a figurative language lesson to my 29 fourth graders. Sitting in the back of the classroom was a woman. She was vigorously taking notes and staring intently back and forth between one of my students and me. That woman wasn’t my principal; she wasn’t my coach; she wasn’t the superintendent. That woman was the mother of my student Gabriel.
Having a parent in the back of the room evaluating my every move and ensuring her student was getting an excellent education wasn’t something I was used to. It made me sweat a little and made me feel a little uncomfortable, but mostly Gabriel’s mother’s presence made me feel inspired.
Gabriel’s mother inspired me because because when I visited her home to begin the school year, she told me about her hopes and dreams for Gabriel. She told me about how she wanted a better life for Gabriel. She told me how she wanted him to attend Stanford University and come back to help his community.
Gabriel’s mother inspired me because at her kitchen table, we had mapped out the fourth grade goals Gabriel would have to meet in order for him to be on track for Stanford. And at our parent conference, we had agreed on what exactly we were each going to do to help Gabriel.
Gabriel’s mother inspired me because she was holding me accountable for what I said I would do, just like I held her accountable, and together we expected nothing but the best from and for Gabriel.
Now, parents in classrooms are just a regular occurrence for all teachers at Rocketship – myself included. We expect 30 annual volunteer hours from each family. Families might earn a couple hours attending or leading community meetings, organizing wellness fairs for the community, coming to classrooms to read aloud to our students in English and Spanish, or helping to support classrooms, students and families in any way they can.
These hours are a big commitment. It’s a big commitment because at Rocketship, we make a big commitment to our students – we expect students to grow more than a year and a half in reading and math each year. We couldn’t realize these promises without building authentic partnerships with our students’ parents. Like any partnership, it takes time, thoughtfulness and trust to create and sustain. The power of this partnership fuels my teaching, my students’ achievements and our community’s voice to advocate for amazing schools.
We don’t expect good – we expect great. Gabriel’s mother and I did everything in our power to make sure great happened. That year Gabriel didn’t grow a year and a half – he grew two years. We know that parents are our students’ primary educators and great only happens when students, teachers and families work together toward the same goal: our students attaining an excellent education.
Juan grew up in Oxnard, California where he saw too many of his fellow classmates afflicted by the unjust destiny of demographics and low expectations. He was determined to spend his time at Stanford and beyond working to ensure that the potential he saw in his community and those like it would be nurtured and ignited. After graduation, Juan joined Teach for America and began teaching at Washington Elementary in San Jose. In 2011, he joined Rocketship Mateo Sheedy as a 4th grade teacher. Each day, Juan is humbled by his students’ commitment to learn, to take on new challenges and to make themselves, their families and their community proud. Juan currently lives in San Jose where his twin loves of teaching and learning are only eclipsed by his infatuation with futbol, Oxnard and Valentina hot sauce.