Posted in Challenge, General Inspiration, Pep Talk, Teacher Testimony

Teacher Rockstar: Jaime Escalante

Jaime Escalante – Teacher Rockstar

Dear Teacher,

Today I want to build on my posts from a couple of weeks ago (It’s Not Me, It’s You; The Power of Real Encouragement; and Apple Influence) and talk a little more about change and the drive to change ourselves in order to spark change in others (namely, our students).  To do this, I want to focus in on someone I would definitely call a Teacher Rockstar: Jaime Escalante.

If you are not familiar with Mr. Escalante, he is the teacher portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver (if you haven’t seen the movie, you need to…great inspiration for teachers!).  He taught at a high poverty high school in a Latino community in Los Angeles in the late 70’s through the early 90’s.  At a failing school that focused on remedial and low level math, he pushed students to take AP Calculus.  The students, starting in small groups and growing in the large groups (in the hundreds), succeeded in his class and passed the AP exam.  There is much more to the story, but you can go to Wikipedia for that.  🙂

What makes Mr. Escalante a Rockstar Teacher is not his accomplishments.  The results of his teaching strategies and methods were amazing, but they are not what makes him one of the great teachers of all time.  What makes him special is his drive.  It was his willingness to stand up and do more, to be more, to expect more.  One of my favorite scenes in Stand and Deliver illustrates this drive perfectly.  It shows in what he is willing to say (and backup with action) at a department meeting.

In a school of under-resourced, overworked, beat-up, worn-out, and burned up teachers with students that have a history of being under-performing students with the threat of losing district accreditation looming on the horizon, he stepped up and said, “I can teach more.”  He volunteered to do more.  To take on more students.  To be more.  I love what he said, “The students will rise to the level of expectations.”  He looked resolutely at administration and expected more of himself and of the students.

His response to the question of what he needs in order to do more really shows his drive and why he had unbelievable success with students.  “Ganas.  All we need is ganas.”  Ganas was the key for Mr. Escalante.  Ganas made the difference.

According to Urban Dictionary, “ganas” is a slang word for desire or urge that is most likely based on the Spanish word “ganar,” which means to gain or win.  Ganas is desire.  For Escalante, it was a little more than that though.  It was desire backed by the willingness to go after what you desired, no matter how hard you have to work to get to it.

He talks about it again in another quote from the movie, and this time he is speaking to his students:

You’re going to work harder here than you’ve ever worked anywhere else. And the only thing I ask from you is ganas. Desire… If you don’t have the ganas, I will give it to you, because I’m an expert.

He desired for his students to learn, achieve, and truly be successful.  He expected his students to have that same drive for themselves.  He did what he could to inspire that in his students.  He worked hard at it.  Year after year he took a look at his students and himself, and then pushed harder the next year to improve.  He took a lot of flak.  He arguably made a lot of risky choices and decisions, but it was his “ganas” that gave him the ability to focus on his students and their future success.  That is what was in his blood.  He passed this on to his students.  So many of them went on to lead successful lives because of what he instilled in them.

I wrote a good bit and shared a lot from the movie about Jaime Escalante.  Let me let him speak for himself.  This was an interview he did while he was still teaching.  It is so inspiring to me!  I hope you feel the same way!

Now that you have learned more about this teaching rockstar, what can you learn from his example?  Can you be one of the teachers in your school, in the midst of all of the finger pointing on what is wrong in education, to stand up and say, “I can do more,” and back that up with action?  Is your teaching and relationships with students marked by “ganas” about their achievement and success?  What can you do to be different and make an even bigger difference than you already do?

You are awesome!  I know that you probably already think a lot like Mr. Escalante.  Your students and their learning and success is of utmost importance to you.  You do so much already and make a big difference!  But can you do more?  I know that I can!

You are amazing, and never forget it!  Find the more that you can do, and do it!  I know that you can!  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher



I am a middle school teacher who lives in the upstate of South Carolina.

3 thoughts on “Teacher Rockstar: Jaime Escalante

  1. Thank you for this post. Sometimes we just have to step back and see inspiration like Jaime Escalante to get us back into that “Rockstar” mode! Love your inspirational blog!

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