During my twenty year career as a copper miner, I had the honor of working with master teachers (Journeyman Mechanics) who shared their expertise with me as I worked my way up the ladder from mechanic’s helper to eventually becoming a Journeyman Mechanic. There is one master teacher that had a great impact on why I chose to become a teacher.
I first met Roberto when I was accepted into the Underground Mechanic’s Helper Program and Roberto was designated as my mentor. Roberto was in his late fifties and had worked at several of the large open pit copper mines in Arizona.
The first few weeks of working together, Roberto would hand me our work orders and asked me to read to him what was written on the work orders. At the end of the shift, Roberto was required to write a shift report detailing the work that was performed on various equipment, but he would ask me to write the reports. I thought that Roberto was asking me to read and write reports as part of my training.
After a month of working together, Roberto confided in me that he could not read or write and he asked if I could help him by reading and writing the reports that were required of him. I replied that I would take care of the paperwork and I also inquired as to why he never learned to read or write. He responded by saying that he had grown up during the Great Depression and that he had a difficult childhood , which did not allow him to attend school.
As the months went by, I learned all that I could from my master mechanic teacher and we both received a transfer to the heavy equipment shop at the open pit mine. When we reported to the heavy equipment shop, Roberto and I were called to the mine superintendent’s office and after a brief discussion about the type of repair work we would be performing, Roberto informed the superintendent that he could not read or write. The superintendent asked Roberto how he completed his daily reports and Roberto responded by telling the superintendent that I would fill out the required daily reports. The superintendent looked at Roberto in disgust and walked out of the office and returned with two shop supervisors. The superintendent proceeded to tell the supervisors that Roberto could not read or write. One of the supervisors retrieved a repair manual from the book shelf and began to mock and degrade Roberto by asking him to read a page out of the repair manual. I will never forget the hurt in Roberto’s eyes as management continued to degrade him and as a last insult they told my master teacher that his services were no longer required. I left the office stunned at what I had just witnessed and I thought to myself, “If I had the knowledge, I would have taught Roberto how to read and write.”
Years went by before I received the opportunity to pursue my education degree and one of my goals was (and still is) to learn and teach literacy, so none of my students will ever have to experience the humiliation or be denied employment opportunities due to the inability to read or write.
Roberto is the reason I teach.