Translated from Spanish
When I was growing up in Mexico, my mother always paid attention to my education. She worked in a store that we had in the house. If we had a problem in the school, my mother simply closed the store without regard to whether she would lose money and went to the school to talk with our teacher.
My mother never said to us, “I had to close the store and I lost money,” or, “Today I can’t go speak to your teacher.” My mother told us that school was the most important thing for us, and that what we learned, nobody could take from our hands.
My Broken Dreams
I had dreams for my own education. I thought I’d graduate high school, even though that would be difficult because of our economic situation. Despite having to pay for school fees, uniforms and books, I finished secondary school (8th grade here).
I took my exam to apply to high school and found a part-time job as a receptionist so I’d be able to cover my high school expenses. But then my mother decided that we should move to the United States to improve our financial situation.
I was 14 when we arrived here. Living in New York was much more difficult than my mother had thought. In Mexico, we didn’t pay rent because we owned a home. Here, we had to pay rent. Food, telephone, gas, and lights were all so expensive. I had to go straight to work.
Investing in My Children
We thought we’d save money so that when we went back to Mexico, I could return to school. But nothing went as we had hoped. Eventually, I had my children and I never went back home.
Now, as a mother of three students, I worry about how they are doing in school. I hope that my children can complete their education and achieve a career that they really feel a passion for and enjoy.
Before my children started school, I taught them the numbers, colors and the alphabet, as well as songs, animal sounds and the names of many things. It was funny, because when they were learning numbers, we’d go outside and count the trees, cars, houses, birds, planes, everything!
An Educational Schedule
I am lucky to have a schedule at my job that allows me to remain very involved in my children’s education. I work 8:30 to 2:30, and that allows me to pick up my children or wait for them at home. Since they don’t like the school food, I cook something quickly and at 3:30 we eat together.
We talk about how their day went and if they had any difficulties in class. We listen to each other, although at times we all want to talk at the same time.
In these conversations, I find out their favorite subjects and those they don’t enjoy. My daughter Gabriela doesn’t like science. She’ll say, “Mami, today I had science,” and make a face.
Liliana doesn’t enjoy math. She tells me, “I need help, Mami. I need the whole world to help me.”
Fernando always says that he’s fine, just that at times his teacher gives him a detention–he says it’s because some kids made noise and the whole class got punished.
We have a schedule. At 4:30 we start homework. Sometimes Fernando puts on his headphones and reads, and that allows the rest of us to work quietly. I clean up the kitchen and check with them to see if they need my help.
Even though I don’t speak much English, I am very involved in my children’s homework. I help them find words in the dictionary, organize their papers and notebooks, and read alongside them.
We’ve found ways for me to help them with school and for them to get the help I can’t give them. Often my children translate assignments or questions that they’re confused by, and I help them in Spanish.
Recently Gabriela she was having trouble in math and her siblings weren’t able to help her. Fernando translated the problem for me, and I explained it, and he translated back to English, but Gabriela said, “You don’t know anything! I’m going to call the hotline number.”
She’d seen on TV that New York City has a homework help line that children and families can call. When she got off the phone, she said, “They said the same thing you said…I only wanted to be sure!” But now, we are always calling that phone number.
I Wish I Spoke English
Fernando, who is in the 6th grade, often stays after school and asks a teacher to help him with his homework. Liliana, who is in the 7th grade, often helps her younger siblings learn.
When my children are doing homework in English and I don’t understand anything, I sometimes feel bad. I know I should speak better English and I worry that I have to go back to school if I want to help my children succeed.
Four years ago I took a class and earned my GED in Spanish. I also answered 100 questions in English and received a diploma in English, too. Step by step, I hope I will find opportunities to further my studies, and I study English a little at home now.
In New York, children in some grades take citywide tests they must pass to pass the grade. My children get nervous about a week before the citywide tests. But I don’t feel nervous because I talk with the teachers and I know my children are well prepared.
When my children feel nervous, I tell them, “You can do it. Haven’t you done the homework? Haven’t you gone to school?”
“Yes,” they say.
“Then you’re going to pass the grade! You’re super-intelligent!”
At my children’s schools, the teachers also tell parents how they can help their children at home, such as by listening to them read or reading to them for half an hour every day. Although many parents work long hours, we all have half an hour before our children go to bed when we could read.
Involved at School
Whenever I can, I help at my children’s school. When the school year starts, I go to the school to meet my children’s new teacher and to find out her daily routine, how much homework she assigns, what tests she gives, and what she expects in terms of class participation.
I think it’s so important that parents help and support our children with their schoolwork. Discipline and education start at home. What makes me feel disappointed and angry is that very few parents seem to attend meetings with teachers or take part in school activities.
One day I received an invitation to attend a breakfast with the principal where parents could discuss their concerns. Only 10 parents out of about 800 students showed up! I know that many parents work during the day and can’t attend meetings, but I had spoken to some mothers who had concerns and could’ve come but didn’t. I was frustrated.
There was coffee and cake spread out and the principal was waiting for more people to come. “Where are the other mothers?” I thought. Finally, we just got started.
My Voice Was Heard
The principal introduced herself and asked us each to say our name and what brought us to the meeting.
When it was my turn, I said, “As you know, my daughter’s teacher is pregnant. Many of the mothers are concerned about who might be replacing her and whether the new teacher will know where to begin.” Our children were in the 3rd grade and had to pass the citywide exam at the end of the year. Children’s third grade teachers are really important!
I continued, saying, “The children love their teacher and are used to how she teaches. We’re concerned about how switching to a substitute might affect them. My suggestion is that the substitute could start at least a week before the teacher leaves, so that she’s integrated into the classroom, and our children don’t feel such a big change and can focus on preparing for the test.”
“That sounds to me like a good idea. If the teachers work together, the children won’t be as affected. Thank you for your idea and your support,” the principal said.
When I left the school I felt calm. I felt that the principal had heard my concerns
Education Starts at Home
I feel that the more we’re involved as parents, the better our children will be as students. Although all of us are busy, the connection we make with our children’s schools is important. If we can all just do a little, our children will feel more supported in pursuing their education and secure that they can achieve in school.
I’ve learned from supporting my children that the way they teach now is completely different from the way I was taught when I was little. They’re expected to speak up in class and to ask questions, while I was expected to memorize what I was told. I can help them better when I understand more about what their teachers expect of them.
My children understand that their education is important to me and will give them a brilliant future. They see that they can have a job that they enjoy. They see that their teachers can own a car and a house and can go out and travel. This fascinates them. Those aren’t options for our family.
My children are good students not only because I talk to them about the importance of school, but because I study alongside them and I show them that their schools are worth my time.