Taucia GonzalezTaucia Gonzalez is a student at Arizona State University pursing a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Special Education. Prior to becoming a full time graduate student, she taught in a culturally rich school community that promoted and supported bilingualism and biliteracy. Her research interests focus on the intersections of culture, language, and disability within an urban context; with particular interest in how ideologies create and control spaces.

If you ask my daughter, Camila, about her teacher, she will tell you, “He is the best teacher in the world.”  I had heard other kids praise Mr. Bandera as well.  Last January I spent two weeks launching a poetry inquiry in their class.  The kids were taking turns sharing out something they held in their heart.  One boy enthusiastically threw his fist in the air and shouted, “Mr. Bandera because he’s the best teacher ever!”  Wow, I looked over at the small statured teacher with the disheveled button up shirt; his tie a little off center, wondering what it was that made him the best teacher ever.

What do kids know about good teaching? Honestly, I had yet to see guided reading groups in his classroom, so I had my own critiques of his teaching.  I knew that the school was under a lot of pressure to raise their test scores, so I thought that might be a way for me to convince Mr. Bandera to incorporate guided reading.  Maybe there were a few things I could teach him, being that he was a fairly new teacher.

I shared my observations and experience using guided reading in the classroom, finishing with, “And the results really show on the state test!”

Mr. Bandera smiled his nervous smile and responded, “I have found that when I focus on learning without putting too much attention on the test my kids still perform well, but I’m not opposed to learning something new.”

Who was this guy?!  The last teacher on the face of the planet not worried about the test?  I had the luxury of not worrying about the test because I was out of the classroom, but all of my teacher friends were living, eating, and breathing the test.  The pressure to make sure their kids performed well loomed over them like the grim reaper, and this guy somehow gave the grim reaper the slip.  I almost wondered if he was allowed to not worry or if he had to secretively not worry.

This year Camila moved up to fourth grade, which meant her second year with Mr. Bandera in their multiage class.  For the first week of school I picked Camilla up directly from her classroom at dismissal.  A few times I arrived early, and from outside the door I could hear the students’ laughter.  What could be that funny? Kids spilled out in a disorderly way, smiles plastered across their faces.

Mr. Bandera had already warned me over the summer that after the first two weeks of school, he would be taking five weeks of paternity leave.  He also assured me that he had a substitute that was a former teacher and he thought she would keep the class running smoothly.

So, he left and Ms. Substitute came.  On the Friday of his first week gone I picked Camila up after school.  I flipped the rear-view mirror so that we could see each other, which I always did on our ride home.

“How was your day?” I asked.

Grumble

“What elective did you have?”

Grumble

Enough was enough.  “Camila, you are not being very polite.  I am asking you questions, I expect you to answer me.”

The strength of her response startled me, “We had PE, but it doesn’t matter.  Anything Ms. Substitute thinks is fun she tries to take away from us.  We always get to our electives late, and at recess time she only chooses a couple of tables to go out.  She hates fun and she does everything wrong.  She doesn’t even know how to do our working with words right!  She never smiles, and she doesn’t want us to smile.  When Mr. Bandera does word work he smiles and laughs and makes everything fun.  She won’t even let us read Captain Underpants or books with pictures!  I just want Mr. Bandera to come back!”  She cried one of those cries that comes from the chest, maybe even the heart.  Her little chest expanded and contracted over and over as her white uniform shirt soaked up the falling tears.

I drove silently, watching her through the rearview mirror.  I awkwardly reached my right arm behind me, trying to comfort her as I drove.  I grabbed her leg and squeezed.  The silence of the moment was filled with her heavy breaths.  My own chest felt like a monster was trying to claw its way out.  So I held onto her leg tightly and drove to Scooptacular.  We ate ice cream and talked and giggled with our puffy red eyes.  Ms. Substitute did not return, and Ms. Substitute-Number-Two who had a “disposition that I’m sure will be a better fit” helped make the remaining four weeks tolerable.

Yesterday, I picked Camila up from school. As I stood at her classroom door I could hear the laughter on the other side.    The door opened and the children spilled out every which way, smiles plastered across their faces.  Camila grabbed my hand and skipped and twirled her way to the car.  I knew before I even asked her.

“How was your day?”

“Great!”

“Is Mr. Bandera back?”

“Mom, when I walked into class this morning and saw him my eyes felt like they wanted to cry.”

“The best teacher in the world can have that effect on you,” I pulled her toward me giving her a little side hug as we walked, and I thought about Mr. Bandera.  I felt forever indebted to him for creating a space where kids could laugh together and learn together without the test constantly hovering over them.   Maybe there were a few things he could teach me.

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12 Responses to “The Best Teacher in the World by Taucia Gonzalez”

  1. Elaine Mulligan on 12/8/11 11:06 AM US/Eastern

    What a breath of fresh air in the midst of the often oppressive climate of negative messages about teachers and schools. Thanks, Taucia!

  2. Lisa Lacy on 12/8/11 11:49 AM US/Eastern

    Taucia-
    Thank you for sharing your daughter’s story as she talked about Mr. Bandera and how he is making her schooling experience a positive and nurturing one.

    Mr. Bandera reminds me of my third grade teacher, with whom I still have a relationship with, after 40 years.
    Thanks

  3. Anna Escamilla on 12/8/11 12:21 PM US/Eastern

    I too am very interested in the intersection of culture and disability as is another colleague/friend of mine. I am also a teacher and this was a wonderful reminder to what teaching is about. Thank you. Let me know if you ever want to share more thoughts on possible research.

  4. Karen Smith on 12/8/11 1:13 PM US/Eastern

    It takes an exceptional teacher to know an exceptional teachers, so I’m not surprised you were able to identify the amazing traits that make Mr. Bandera “the best teacher in the world.” This is a lovely piece and says so much about a teacher who understands that with good teaching comes good results.

    I think I may have taught Mr. Bandera in his undergraduate program. If so, I’m not surprised by Mila’s description of him. He showed signs of greatness then. I also remember the ease and beauty of his writing.

  5. Taucia Gonzalez on 12/8/11 3:29 PM US/Eastern

    Karen, the seeds we plant as teachers (of adults and children) have a powerful reach. Your post is a great reminder that as educators we do not work in a classroom as individuals. The ideas and voices of our mentors are alongside us in our practice.

  6. Sara Marcum on 12/8/11 7:23 PM US/Eastern

    Taucia,
    Thank you for sharing a personal story. When teachers take the time to build that positive relationship with their students, students will then honor and respect that teacher. I always stress building those relationships with the students and their parents. You get so much more out of it and students do great academically!!

    Best wishes in your studies. Can’t wait to see that Dr. in front of your name (or Ph.D. after your name).
    Sara

  7. Jennifer Huber on 12/8/11 7:54 PM US/Eastern

    Thank you Taucia for an enchanting blog. The writing took my breath away as you created pictures for me that touched my heart. As previous people have commented, this blog revitalized my teacher’s soul and helped me remember the joy that is the classroom. Thank you and your precious daughter for sharing!

  8. Taucia Gonzalez on 12/9/11 12:35 PM US/Eastern

    Anna,I would love to hear more about your research interests. You can locate my contact info through the ASU directory.

  9. Sultan Kilinc on 1/22/12 2:08 AM US/Eastern

    Taucia, I love your story “The best teacher in the world”, it really captured my attention. I think it is really important to listen children’s voices in any context. A teacher can deeply influence students’ whole life positively or negatively. It was good to hear that Mr. Bandera was not oppressive about standardize tests which make children’s life difficult. I do not like any standardize test which I had many of them in Turkey. Success should not depend on choosing the right answer, because there is no one right answer in our life!
    Thanks for sharing your story:)

  10. patricia on 2/10/12 9:52 AM US/Eastern

    I am going to share this with my graduate class. It is an inspirational story.

    I am sitting here with tears too.

  11. Stan Weser on 2/15/12 10:50 PM US/Eastern

    Just as research tells us, the most important variable in a child’s school (and probably life) success is the teacher. Some are blessed with Mr. Banderas. Unfortunately, pressures from those outside education and those too long away from children can drive the Mr. Banderas from the profession or dim their light.

  12. Mom on 10/21/13 8:39 PM US/Eastern

    Taucia,
    What a beautiful story, it made me cry. I remember Camila talking about Mr. Banderas with such gusto and joy. Her enthusiasm for his class was contagious. This is a wonderful reminder that State Tests should not dictate what happens in our classrooms. Great Job! Thank you for sharing. I will be sharing this story with other colleagues.

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