Celebrated teacher shares ideas
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 10, 2004
Doug Carroll

Celebrated math teacher Jaime Escalante knows his way around a quip as well as a quotient.

"I will apologize for my British accent," he told the audience Saturday at the Chandler Center for the Arts before a screening of the 1988 film Stand and Deliver.

"I picked this up from the students with which I used to work." advertisement

The career of the Bolivian-born Escalante, 73, was the inspiration for the semibiographical film, which stars Edward James Olmos and tells how the teacher motivated a group of underachieving high schoolers in East Los Angeles to take and pass an advanced-placement calculus exam.

Escalante's appearance was in conjunction with the fourth-annual Latino Film Celebration in Chandler.

Stand and Deliver "shows the impact one human being can have in the world, despite the odds," Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn said. "This is a gentle man who has things to tell us about never giving up on kids."

Escalante, who migrated to the United States in 1964 without knowing English and put himself through college, said he taught respect, discipline and hard work as much as he did math.

"You can't walk into the classroom without any desire to learn," he said. "It was not easy to motivate these kids, but I did see potential everywhere."

However, even Escalante wasn't always sure of what he saw. He told the story of two boys named Johnny, one an achiever and the other a disappointment.

Questioned by the struggling student's mother about how her son was doing, he got the boys mixed up and offered high praise. The student got wind of the inadvertent compliment and - after an initial shock - became a classroom success.

"I wonder how many times we mistake the identity of a person and think, 'This guy's not going to do it,' " Escalante said.

His message for students in attendance was simple: "You have to stand and deliver. You have to work hard. . . . No one person can tell you what your destiny will be. You must have success with yourself before you have success with others."

Reach the reporter at
doug.carroll@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7945