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Jaime Escalante: 1930—: Educator

Immigrated To The United States

In 1963 Escalante moved to Los Angeles. He was 33 years old and spoke no English. With the little money that he had, he bought a 1964 Volkswagen beetle, which would later become his trademark when he began to teach. Escalante worked as a dishwasher for a local restaurant and later became a cook. He learned English mainly through television, and eventually enrolled in some classes at Pasadena City College. In 1964 his wife and son joined him in the United States, and the family lived in a guesthouse owned by Fabiola's brother. Fabiola did not like the fact that her well-educated husband was wasting his talents as a chef and she encouraged him to find better work. His next job was as an electronics technician, but he was still not satisfied with the work.

Escalante finally realized that his true passion was teaching, and he decided to resume his calling. However, he was disappointed to learn that his teaching credentials were not valid in the United States, and he would have to earn another bachelor's degree plus an American teaching certificate if he wanted to teach in California. Escalante continued to work as an electronics technician and went to school part-time. In 1969 his second son, Fernando, was born, so his job and family were his first priorities. In 1973 Escalante earned a bachelor of arts degree from California State University. He also won a National Science Foundation scholarship, which allowed him to go to school full-time and complete his teaching certificate in just one year.

In 1974 Escalante interviewed for teaching jobs with the Los Angeles Unified School District. He accepted a job as a computer teacher at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. The student body at Garfield was 95% Latino and 80% poor. When Escalante arrived, he quickly learned that there were no computers and that he would be teaching math instead. That was not his only disappointment at Garfield. The students were unruly, poorly educated, disrespectful, and sometimes violent, which was not what Escalante was accustomed to. "They were using their fingers adding stuff at the board," Escalante told People Weekly in April of 1988. "They came in without supplies, with nothing. Total chaos." Escalante believed that his first year at Garfield would be his last.

Escalante returned to Garfield for a second year partly due to his passion for teaching and partly because of his commitment to his family. He knew that his sons had more opportunities in the United States than they had in Bolivia, and he was trying to make the best of his situation. When Escalante returned to Garfield in the fall of 1975, he found that all of the school's administrators had been fired. The school had been performing so poorly that the Western Association of Schools and Colleges threatened to revoke the school's accreditation. Escalante believed that teachers should challenge students rather than teach at the lowest level possible. With a new administration in place, Escalante was able to push for tougher classes. He began teaching algebra, and by 1979 he introduced the first calculus class at Garfield.

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