National Teachers Initiative
2:48 am
Sun January 29, 2012

Dropout Has Thanks, Not Blame, For Teacher

Originally published on Fri July 25, 2014 2:02 am

Editor's note on July 25, 2014: This story originally aired in 2012. Statistics on the graduation rate at Manual Arts High School have been updated, and the figure for 2007 has been corrected.

In 2007, the graduation rate at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles was just 42 percent. Roger Alvarez, 22, was one of the students who didn't make it.

Alvarez dropped out that year, but Alvarez says he already knew by the time he was in ninth grade that he wasn't going to graduate.

"There's a certain amount of knowledge you have to have when you enter in a specific grade, and I didn't have it," Alvarez says. "Every class I used to go in, I was like, 'Do I know this? I don't know this. Nah, I'm not going to pass this class.' "

It was a shameful attitude, he tells his former English teacher, Antero Garcia, 29.

"You were determined to help me, but what was I willing to give? I could have actually tried," Alvarez says.

For his part, Garcia wants to know how he could have reached out to Alvarez better, but Alvarez says Garcia had always been helpful.

"I mean, you could pump me up, and then I see other students doing way better," Alvarez says. "So then, I get nervous. I get stuck, and then my motivation goes to the floor." He felt the situation was hopeless.

"You talked to me like if I could do it, but inside me, I knew I couldn't," he tells Garcia. "I just didn't want you to think that I'm ... stupid."

Now, school is a life tool that Alvarez says he's missing — but his teacher isn't to blame.

"Always, I just wanted you to know ... you were a good teacher, and I always respected you," he tells Garcia. "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 the time to take a look. And it was never your fault."

Alvarez now works the night shift at a loading dock. He still hopes to get his GED one day.

Audio produced for Weekend Edition Sunday by Brian Reed.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now for another conversation from StoryCorps' National Teacher Initiative.

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MARTIN: This school year, we'll be sharing stories from and about teachers and their students. Today's story started at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, which has an official graduation rate of just 48 percent. Roger Alvarez was one of the students who didn't make it through his senior year. He dropped out in 2007. At StoryCorps, Roger sat down with his former English teacher, Antero Garcia. It was the first time they had 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 9th 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 it. Every class I took, I'd be, like, do I know this? I don't know this. I'm not going to pass the class. And it was kind of shameful, you know. I don't know, I thought...

GARCIA: What was shameful?

ALVAREZ: You know, like you were determined to help me but what I was 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 others 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 talked to me like if 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: Well, why did 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. You know, always I just want you to know, I always want 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 the time to take a look. And it was never your fault.

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MARTIN: Roger now works the night shift at a loading dock. He says he still hopes to one day get his GED. Learn more about StoryCorps' National Teachers Initiative at NPR.org.

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MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.