Local teacher nominated for nationwide honor

HARLINGEN – I’ve spent four years watching you work harder than any teacher I know.

When Jesus Gonzalez returned to his classroom earlier this month, a card with this poignant note and a mug were waiting for him. A student had nominated Gonzalez for the LifeChanger of the Year Award.

“I was really moved that somebody cared enough to nominate me for the award,” said Gonzalez, 43, who teaches algebra and geometry at Early College High School. He also teaches tutorials in college algebra and pre-Calculus.

LifeChanger of the Year, sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, recognizes and rewards K-12 school educators and employees for making a positive impact on the lives of their students. When Franchesca Lopez, 16, saw a commercial about the program, she felt compelled to nominate him.

“I thought that he should be nominated because this past semester myself and a lot of other students were taking pre-calculus at TSTC with this particularly difficult professor,” said Franchesca, a junior at ECHS. “We weren’t really comprehending the material as well as we needed to pass the class. And I actually failed the first two exams that he gave us.”

TSTC stands for Texas State Technical College. ECHS take college courses there while simultaneously earning their high school diplomas.

With only two more exams left before the end of the semester, she felt in danger of failing the class. Past experience had told her that Gonzalez was the teacher to help her out of this jam. She and 15 to 20 students began showing up during his conference periods for help with their math dilemma.

“I got a lot of help in understanding my homework, and that helped with my last two tests,” she said. “I actually got a 92 on my third test.”

She doesn’t know what she scored on her final, but it was good enough to earn her a B for the course. Franchesca first became aware of Gonzalez’s teaching skills while at Vernon Middle School. She was attending eighth grade and Gonzalez taught math there. She wasn’t in his class, but she was frustrated by the situation in her class.

“My actual teacher took a long time for maternity leave,” she said. “The math assignments that the substitute had for us weren’t challenging enough, so he allowed me to sit in his classroom. I got to learn a lot from him.”

A year later, they were both surprised to run into each other at ECHS. This time she was able to acquire a seat in his algebra class.

He recalls a conversation in which she expressed real doubt in her ability to learn algebra.

“Sir, I can’t keep up with the rest of the students,” she said.

“Frenchie,” he told her. “I know you put your heart into it and work hard.”

By now he was familiar with her hard work and determination to achieve. He guaranteed her she could learn the coursework. With that support and inspiration, she earned the highest score on her End-of-Course exam.

Gonzalez tries to simplify math so students can understand the concepts better. He also uses various strategies for different students. Long hours of repetitive practice also are part of the plan.

The long, hard work paid off for Franchesca.

“He’s kind of the reason I found out I was really good at math,” she said. “Every time I’d have a problem with something or I didn’t understand a certain concept, he’d go over it with me and help me understand. It started clicking in my head and I started understanding more and more.”

While Gonzalez appreciated the accolades, he pointed out the success that earned him the nomination was actually a reflection of the hardworking teachers at ECHS. Without them, he wouldn’t succeed.

“You can’t do it alone,” he said.