I’m wondering what Maya thinks of Ayanna Presley’s win in Massachusetts with the propelling message, “Change can’t wait.”

Maya sat in a front row seat in my junior English class. She carried herself gracefully, artfully downplaying her natural beauty with jeans and tee shirts, her colorful bracelets hinting at the sparkle behind her conservative front.

Maya wasn’t a girl to be ignored. If she did poorly on an assignment, she’d stay after class with questions. Could she do another assignment to practice what she had missed? She was determined to improve.

Her reading journal hinted of deep fears, trouble at home, barriers of poverty and insecurity. She wrote that the only way to improve one’s situation was through education and association with good people. However normal that sounds, for her it was an imperative that couldn’t wait.

One day she asked if she could meet with me privately. Apparently something I had written in her journal had caused her to trust me. “I have to barricade my sister and myself in my room at home. My mom’s cousin won’t leave us alone.”

Imagine delaying going home by participating in after school sports and tutoring, taking the bus home, grabbing something to eat and using the bathroom before “he” shows up, and then pushing furniture against the bedroom door. Those were the circumstances under which Maya had done homework and slept ever since she had entered puberty, three years earlier. Now she felt she had to protect her sister as well.

Near the end of the school year when counselors came to our classrooms to enroll students in classes for the next school year, Maya asked me to recommend her for AP English, a demanding course of literature taught by an exceptional teacher, Anne Padilla. Maya was underprepared for AP English. I tried to dissuade her.

“Was AP English the best course in the department?”

“Yes, but…”

“Then that’s where I need to be.”

I spoke to Mrs. Padilla. “She’s not prepared but she wants the challenge. It will mean extra work for her and you. She might fail.”

My colleague was known for her compassion and her high standards. I was prepared to disappoint Maya, but instead, after Mrs. Padilla agreed to take her, I returned with “You’re in. She will accept you based on your willingness to do your best.”

Which is exactly what happened. Maya entered with a deficit in composition skills and passed the class, graduating with the kind of personal achievement not measured by standardized testing.

Maya went to our local university. Beyond that, she faded into the community. Like almost all my students, she exists in my memory as an adolescent. I would like to think that when she heard about Ms. Presley’s winning the democratic nomination in Massachusetts, she nodded and thought, “Yes, ma’am. Change can’t wait.”

4 thoughts on “Maya

  1. Oh, teaching is filled with challenge….also, with wonderful opportunities for inspiration and action. Amen! tom

  2. I feel sure that Maya is making a positive difference in her corner of the world. I hope your paths reconnect some day!

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