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Jaime Escalante: 1930—: Educator

Early Teaching Experience

After only two years at Normal Superior, Escalante's remarkable abilities in physics and mathematics were apparent to his classmates and teachers alike. There was a shortage of physics teachers at the American Institute, and Escalante was offered the job, even though he had not yet been exposed to teacher training classes. At the age of 21, with no books and no experience, Escalante began teaching physics. He learned the skills of teaching by imitating other teachers whom he respected, and through trial and error.

At a Glance . . .

Born Jaime Alfonso Escalante Gutiérrez on December 31, 1930, in La Paz, Bolivia; son of Zenobio (a schoolteacher) and Sara (a schoolteacher) Escalante; married, Fabiola Tapia; children: Jaime Jr., Fernando. Education: Pasadena City College, A.A., 1969; California State University at Los Angeles, B.A., 1972; California State University at Los Angeles, teaching certificate, 1974. Religion: Roman Catholic. Military Service: Bolivian Army, 1950.

Career: High school math and physics teacher, La Paz, Bolivia, 1954-63; high school math teacher, Garfield High School, East Los Angeles, California, 1974-91; calculus teacher, East Los Angeles Community College, 1983-91; high school math teacher, Hiram Johnson High School, Sacramento, California, 1991-98; teacher, Universidad del Valle, Bolivia, 1998-; public speaker, 1998–.

Awards: Hispanic Heritage Award, 1988; Free Spirit Award, Freedom Forum, 1998; Andres Bello Prize, Organization of American States, 1998; United States Presidential Medal for Excellence, 1998; National Teachers Hall of Fame, 1999.

When he graduated in 1954 he had three jobs lined up. In the mornings he taught at the prestigious San Calixto, in the afternoons he worked at National Bolívar High School, and in the evenings he taught at Commercial High School. It was through a lot of experience that Escalante developed his unique and effective teaching style. In the Bolivian educational system, students were tested by teachers from different schools, eliminating the subjectivity of a teacher testing his or her own students. In this way, "Escalante and his students became part of the same team, fighting a common foe, rather than adversaries in a war in which the teacher always had the upper hand and the students often contemplated revolt or desertion," according to Jay Mathews in Escalante: The Best Teacher in America.

While at Normal Superior, Escalante met Fabiola Tapia, and the couple married on November 25, 1954. A year later they had their first son, Jaime Jr. Fabiola's brothers went to college in California and she wanted her young family to join them there. She believed that America offered better economic opportunities and more stability for her family. As a devout Protestant she also did not approve of alcohol, and wanted to get Escalante away from the friends who frequently took him out drinking.

In 1961 Escalante spent a year in Puerto Rico as part of President John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress program, which offered training to industrial arts and science teachers from Latin America. As part of this program Escalante was able to tour several schools in the United States and was impressed with their facilities and equipment. This experience convinced him to grant Fabiola's wish to move to the United States.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Trevor Edwards Biography - Accepted Wisdom from His Mother to Francisco Franco (1892–1975) BiographyJaime Escalante: 1930—: Educator Biography - Early Teaching Experience, Immigrated To The United States, Challenged Students To Excel, Became A National Hero