How A Teacher Helped My Son—and Me—Aim Higher

Matthew Rodriguez and sonThis blog was originally posted on Impatient Optimists.

Several years ago, I was taking daily flights between Minneapolis and Chicago, all because of my child’s first-grade teacher. Due to some family troubles, my son, Mateo, was living in Illinois, while I worked in Minneapolis. Mateo’s teacher, Mrs. Woods, called me because she was having trouble getting Mateo to come to school every day.

Now, as the President of the Illinois PTA, I often hear the phrase “high expectations” thrown around, but I saw what that truly means by interacting with Mrs. Woods.

Once I responded to her phone call, she wouldn’t let go for the two years she taught my son. When Mateo wouldn’t complete homework, she would call. When he would act out in class, she would call. Mateo had a week of completed classwork? Positive phone call. There came a point when I realized, not only was Mrs. Woods holding my son to high standards, but she was holding me to them, too. So there I was, taking daily flights to ensure my child was getting the support his teacher said he needed—I’m lucky I worked for an airline!

For two years, my understanding of what it meant to hold my son to high standards grew. Like Mrs. Woods, I learned not to accept Mateo’s excuses; maybe he could get more time or additional help, but he was always held to the same high standard as others.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, I am honored to share the story of my son, who, in spite of his home struggles, learning disability, and other obstacles, is now in college studying communications due to the efforts of teachers like Mrs. Woods.

As a parent, I knew I wanted my son to go to college, but I had doubts about how he could get there. This lines up with recent findings in a report by Learning Heroes, an organization that provides tools and resources for parents to navigate the changes in the classroom. The report found that parents’ expectations for their children, especially among families of color, are high, but the path to earning a college degree is less clear.

When the obstacles for parents feel overwhelming, I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that there are teachers like Mrs. Woods in our schools. Getting so involved in school because of her and my son led me to the PTA and a lifelong commitment to fight for all children.

Teachers today are doing so much more than teaching subjects—they’re creating pathways for students and families, and we owe them our gratitude.

Matthew Rodriguez is president of the Illinois PTA.