© 2016 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. Veronica and Nguyen were two high school students I taught years ago at Albuquerque High School. As a young teacher in my first teaching situation my opinion was teachers are the most important component to students learning, but this was before Veronica and Nguyen.
It was the first day of classes. Veronica walked in, looked around and said plaintively, “God, is it boring in here.” Every ten minutes for a whole year Veronica announced that class was boring. Nguyen, another student in that same class never seemed to be bored.
Every time Veronica said, “God, is it boring in here,” I flinched and kept thinking that if I tried a little harder she would come around. She never did. She graduated and I never saw her again nor do I know what happened to Nguyen. I lost track of both after they graduated.
Still, I remember his ready smile as he absorbed lessons. Nguyen was one of the Vietnam Boat People who left ahead of the Communists. Over the semester I got to know him better. His parents were farmers in Vietnam. Neither could read or write but were related to a politician in Saigon so they had to flee.
Until five years earlier Nguyen could not read since he had never attended school. When he arrived in America, he was put in an inner-city school in Los Angeles and then moved to Albuquerque the year before I had him in class. He quickly learned to where he was an on-track junior.
Veronica was born in
Albuquerque. Both parents
worked and were high school graduates.
Nguyen played on my after-school table tennis team so I saw more of him than just in class. One day I gave Nguyen a ride home after table tennis practice and met his parents. They spoke little English but wanted to talk to me. Nguyen translated, which centered on Nguyen’s school work. I said, “He’s one of the best students in my class.” They beamed.
Later I asked Nguyen what would happen if he got a bad grade. His reply surprised me. “Dad would beat me until his arms gave out. Then Mom would take over until he could continue.”
I immediately asked, “Do they beat you often?”
“No,” he said, “They don’t have to beat me, I work hard to make them proud of me. They don’t understand math and English, but know if I’ve been working. They know I should get an A in each class.”
A few days later I scheduled parent-teacher conferences. Over two weeks I called Veronica’s parents five times. Each time I got the brush off. Her mother said, “You’re the teacher, teach Veronica and leave us alone.”
I never met Veronica’s parents. I asked Veronica, “What would your parents do if you got a bad grade?” She smiled slightly, “They don’t even look at my grades.” Veronica got a C and graduated. I asked her if she was going to college. “No, college is boring.”
Nguyen, on the other hand, got a college scholarship. The last I heard he was in the field of biology.
Now I did my very best for both students and never quit. In both cases it didn’t matter. Nguyen was going to be excellent regardless and Veronica was going to be bored.
I learned that the most important component to student learning is not the teacher, it is the family. Having a good teacher helps, but having parents who care and demand effort is far more important.
It would make a nice ending to this story to say that Veronica is a cashier in a store making minimum wage and Nguyen is a Ph.D. Researcher making big bucks. But as I have said, I lost track of them many years ago. Still, that is the way I would bet - Nguyen has prospered and Veronica is now paying her dues for not working hard in school.
But what of their children? Assuming both got married and have children, I suspect Nguyen will take an active role in the education of his children and Veronica will not. Nguyen’s children will do well in school while Veronica’s do not. And what about their children’s children?