Caussey's Corner

Hands of a Working Man: A Texas Teacher Remembers

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I had started to worry about an eighth grade student named Juan. He was slightly immature for his age, but intrinsically smart. He was at least passably attentive, plus a good reader. But he was too prone to mischief. Juan had so much potential because he could read well, and do his assignments. But underneath his often calm voice and smiling appearance lurked the character of a clown and class show off.

As the school year settled into the second six weeks, Raul’s good manners started to decline. I called and spoke to his dad about the problems, and he agreed to meet with me the next day after school.

That meeting was one of enlightenment to the father. The father was a big man, and soft spoken. I told him that Juan’s grades had deteriorated and how his bad attitude had worsened. He sat there in front of me with his hands in his lap and tears in his eyes as he told me a story.

His wife had died when Raul was five, and since that terrible time eight years ago, he and Raul had been alone. He said that he wanted a better life for his boy, than he had growing up in Mexico, impoverished, hungry and afraid of the world.

He looked at me, raised his hands from his lap and showed them to me. They were bruised, weather cracked, with nails missing or blackened beyond recognition. Though strong and calloused in appearance, the fingers were beginning to curl out of formation and positioning.

“I am a roofer,” he said. “All my life I have worked high up in the cold and heat to support my family. The doctor told me I had a bad arthritis. It will not be long before I will not be able to hold the hammer or climb a ladder. It is spreading. Already my knees hurt and my toes are curling up at the ends. The doctor says the pain will grow worse. Mr. Caussey, we must save my Juan and an education is our only hope. When I am gone he will need that education to survive. Will you help me?”

Hands of a Working Man: A Texas Teacher Remembers

Sleep escaped me that night as I tossed and turned, wrapped in sweaty sheets, wondering what kind of strategy to use to help Juan.

The next day Juan started his typical classroom disturbances. I asked him to step into the hall. He was smiling broadly and talking back. I told him his dad had come to the school for a conference. His smile faded and he looked away. I told him of the great love his father had for him, and how the loss of his wife had saddened him. That Juan’s behavior at school had disappointed his dad with failing grades and a bad attitude.

“Juan, when you go home today, look at your dad’s hands, and make a commitment to do better for him. Hold those battered hands and thank him for the sacrifices he is making to get you an education.”

By midterm Raul’s grades were back where they once were. His attitude was greatly improved as well. At the end of the school year our teacher team recommended Raul to take advanced placement exams and participate in the college bound program, which allows good academic student to take college classes while in high school.

Over the years I heard about Raul and how well he was doing, graduating with honors and near finishing college.

The What A Burger is my favorite restaurant. My wife doesn’t think of it as a restaurant, but accepts my desire to find a place that serve free coffee and big hamburgers. She is more into places that serve green salads, and imported wines, where discussions are more about theatre and the arts as opposed to the depression, old cars and how far I walked to school. But my buddies and I have a grand time each day dissecting the national news and making revelations on what should be done as opposed to what is.

Late one fall afternoon, perched in my favorite booth near the window, consuming my third Dr Pepper, the world at the What A Burger was well with my soul. Approaching winter winds blew pesky, dancing leaves across the parking lot to the music of an old Hank Snow tune on the jukebox.

Suddenly, I was startled from reading the sports page by a tall young man standing near my left shoulder. He stood before me and asked if I remembered him. As he sat down, I went through a mental catalogue of the thousands of students I had taught over my 30-year teaching career. Embarrassed, I admitted I couldn’t. He told me his name was Juan and he was about to start his internship at a hospital in Boston.

Hands of a Working Man: A Texas Teacher Remembers
“You taught me American History when I was an 8th grader,” he continued. Then I remembered. I asked how his dad was and he said they he had passed last summer.

“His rheumatoid arthritis became so painfully bad that he had a stroke. He lingered for a few days and then died in my arms,” said Juan.

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