In early December StoryCorps Facilitator Kevin Oliver and I made our way to East Salinas, California to visit Sherwood Elementary School and collect stories for the National Teacher’s Initiative. There, we met educators who enjoy their work and shared what it’s like to teach children whose parents are often migrant workers. Fact is, some of the educators we talked to also have parents who are/were migrant workers, and in the case of teacher Gloria Baker, once worked in the fields themselves.
Gloria came to StoryCorps accompanied by her longtime friend and mentor, Mary MagaÃ±a. The women met in the mid 1980′s, when Mary taught Gloria’s daughters. At the time, Gloria was in her early twenties, and being the child of migrant workers, she had only finished the sixth grade before having to drop out of school.
Mary remembered Gloria as one of her most active parents, always present when she needed volunteers to help in the classroom. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” Gloria remembered, but she put her dreams on hold to raise her children. Instead, she found work in the fields. The work was hard, but Gloria still always tried to support her daughters.
Gloria’s dream to teach resurfaced when Mary said, “Go back to school. You can do it!” The dream seemed unattainable, but when Gloria’s daughters needed homework help she could not provide,Â she took Mary’s advice and returned to school. Gloria worked during the day and went to school at night. She also began watching her neighbor’s kids in exchange for babysitting time while she went to school. Gloria first enrolled in English classes, then a G.E.D. program for adults, and later earned accreditation in education.
Today, Gloria is a teacher in her own classroom. One of her daughters has also followed her into the profession.
Impressed by her friend’s determination over the years, Mary asked “Where did you find las ganas?”
“I did it because of you,” Gloria answered simply. “You told me I could, and I believed you.”