A Woman With Gumption

Beating expectations by falling in love with learning

Published on LatinoLA: January 3, 2002

A Woman With Gumption

To a young impressionable mind, a teacher's words can have a profound, long-lasting affect. Whether the words are laced with encouragement or ooze cynicism, the interaction between a teacher and a student is a powerful one.

For Yolanda Nava, author of "It's All in the Frijoles", both the encouragement and the cynicism she encountered as a Latina growing up in the Silver Lake shaped the course of her life.

With a strong will and the desire to surpass people's expectations and stereotypes of a "Latina," Nava reached beyond the hurtful and demoralizing words of an unseasoned junior high school teacher who sarcastically remarked that it didn't matter whether her grade was an "A" or a "B," Nava was going to be pregnant and married by the time she was seventeen anyway.

A spirited student with good grades and ambition, Nava chose, instead, to focus on the positive attitudes displayed by the many teachers that genuinely cared about her success and that of her classmates.

"In elementary school, one of my teachers, Mr. Nucchio, once told my mother that I was a bright child and that I needed to go on to college," recalls Nava. "As a kid, that is an empowering message to have in the back of your mind."

Not surprisingly, these words resonated in her psyche throughout and beyond her college career as she graduated from UCLA, with both a bachelor's and master's degree, and as she prepared to become a teacher herself.

With an emergency credential in one hand and plenty of gumption in the other, Nava walked into a classroom in south central Los Angeles following the Watts riots and made the best of a challenging situation.

Rather than dwell on the negative, Nava set out to simply connect with her students, engaging them in conversations about life, responsibility and delicate topics, such as birth control, that could very well have gotten her fired in those days. The result? she gained their respect and trust.

"We need to give students the real story," Nava asserts, "That life is hard and that it takes effort to succeed." One reason she wrote her book of traditional Latino virtues is to convey to a new generation the values that are sometimes neglected as Latino generations begin to assimilate into the American mainstream.

"When values, such as responsibility, respect, courage and fortitude are instilled in us, we have fuerzas," she adds. "We have the ability to overcome whatever obstacles are thrown at us. We have the ability to superar."

When she speaks of responsibility, she doesn't just mean responsibility to others. She means to ourselves, as well. When her daughter went off to college, she told her "all I want for you to do is to fall in love with learning."

Nava knows that schooling only last a few years but learning lasts a lifetime. "Education is the most important gift we can give ourselves. It is our responsibility. When we engage in the learning process, it becomes exciting." This is exactly what memorable teachers convey.

Over the next decade the state will need to find 300,000 people to take on the challenging but rewarding job of teaching California's children.

As an extension of ongoing recruitment efforts led by CalTeach (the California Center for Teaching Careers), the Hispanic Heritage Month campaign "Inspire a Future Leader. Teach," is a statewide public education campaign to attract individuals to the teaching profession -- especially Latinos.

CalTeach is a one-stop information, referral and recruitment center for individuals interested in a teaching career. Administered by the California State University, Office of the Chancellor, CalTeach offers a variety of informational and advisor-assisted services. Established in 1997 by the California Legislature, the goal of CalTeach is to recruit qualified individuals to the teaching profession and alleviate the shortage of credentialed teachers in the state.

For more information on how to become a teacher, please call CalTeach at 1-888-CALTEACH.

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